Review: Canton Arms, Stockwell, London England

I don’t think that the areas south of the Thames in London has a great reputation. In fact, this article characterises south London as being rough, gritty, poor, dull, dirty…but on the flip-side, it’s also considered to be up and coming and family-friendly. What mattered to us though, was that it was cheap. We found a great little bed and breakfast place in Stockwell, within ten minutes walk to three different Tube stations and a bus line as well, that was priced well below what similar places were charging in north or west London. More money saved = more meals out!

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The pub closest to our accommodation was the Canton Arms on South Lambeth Road, a self-described gastropub. My friend dismissed it as a typical dodgy pub offering food served by “Chef Mike” (microwave!), but the dinner that K and I enjoyed there one evening proved to be anything but that.

Addlestones Cider, 4.20 GBP, Diet Coke, 2.10 GBP
Addlestones Cider, 4.20 GBP, Diet Coke, 2.10 GBP

Drinks to start – a Diet Coke for me (happily out of a bottle, no post-mix here!), and a large pint of local cider for K. Addlestones is as pure a cider as you will find anywhere else, unfiltered and full of the sweet and cloudy goodness of English cider apples. I’d venture a guess and say that if you were to go back two or three hundred years, this would be the type of cider served up at the local English tavern.

Papperdelle with Oyster Mushrooms, 14.60 GBP
Papperdelle with Oyster Mushrooms, 14.60 GBP

I chose one of the specials of the day – a homemade Papperdelle Pasta with Oyster Mushrooms on the side. This was unlike any papperdelle that I had tried before as it was very thin – almost akin to a Chinese flat rice noodle in its translucent thinness. This proved to be a boon as the thinner and less substantial pasta paired particularly well with the full-bodied plump and juicy mushrooms on the side. My only gripe is that the pasta got a bit dry in some places as there wasn’t enough of the rich mushroom sauce to coat the whole dish.

Roast Blackface lamb, fennel, tomato, raisin and anchovy, 16.40 GBP
Roast Blackface lamb, fennel, tomato, raisin and anchovy, 16.40 GBP

K chose their Roast Blackface Lamb – pink and juicy with a healthy dose of sweet aniseed flavouring via the plump raisins and fennel in the sauce. These lamb slices were particularly meaty, but the dish lacked balance overall – some plain roast potatoes or peas on the side would have made it more palatable overall. As it was, it was just too meaty and overwhelming.

Greens, 3.50 GBP
Greens, 3.50 GBP

We ordered some Greens on the side to share – a rather uninspiring mix of cabbage, cabbage and more cabbage without even a single floret of broccoli, beans, or peas to liven it up. Not worth the 3.50 GBP charged at all considering the lack of variety in green vegetables.

Almond tart and Yorkshire rhubarb, 6 GBP
Almond tart and Yorkshire rhubarb, 6 GBP

The mains were truly belly-bursting, but I never turn down a good dessert – Almond Tart and Yorkshire Rhubarb to share. I don’t know why I don’t eat rhubarb more often because it is quite versatile – you can have it quite sweet when cooked, or you could cook it this way so that it’s just slightly tart enough to offset to sweet nuttiness of an almond frangipane tart.

Peanut brittle ice-cream, 2.80 GBP per scoop
Peanut brittle ice-cream, 2.80 GBP per scoop

And what the heck, might as well top off the whole evening with a scoop of their Peanut Brittle Ice-Cream. This scoop of ice-cream was properly loaded with chunks of caramel peanut butter, actual peanuts, and crunchy toffee-esque peanut brittle. Two scoops next time, not one!

The Canton Arms lives up to its claim of being a gastropub – the food is surprisingly delicious, if not particularly well-rounded. While it’s most popular with the south London locals just as a watering-hole, the food is not to be dismissed out of hand either. It is quite pricey for what is considered ‘pub food’ though – with the bill coming in at over $100 AUD, it’s certainly not a cheap local!

The Canton Arms is located at 177 South Lambeth Rd in Stockwell, London.

Review: Jamie’s Italian, Gatwick Airport, London England

When checking into our British Airways flight to Marrakech at London Gatwick Airport, I asked the staffer at the desk, “Will there be a meal served on the flight? Or should we have lunch beforehand?” 

She was incredibly honest. “I think there’s only a snack, and to be honest it’s never very good. I’d suggest treating yourself to a nice lunch before the flight, start your holiday the way you mean to continue.”

That was good enough for me! We found our way through check-in and security to Jamie’s Italian at the departure lounge. There’s a few other nice sit-down restaurants in Gatwick Airport, but we both felt like a healthy serving of simple fresh pasta before heading to Morocco, the land of tajines, cous cous and spices.

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Unlike many restaurants in airports, Jamie’s Italian manages to maintain a warm and inviting atmosphere, unsullied by the sterile coldness of an airport. If it weren’t for the window view over the runway and two TV screens displaying plane departure information to ensure you don’t miss your flight, you could almost forget that you’re dining in an airport.

Fresh Crab Spaghetti, 14.20 GBP
Fresh Crab Spaghetti, 14.20 GBP

With only forty-five minutes between sitting down at our table and the gate opening for our flight, we had to make it a quick meal. Luckily, Jamie’s Italian guarantees a maximum fifteen-minute window between ordering and receiving your food, to ensure that all their customers will be able to make their flights.

K ordered the Fresh Crab Spaghetti, an extremely simple spaghetti dish that just abounded with delicious chunks of fresh crab meat. With the intensity of the crab flavour, the dish really didn’t need anything else to enhance it – but the subtle lingering burn of chilli was definitely welcome!

Veggie Tagliatelle Bolognese, 11.25 GBP
Veggie Tagliatelle Bolognese, 11.25 GBP

I ordered a vegetarian pasta – a Veggie Tagliatelle Bolognese. I tend to pronounce it as “bo-log-nayse”, enunciating the ‘g’ which drives K insane. I’m perfectly aware that I pronounce it incorrectly but it’s become a habit now that’s particularly hard to break! Pronunciation aside, this is the type of dish that would drive anyone crazy with desire – ‘meaty’ mushroom mince, bulked out with lentils and enriched with crushed tomatoes, topped with micro herbs and a healthy shaving of parmesan cheese. When vegetarian bolognese tastes so delicious, you’ll never find yourself craving a traditional bolognese!

Small JI Super Food Salad, 6 GBP
Small JI Super Food Salad, 6 GBP

We finished off our meal by balancing the heavy carbs of our mains with a healthy JI Super Food Salad, made up of avocado and roasted beets with beans, grains, kale, pomegranate, toasted seeds, harissa and cottage cheese. While only a small serving, this salad really hit the spot with lovely fresh vegetables and nutty quinoa. I particularly enjoyed the broccolini in the salad, vibrantly green with a satisfying crunch when you bit into it.

As far as airport meals go, you can’t do much better than Jamie’s Italian for a simple and satisfying pasta. Staff are friendly, food is freshly made and tasty, and the restaurant is surprisingly warm and cosy. It definitely beats buying a soggy takeaway sandwich meal deal from WH Smith!

Jamie’s Italian is located at North Terminal (airside) at Gatwick Airport in London.

High Tea at The Ritz London, February 2016

Note – photo gallery at the bottom of this post.

I bet you never realised that I have a tendency to repeat myself. I bet you never realised that I have a tendency to repeat myself. This personal flaw worked in my favour when I left my job. After enduring months of my talking about the big exciting trip that I was going on and all the amazing places we were going to go, my colleagues had a pretty good idea of what to get me as a farewell present. I think I may have mentioned my intentions of having a fancy high tea at The Ritz London or Claridge’s about a million times…and so, I was absolutely delighted when I opened up one of my farewell presents, a gift voucher for afternoon tea at The Ritz!

“The Granddaddy of afternoon tea, the Ritz has earned itself the reputation as the one to beat. It’s held in the almost cartoonishly opulent Palm Court, which is all gold leaf and crisp linen, flowered plates and immaculate service. The food is what you’d expect – finger sandwiches, scones and sponge cakes – and as good as you’d expect, too. There is a fine selection of teas. A pianist in the corner adds to the sense of occasion. In short, the Ritz is a place to impress, and to be impressed.”

Excuse me for quoting from the Evening Standard newspaper, but everything about this quote is true. I’ve had my fair share of fancy afternoon teas, including at the Mandarin Oriental Hong Kong and the Metropole in Hanoi, but they can barely hold a candle to the luxurious opulence of the Ritz London.

With a strict dress policy, K and I had to scramble a bit to make up Ritz-appropriate outfits. While packing for nearly eight months of travel, we had decided to jettison the three piece suits and evening dresses as inappropriate travel gear. I managed to get by with a long-sleeved dress and a pair of flats (plus a pair of tights from Primark), but it was a bit more difficult to dress K on a budget. Finally, we managed to find a nice dress jacket at H&M on sale for $30 AUD, and picked up a tie from an op shop for another $4 AUD. Paired with his one collared shirt and navy pants, he managed to pass the dress code!

Once you enter the Ritz, it begins to all make sense. The plush carpets, the gold gilding, the velvet lounges, the chandeliers…it’s like something out of a high society novel from the turn of the century when old money still ruled the United Kingdom. You need to dress up to make it feel special, to fit in with your surroundings. Even the cloakroom is a bit more special – you don’t just get a plastic tag, you get an embossed enamel and gold tag on a silken tassel.

As you approach the maitre d and give your name, he won’t need to look at his list to confirm your booking as he’s already memorised the names of all his guests that day. “Ah, Ms Chan, we’ve been waiting for you. We have you at Table 4 today, please follow me.” It’s personal touches like that which make you feel like not just a customer, but an actual guest – the Ritz goes out of the way to ensure that you have a positive, personalised experience. Other guests who were celebrating special occasions like birthdays had small customised birthday cakes brought out to them during the course of service – another nice touch.

Taking personalisation a step further, everything at the Ritz London is custom-made for them. The crockery used is a floral forget-me-not print made specifically for the Ritz London by Royal Worchester. The heavy silverware tea set is by Heritage Silverware, again made just for the Ritz. If I was a betting person, I’ll even bet that the paper they print the afternoon tea menus on is also probably custom-made for the Ritz as well, and the linen tablecloths are probably embossed with their logo. When you dine at the Ritz, you get a full Ritz experience.

With sixteen different loose-leaf teas on the menu, it’s hard to decide what to order. My instinct is usually to order a green tea as my go-to, but I choose the house blend of the Ritz Royal English, a blend of Kenyan, malty Assam and Ceylon Orange Pekoe. It’s an unusual choice for me as I don’t often opt for black teas, but I enjoyed the soft muted flavours of this tea – the perfect blend to have with just a mere dash of milk. K had the Earl Grey which he found a bit strong – he didn’t want to add in milk as a good Earl Grey blend should really be served with lemon and honey instead.

What’s on the menu for afternoon tea at the Ritz London?

Sandwiches

  • Ham with Grain Mustard Mayonnaise on White Bread
  • Cheddar Cheese and Chutney on Tomato Bread
  • Cucumber with Dill Cream Cheese on Caraway Bread
  • Chicken Breast with Parsley Mayonnaise on Malt Bread
  • Scottish Smoked Salmon with Lemon Butter and Black Pepper on Rye Bread
  • Egg Mayonnaise with Watercress on Granary Bread

Scones and Pastries

  • Freshly baked Raisin and Plain Scones with Cornish Clotted Cream and Strawberry Preserve
  • Assortment of British Tea, Pastries and Cakes

The photos in the gallery below are deceiving – while it may look like you only get a few sandwiches and two scones each, the reality is very different as the Ritz London works on a (theoretically) limitless principle. They bring out small quantities of the sandwich and scones to begin with to ensure that the scones stay warm and the bread doesn’t dry out. Once you finish your first plate of sandwiches or scones, they’ll whisk it away and promptly replace it with a new batch of warm scones, or freshly made sandwiches. As a result, there’s no sad dry cucumber sandwiches to be found!

Out of all the sandwiches, I’d say my favourite were the smoked salmon on rye (thick-cut, generous slices of strong smoked salmon, yum!) and the egg mayonnaise. Most people would think, “egg mayonnaise? how boring!”, but it was truly delightful – not too eggy and very fresh. It’s the type of egg salad I wish I could make at home as a protein-rich salad!

I loved the scones (light, quite fluffy) but I’m afraid that the Cornish clotted cream has spoiled me forever. I don’t think I could go back to having the whipped cream that normally comes with scones in Australia, as the clotted cream is a much better match – creamier, more buttery, richer and naturally sweeter. Nothing but clotted cream on scones for me from now on!

The same could be said for my afternoon tea experience at The Ritz – I think it’s spoiled me forever. There isn’t a single tearoom in Australia that can offer the same all-round experience that the Ritz offers. Furnishings, surroundings, personalised crockery and silverware, impeccable service by men in smart jackets with gold buttons and tails, perfect finger sandwiches, light and fluffy scones, a dessert trolley that rolls around the tearoom to offer you additional slices of cake…the Ritz has it all. Nothing in Australia will ever come close. I guess I’ll just have to return to London for my high tea fix from now on?