When you’re about to have a first baby there’s these antenatal courses you can do called NCT. I’m still not sure what it stands for. Nearly Crying Time? A big reason for doing it is to make friends with other local couples with babies due when yours is.
We all arranged to hook up for brunch. It’s no mean feat finding somewhere prepared to let you book a table of 16 at a weekend. Let alone a group containing eight perpetually ravenous, toilet-happy women, all with excellent excuses to cancel, even at the very last minute. But our first choice, Canvas and Cream in Forest Hill, took the challenge.
It’s a big, pretty cafe which is full of tinkly-tat. It just about stays the right side of characterful-homely, without tipping into ‘granny-chic-hipster-self-touching-twat-heap’. It’s child-friendly without being obscenely pumped with yummy-three-wheelers and their snot-faces mewling everywhere. It was packed but in a stress-free way.
They’d warned us not to all order pancakes, as they only had griddles for four at once, which was nicely honest. Also pretty canny. I need to go back now at a quiet time and order all the pancakes. Try to think of me less as a pig and more as a food journalist who leaves no ice-cream-and-salted-caramel-covered breakfast unturned.
Warned about potential pancake-gate, everything we ordered came in a relative flash. Considering there wasn’t a nook left unfilled with a punter in the place, that was so impressive.
Everyone got their drinks in. It really takes the edge off the shame of ordering decaf when you’re not alone. In great news, the soulless coffee actually tasted quite delicious here. Not like Costa, where it’s like sipping the watery afterthought of a life half-lived.
Mikey, my fellow, had an ice-cream-coke-float. Which didn’t scream of a man in turmoil about his imminent new responsibilities as a father at all. I tried it and actually it was fun. It’s not my bag; it’s too saccharine but I can see why the creamy sugar-hit appeals if you’re not into hot drinks much. He loved it.
To eat, he had French toast with bacon which came with maple syrup. It looked amazing, all chunky and glistening. He was very pleased. You can’t go wrong with four giant wedges of eggy bread, let alone next to chunky rashers of beautiful salty bacon. In an ideal world, Mikey has bacon grilled into almost obscurity, to the point where each rasher is essentially a Frazzle. The chefs here had met him at a sensible halfway point. The smell alone of that honeyed perfumey maple syrup was lush. This meal is a masterpiece, if you ask me, in the art of mixing sweet and savoury. It bowled in at £7.50. It was made with skill, love and fine ingredients. It was worth it.
I had bubble and squeak with poached eggs and mustard dressing. With bacon it was £8. Now, the point of a good bubble and squeak is to use up not just leftovers but the really scrappy ones. The soggy remnant cabbage and the spud peelings really, all revived by being fried again. A blaze of fat and heat does make a very tasty food zombie and does away with waste.
But I’ve got very mixed feelings about the gentrification of all London at the moment. I’m not completely convinced by this ‘tszujing up’ and romanticising of ‘poverty food’, then charging a lot for it. Conversely, I’m an artist, food is art and I understand why people pay for art; I’m pleased they do and think they should. It’s a confusingly fine line, for me. In other words, this needed to be really special to warrant being £8. It was.
The eggs and bacon were exemplary. The poached eggs runny and oozing, while their outsides confidently held together. The bacon was chunky and lean, with crispy edges around all the juicy, salty inside bits. Mmm. What gorgeous things they are; it would be a sadder world without them in.
So to the bubble and squeak. Lovely chunks of potato, in with cabbage, spinach and a lovely combination of delicate spices. Some caraway seeds especially really reached out from it. Then came the mustard dressing, sparse but powerful, poured around the edges of the plate. It cut through and then sat alongside all those other flavours, shining a light on how great they were together. Like a brilliant teacher. It made them more than the sum of their parts. It was excellent.
Our new friends ordered all sorts of other things. From avocado and halloumi to pancakes heaped in berries and crème fraiche. They were a triumph. We’ll be frequenting this place, I’m certain.
Canvas and Cream, 18 London Rd, Forest Hill, London SE23 3HF
Tel: 020 8699 9589
Open: Mon – Wed 9am – 5pm, Thu – Sat 9am – 11pm, Sun 10am – 7pm
Access: Two steps to get in the door, but then it’s a wide door and the restaurant and art gallery are all on one giant level. The toilets, however roomy, are down a long narrow flight of stairs and there isn’t an especially adapted one on the ground level, sadly.