Yesterday my Twitter feed became positively gourmet as this years Michelin announcement was made. It’s a time when the culinary elite hold their breaths to see whether they are ascending or descending the ranks.
Little you would say to do with the humble boozer? Well not quite true. Entering the 2011 Michelin Guide was a firm favourite. The Canton Arms in Stockwell. Yes, Stockwell. It has earned inclusion as a Bib Gourmand, denoting quality food, service and value.
Since my early visits and my posts in reverence of what they can do with a slice of bread and a Toastie Machine – think Foie Gras or Haggis – I’ve returned regularly. Now and again service hasn’t been quite as expected but even so I’ve always walked away well fed, well watered and happy (and eager) to return. It’s good to see the Michelin Inspectors recognise this small piece of South Lambeth Road and makes me wonder if they tried the Toastie.
Canton Arms, 177 South Lambeth Road, Stockwell, SW8 1XP
After my high praise for SE1 as the pub destination I thought I was onto a sure-fire winner with the Garrison on Bermondsey Street. It’s been a few years since my last visit but it seemed like the perfect place for a December Supper Club (albeit Sunday lunch) and another tick for SE1. This unfortunately wasn’t to be the case with an experience that is truly frustrating. There are aspects that I would rave about and others that ultimately had us walking away disappointed.
So in the interest of fairness the positives. Firstly the food. We all agreed that it was very good. Cockles going as far rating as one of the beat roasts he’s had in years. Then there’s the little things; those nice touches that stick in the mind and ultimately should bring you back. The barman volunteering a small taster of the beer was a good start and the Garrison jam recipes with the bill should have bookended a great Sunday lunch experience.
Without even stepping through the door things had already taken a turn for the worst. Despite having booked a month previous a confirmation call the day before told us that our leisurely lunch would be curtailed with just 90 minutes available for our table. I fully understand the rationale in turning tables but to find out with less than 24 hours notice gives you little choices to change. Throw in Transport for London and Gio’s Italian time keeping and 90 minutes isn’t a great deal of time. Add the service at a snails pace and things don’t look good. On this occasion any hope of getting a drink at the bar without waving your arms was unlikely. Once seated with the clock ticking starters are off the menu and we move to the mains; a shame as we all have something in mind; and the point of the Supper Club is indulgence, when thoughts of cost and fat content are forgotten. The mains as said are great and as the plates are cleared the dessert menu is offered. At this point there may be enough time but it doesn’t materialise for 15 minutes at which point we are told to order quickly as the table is booked. To me, in fact to all of us, this was a final disappointing act which left the bill as four mains plus drinks. Service was excluded and when explaining why it hardly seemed to register. The website boasts Michelin recommended which for the main course stands up. I obviously cannot comment on starter or dessert, but service needs to take a huge leap forward. Perhaps Supper Club will next reconvene North of the river.
99-101 Bermondsey Street, SE1 3XB
As an aged Sloan Ranger and her daughter loudly berate a Polish tradesman, for the crime of asking them to move down the tube carriage, I raise my eyebrows at Cockles. I sense we are both hoping that the schlep to Fulham is worth it. We are en route to meet Captain English and Meister for what could be the final Supper Club: A loose fixture in our diaries where we invariably end the night with tight waistbands and light wallets. Meister is heading back to Oz and is working through pubs and restaurants at a commendable rate. Our venue, the Harwood Arms, has a task ahead of it in the gastronomic stakes but as London’s first Michelin starred pub the night is full of promise.
Set on a residential street the unsuspecting could wander in thinking it was your bog standard Gastro Pub, though here you will not find the standard fare. We find English and Meister at the bar and take it in turns to ponder the menu. Much scratching of heads and stroking of imaginery beards ensues. We are still deciding well after being seated.
Wine selection is Meister and Cockles area of expertise. With a considered debate and lots of questions of the staff we start with the Chateau Petit Val Grand Cru, St Emilion, Bordeaux, 2005. I will
confess that my question was less about the attributes of this particular choice but more a question of how much it would cost my pocket. They both have form for choosing wine by quality and not price which I am slowly coming to terms with. Straight faced Meister tells me it’s £45. My eyebrows raise and I bite back my Northern urge to protest. Well in truth there may have been a little protest but then curiosity gets the better of me and we go with it. Now Oz Clarke has nothing on this Aussie in terms of the theatrics of wine tasting. First comes the long smell with nose fully in the glass, which I’m told should tell you most of what you need to know. Second the swirl, followed by the taste, with or without a slight slurp and then final consideration. A slight pause for dramatic effect. And the verdict. In this case it’s the thumbs up. Some would view this spectacle as pretension but I see it more as Meister quality control. I’m not disappointed with the choice and have to admit its good though I feel I need some further education to fully appreciate it. A trip to a few wineries perhaps.
Grilled salted ox tongue with cauliflower cheese croquette, bread and butter pickles is first off. I can’t say I’ve had Tongue in the last 20 years (snigger) but this was an excellent reintroducton. What I expected could be chewy was delicate and light. A great start which set me up for the main course. Shoulder of Roe deer follows, served with sauerkraut, mash and greens. For two on a wooden platter, my eyes widen as it is placed between English and myself. The bone slips away effortless as we dish up generous hunks and even more generous dollops of mash and sauerkraut. It’s a bold, hearty dish which is what Supper Club is all about. It is faultless. I am at risk of drowning my keyboard as my mouth waters just thinking about this! Rounding off the meal I am torn between the English cheeses with toasted Bara Brith or the baked custard with Grasmere gingerbread. I’m told the Bara Brith and gingerbread are both made on the premises and on the basis that no one makes Bara Brith like Nan did I go for the custard. The top cracks satisfyingly but I could have probably done without the accompanying sorbet. The gingerbread is good but lacks the dustiness and snap I was expecting. That said it’s a good end to a great meal. Where the country comes to town is the phrase that came to mind when I was trying to sum up the Harwood Arms and it’s menu. They beat me to it I see as it’s emblazoned on their website. Just when you thought you’d had an original thought!