Thursday, 10 September 2020

The Canton Arms, Stockwell

The Canton Arms has been a feature of the Stockwell landscape for so long now (over a decade in fact), and has featured on so many best of lists and regional roundups that giving it yet more publicity, in the form of yet another good review, seems a bit pointless. Especially, too, as though the menu details have ebbed and flowed with the changing seasons, the overall attitude - rustic gastropub food, with the odd international flair - remains largely unchanged in ten years. But look, the fact that it's survived this long, and is still as good (and popular) as it is, is still cause for consideration, and even if I can't think of a single original thing to say about the place, well it's not as if readers of this blog would expect anything more.

I'm not sure the Covid-era social distancing measures have had much of an impact on the layout of the Canton Arms at all - tables were always pretty generously spaced, and if it weren't for the hand sanitiser dispensor on the front door and staff (sometimes) wearing masks, eating here was an experience pretty much unchanged from my last visit all those years ago. I didn't spot the famed foie gras toastie on any menu - I have a feeling that's a lunchtime-only thing - but I did see grilled sardines, and the fish dishes were particularly lovely on my first visit.

But just to be contrary, no seafood this time, instead ox heart, smokey from the grill, beautifully tender and served alongside a crisp fried flatbread and salty tapenade. It's the inclusion of offal - not merely as an accompaniment but the main event - that sets the good gastropubs apart from the crowd, the sadly-departed 32 Great Queen Street having a good line in brawn terrine. This was similarly enjoyable - stripped-back, honest, and very easy to eat.

And some pickled girolles came topped with soft cheese and sat on toasted sourdough. Just pickled mushrooms on toast, nothing fancy or difficult to wrap your head (or mouth) around, but like the ox heart it was honest, precise and easy to enjoy.

Corn cheese croquettes were completely unlike everything else on the menu, like a stray from a branch of MeatLiquor (in fact perhaps that was their inspiration), but still impressed with their crisp, greaseless breadcrumb coating and gooey, salty insides.

At this point I should also mention that the Canton Arms are very keen foragers, picklers and preservers - the room was full of jar after jar of crabapple, quince, capers, beets, elderflowers and damson, the latter we sampled as part of a damson fizz aperitif which was excellent.

I've been seeing a lot of pork chops on menus recently - a very welcome development. And though this perhaps wasn't quite up there with the Quality Chop House version I was lucky enough to snaffle for £12.50 during Eat Out to Help Out (which came with confit potatoes and ended with olive oil ice cream), it was still definitely worth the money, and the sauerkraut and mustard very well-judged garnishes.

Pissaladière was a decent example (apparently, I didn't try it myself) presumably only after you'd scraped off the half a pound of rocket leaves from the top and deposited them in the bin. OK maybe that's just me - I hate rocket - but you'd have to be a real fan of the horrid bitter stuff to eat this much in one sitting. Anyway, as I say, it wasn't my problem.

Basque cheesecake was every bit as good as I hoped it would be, fluffy and smooth and ever-so-slightly salty, and served with a dollop of steeped berries, scarlet red and full of summer joy.

Of all the dishes, only the flapjack was a real let-down, being rather soggy and bland. It needed a lot more sugar and a lot more baking to improve it, although it was nice seeing greengages (in compote form) in the wild, a seasonal British fruit you don't see very often.

Overall though, it's the successes that I remember from this meal rather than the failures, which is a testament to how well the evening went. Even slightly harried service from a particular front of house didn't dampen our spirits - it was easy to excuse given the current circumstances, and anyway could have just been our perception, mistaking efficiency for curtness. With a bill of £103.50 for three people, with an alcoholic drink each and plenty of food, which by my book puts it safely in the "extremely reasonable" category. The Canton Arms in 2020, just like in 2010, is a gastropub worth visiting and then some. Here's to another decade.


No comments: