Two weeks ago I had an incredible meal at the Thai Grocer on Garrett Lane. It was one of those evenings that started as a typical “date night” with Mr NVN and ended with a declaration that I’d eaten some of the best Thai food ever.
I mean ever.
I’m not usually a fan of BYO, but the Grocer (as its now known in our family) is just up from a Tesco Metro so we filled a bag with Prosecco and Burgundy and took up the restaurant owner’s offer of using his fridges to keep them cool.
Why am I mentioning this in a review of Ben’s Canteen?
Firstly, because as we were leaving the Grocer, we donated what was left of our Processco to some fun loving South Africans on the adjacent table. They’re important. They reappear soon.
Secondly, because as we stepped out onto Garrett Lane, seriously full of seriously good food. I couldn’t help but reflect on how far Earlsfield has come. I don’t mean in terms of house prices or schools or any other staples of middle class angst, but in terms of the sheer range and quality of the food available. If I could only eat on Northcote Road or Garrett Lane for the rest of my life, it wouldn’t be an easy choice.
So last Friday, my brain was churning away with foodie comparisons between SW11 and SW18 as we stepped into the new Ben’s Canteen and the immediate impression was of noise.
Lots and lots of noise.
There were gaggles of twenty somethings milling around the bar, nursing drinks and waiting for free tables . We were about to start one of those scorching hot weekends that turns London residents into 48 hour holidaymakers so most of these beautiful people were dressed in shorts and sandals. The smokers amongst them were spilling out onto the pavements to light up and my immediate impression wasn’t of a Wandsworth bar but of long gone child-free holidays and lazy days on the beach. I half expected Mr NVN to ask for a Cerveza and complain about his sunburn.
We had reservations (the kind that guarantee you a meal, not things that were worrying us) so we were whisked off to our table at the back of the site and in this respect the “Daddy” Bens Canteen on St John’s Hill and this new arrival share some similarities. Both have relatively small open-to-the-street bar frontages which expand to large, almost windowless spaces at the back. That’s great for squeezing in the covers but can create noisy, stuffy spaces if they’re not well ventilated.
Very very smiley staff, they’ve kept their wonderful scotch eggs on the menu and are keeping the focus on “small plates” and burgers.
Our fun loving South Africans were back again on an adjacent table.
This was a bit déjà-vue and when I realized they were joined by the lovely Michelle Louise, of the hair salon fame, and her friend Ilze Sounes, of the make-up artist fame, then I knew that Ben’s Canteen’s had managed to attract the sort of buzzy, well-connected customers you really want in the opening weeks of your new restaurant.
Our smiley waiter brought over a pint of London lager for Mr NVN and I broke with tradition and went for the Prosecco.
For starters Mr NVN plumped for their signature Scotch Egg, a gorgeous warm comfort blanket of a dish with a hot runny centre encased in a meaty sausage jacket. I chose the DIY guacamole which was less successful. It came with a full sized pestle and mortar and although it’s a nice idea I didn’t really feel like pounding away making my own food whilst Mr NVN twirled his wine glass and told me just how good his starter was.
For main courses we both went for burgers, I chose the veggie and Mr NVN the Ben’s Canteen Special. Veggie burgers aren’t difficult to get right but very few places make the effort. I sometimes feel they should come with a note from the chef apologising, “sorry mate, if you will force me to make a burger without meat then this is the best I can do,” but Ben’s Canteen rose to the challenge and it was delicious. Fresh, zingy and lots of that umami taste that can be found in mushrooms and soya if the chef can be bothered to work it.
Mr NVN declared his burger excellent but I did detect a little reticence in his approval. It certainly didn’t matter, the house red wine was flowing and we lapped up the holiday atmosphere whilst chatting away to Michelle and Ilze on the next table. However in today’s world of dirty burgers and sloppy pop-ups, I get the feeling that just a little more love on his main would have made a big difference, a surprise when mine when was so good.
Would we go back? We already have. It’s another great addition to Earlsfield. I think we’ll spend much of this summer pounding the pavement between the Grocer and Ben’s Canteen trying to decide between Pad Thai and a cracking party atmosphere.
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Cost of dinner for two with wine, about £70
We paid in full for our meal and wine.