In an effort to keep my grey matter from completely stagnating, I’m teaching myself Italian using the Duolingo app. Not only am I learning useful sentences like “I see a whale” and “My lion drinks milk” but I also know that con gusto means with flavour.
Or something like that.
And it’s flavour that Con Gusto has in spades. A modern Italian restaurant/bar, it’s the latest addition to SE18’s nascent dining scene. (Actually we’re still a few restaurants short of a proper scene, per se, but it won’t be long now. Tapas bar please.)
To find Con Gusto, walk through the Arsenal toward the Woolwich Pier. Con Gusto has, by some miracle, been inserted into one of the pair of diminutive 1815 guardhouses near Assembly, the group of figures by Peter Burke. There are nine tables, a bar that seats half a dozen or so, a loo, a coat rack, and what must be a very compact kitchen. Amazing.
The Con Gusto team, lead by brothers Rigels and Bledi, is passionate and creative. They’ve vowed to change the menu monthly so there’s always something new for regulars to tuck into. The March menu makes delectable reading. Starters include slowcooked pork shoulder tortelloni pasta with four cheese ragu. I’m going back for that. I had caramelised octopus with crushed potatoes, black olives and peashoots. Superb blend of textures and flavours. For mains, my handmade rustichelle with slowcooked wild boar ragu was rich and hearty and married extremely well with a bottle (okay, two) of Montepulciano D’Abruzzo red from the Cantina Zaccagnini winery (pictured above). A couple of my charming dining companions had the slowcooked ox cheeks in red wine reduction with celeriac purée and Savoy cabbage with pancetta. Thumbs up. We could have chosen panfried cod loin with black venere rice and steamed tenderstem broccoli, or saffron risotto with asparagus tips, any one of half a dozen dishes. There’s always next time though. Actually, make that next week.
I’m not really one for dolce so I can’t personally vouch for the tiramisu, but my friends can. And it disappeared before I could beg a spoonful, so you’ll just need to try it for yourself. A couple of us shared the cheese platter (pictured). Perfetto!
Con Gusto is the small, local, intimate Italian restaurant I’ve been wishing for and I’m bloody glad it’s here. In Woolwich, in 2017. Grazie mille.
Details are at http://www.congusto.co.uk and on Twitter at @congustotweets
By Paul Breen, author of The Charlton Men
BACK in the middle 90s, I watched a movie called Things to Do in Denver When You’re Dead. It was a crime flick in the era of Pulp Fiction imitations. Probably, the only memorable feature of the entire show was the title. The rest was just a story of guys with cliché nicknames shooting at other gangsters in sharp suits.
However, I always thought that title could give rise to a cool variation set in London – things to do in Deptford when you’re alive. But by now, twenty years after first seeing that movie, Deptford has become well-established as a vibrant and energised place to hang out, despite possibly lacking in the calibre of bars and restaurants that you find just up the road in New Cross. A few years back people were even starting to christen New Cross as South London’s Camden. But it could turn out to be another part of the beautiful south that steals all the headlines as the place to be seen in the next few years, especially with the development of Crossrail taking people in and out of London’s heartlands in a matter of minutes.
Already reenergised by the Docklands Light Railway, Woolwich appears to be on the verge of further regeneration and modernisation that paradoxically is going to sweep back the decades to where it stood a century ago in London folklore. Once upon a time this suburb of South London was a Kentish town at the heart of the British Empire. Ships rose out of the royal docks, and furnaces roared on the side of a thriving industrialised waterfront. Some of the finest and most prestigious stores in the country came to the outskirts of London to a place where people had money in their pockets. But then after the rampant destruction of bombing raids in the Second World War and the closure of Woolwich Arsenal’s armaments factories the place fell into decline.
More recently, it suffered fresh damage during the London riots. Then it had the negative publicity generated by Lee Rigby’s murder just up the road from the Town Hall. But thanks to Crossrail and the work of Greenwich Council, Woolwich has managed to rise again from the wreckage of these various events and is fast becoming a place that can once again attract visitors from outside.
So instead of Things to Do in Denver When You’re Dead, I’m thinking of Ways to While Away a Weekend In Woolwich. In my new book, various scenes take place in this part of London and not always happy scenes, since it’s a psychological thriller with elements of crime fiction, so maybe this is my way of showing another side to Woolwich. And if you do visit and do read the book, you could even spend some time checking out the locations that are given a mention.
But back to our imaginary weekend, which should probably start with a boat ride out of central London and past the Thames Barrier towards Woolwich terminal. Once you land you pass through a riverside development that was formerly part of the historic Arsenal, which gave its name to a certain football club. They left in 1913 but you can find traces of one of their places of origin – Dial Square – where there’s now a pub called The Dial Arch that allows for sitting outside and sipping a pint across from the small sculpture that marks the story of Arsenal’s birth. The Arsenal angle could be a whole tourist adventure on its own. Dotted around Woolwich and its surrounds, as far out as Plumstead Common, you can find places with a connection to the club. An Arsenal F.C. pub crawl would take in quite a bit of walking and a fair chunk of local history too. But if it’s history you’re after in Woolwich the Greenwich Heritage Centre is well worth a visit. This includes a gallery that tells the story of the Royal Arsenal, as well as the broader story of Woolwich, and the whole of Greenwich Borough. There’s also a lot of history to be found in the Bathway area of the town, particularly in landmark buildings such as the Edwardian Baroque Town Hall and the old public baths on Polytechnic Street.
On the whole, this part of Woolwich feels a bit like one of those old factory towns you get up north, with lots of grand old buildings made from red or brown brick slightly blackened by the smoke of time. If that’s what interests you, there’s a lot to see in the architecture around here. If not, and you prefer somewhere with the feel of Sloane Square, maybe skip these back streets!
But if you are a fan of old buildings and of walking, there are a lot more historical sights to see in the outlying areas of Woolwich. Amidst waves of Council housing, you can find the hidden gem of The Garrison Church of Saint George which is currently earmarked for refurbishment to bring it back to something of its former glory in the days before it was bombed in the Second World War. Across the way from this you can find The Royal Artillery Barracks, and further up the road across Woolwich Common, the Royal Military Academy which has now been converted to private housing whilst retaining its grandeur on the outside.
Anyway after all that walking there would be dire need to quench a thirst. Woolwich, in the past few years, has built up a range of pubs to rival neighbouring New Cross or Greenwich, though is still crying out for one located right on the edge of town facing over the river. There are a couple of Irish bars, with one slightly rough around the edges, and The Castle Tavern which is said to be great for African food, flavour, and entertainment especially during football matches. In the centre of the town there’s the historic Great Harry, named after a ship built in the sixteenth century heydey of the Woolwich Dockyard.Then there’s the venerable Elephant and Castle, which might seem as if it’s ended up in the wrong part of town. But this is very much at home a few miles down the road from its famous namesake and is the only pub in town that can claim to have an affinity with the local football club. No, not Arsenal. This is the team that drove the Gunners out of Woolwich and across the river to Highbury – none other than the mighty Charlton Athletic, for whom Irishman Andy Reid once starred and earned the nickname The Puskas of Plumstead. So if you want to pay homage to local football royalty, maybe the (Elephant &) Castle is the place for raising your tankard.
Across the way you then have The Woolwich Equitable which is located within the former home of The Equitable Building Society, and bears traces of that past in almost every aspect of the design and décor. There’s a nice selection of beers too and after a few craft ales you can almost hear the ghostly whisperings of clerks and administrators as you stare out into the fountain waters of General Gordon Square. This is the square at the heart of Woolwich town centre and one that has been extensively redesigned in the past few years. It now features a giant TV screen around which clusters of people from all corners of the world congregate on a nightly basis to give testament to Woolwich’s current diversity.
Indeed this square is likely to play host to some of the shows in the annual Charlton and Woolwich Free Film Festival, which thankfully doesn’t feature Things to Do in Denver When You’re Dead. Details can be found here http://www.freefilmfestivals.org/filmfestival/charlton/ and this might well be a great time to start whiling away a weekend in Woolwich.
But back to the pubs and places you can sample in between films. Down towards the river once more, you’ll find The Guard House, which again like Equitable and Dial Arch, is housed within a historic building from the past. You can also find Hop Stuff Brewery within the Royal Arsenal Development, a place that makes its own range of ales and now has its own bar called The Tap Room. Though not an ale drinker myself, several friends have said this is the best ale they have tasted in London, and that’s even alongside the big name brands of huge breweries!
However if alcohol’s not your thing, there are plenty of other places to socialise and get a flavour of Woolwich these days. You might want to go see the site of the United Kingdom’s first ever McDonald’s restaurant in the heart of Powis Street, which opened in 1974 at a time when a quarter pounder with cheese cost 48p! But personally I’d recommend something more exotic than America’s most famous fast food franchise. The Blue Nile Café on Woolwich New Road is another example of Woolwich’s proud immigrant and African association of recent times. Combining Italian and Eritrean cuisine, this family run business is rated amongst the top 200 restaurants in London out of TWENTY THOUSAND on Tripadvisor. That’s quite an achievement and that statistic alone says more than words. And in terms of the diverse ethnic feel of Woolwich, you just have to walk down the street and you come to Saint Peter’s Catholic Church from the 1800s, partly designed by English Gothic architect Augustus Pugin, at a time when he was also designing interiors in the Houses of Parliament. Today this church stands not only as a relic to this popular style of architecture in 19th century England but also a reminder of the many Irish immigrants who settled in this part of London to work in the Arsenal’s factories. And going back to my earlier mention of the Town Hall there’s an Irish connection there too because if you’re familiar with Belfast you’ll see the similarity with the Northern Irish capital’s City Hall, since both were designed by the Baroque revivalist Alfred Brumwell Thomas.
So if it’s food, beer, architecture, or just plain, panoramic, or pacific riverside views you’re looking for then it might be a good time to while away a weekend in Woolwich as summer comes to an end. Maybe even since film inspired this article in the first place, the film festival might be a good time to start. Even if you don’t come by water the DLR takes you right to the edge of General Gordon Square so there’s no reason at all to miss the boat so to speak!
PAUL BREEN is the author of The Charlton Men, a novel set in South London, and his latest work of fiction is entitled The Bones of a Season. Information about that can be found here – http://www.open-bks.com/library/moderns/the-bones-of-a-season/about-book.html
You can also follow Paul on Twitter @CharltonMen
After many months of planning (sensibly, most of it seems to have taken place in local pubs), the Charlton and Woolwich Free Film Festival is here! The whole thing kicks off on Friday September 9 in General Gordon Square in Woolwich, so I thought I’d throw a few questions at one of the forces behind it, Paul Chapman. For details of films, screening times and locations go to freefilmfestivals.org and follow them on twitter @CWFilmFestival. The line up looks great, and the venues are fabulous!
Hi Paul, firstly, can you tell us a bit about yourself. Are you a local?
Hello! Yes, I’m a local. A Charlton local more specifically. I am but a small cog in the small team running this years first ever Charlton and Woolwich Free Film Festival.
What gave you the idea for a film festival? Have you run one before?
Not my idea, credit there goes to the mighty Gavin Eastley. Free film festivals have enjoyed a surge in popularity in recent years, particularly in South London it seems, and Gavin has been part of other local festivals, either behind the scenes, as a projectionist or just sat watching. This year Gavin decided to have a go at launching a festival in his own area, and he appears to have pulled it off!
How supportive have people been? (And has the council been helpful?)
The council were really pro-active, getting in touch to offer the use of the big screen in General Gordon Square before we’d even had a chance to ask them ourselves. There’s been a few bureaucratic hoops to jump through to get the two films showing there (Rocky Horror Picture Show – 9th September, Master and Commander – 16th) but the council have come up trumps. They’ve even provided some funding this year to cover various costs, which is great.
We’ve also had great support from other local venues and businesses. St Georges Garrison Church and Charlton Park Academy both approached us very early on, for instance. Everyone involved seems genuinely interested in buying into the ethos of the film festival, even if there’s a cost to them in terms of time or money, which is fab.
And most importantly people seem very keen to come along to the festival! The response from people has been great, so hopefully we’re not going to be screening films to empty rooms (or squares).
Is this a team effort? Who are these ace people?
It is 100% a team effort. Gavin is the brains behind the whole thing and he’s event managing several of the films, as well as being our lead projectionist. So in a team of equals he is clearly more equal than the rest of us. But we’ve also got Dean and Amrit who are hosting Predator at Bunker 51 on the 14th, and they’ve also masterminded the programme design along with student graphic designer extraordinaire Hakam. We’ve got Simon and Wendy who successfully got films into the Blue Nile (Winter of Discontent – 13th) and Bathway Theatre (City of Dreams – 12th), two very cool venues. The lovely Sonia is our Shrewsbury House contact and we’re showing two there: Monty Python and the Holy Grail (16th) and The Peanuts Movie (12th). Charlton writer Matt Goodsell is giving a talk on screen moments that have had a personal impact on him before epic documentary Virunga (10th). We’re also working with a small group of Woolwich-based filmmakers called Select18 who are just starting out and have been brilliant, creating our very own ‘ident’ to be shown before each film as well as creating 3 shorts specifically for the festival, which is great. Too many people to thank really, but we need to try!
Some of the venues sound amazing: the ruined church of St George for instance. Was it always the aim to seek out unusual locations?
Yes, definitely. A big part of Free Film Festivals is that its not just about the film, it’s about the venue. And the real payoff is when you get a great film and are able to screen it in a venue that works perfectly with it. St Georges Garrison Church is a perfect example, it’s a beautiful but relatively unknown place, very atmospheric, and the Third Man is a classic film noir that should be one of the highlights of the festival (September 10th). Shrewsbury House is another one. I’ve never been (shamefully) but people who have rave about it and it’s the perfect excuse to visit somewhere new while seeing a film in the process. We’re also very lucky that Charlton House has provided space for several films, another great venue.
Tell us about the film selection. Are some of these personal favourites you wanted to share? What criteria did you have for choosing?
The way it works (or at least the way it has worked with us) is Gavin threw open the invitation to everyone and anyone to get involved and come up with a film and/or venue. After that a process of waiting to see who kept coming to meetings meant we ended up with a programme. Maybe I shouldn’t be giving away these trade secrets!
As for personal favourites, it’s difficult. I love Monty Python so looking forward to seeing Holy Grail (again) at Shrewsbury House, I may even dress up. I’m going to miss A Field In England (September 11th) at Charlton House which is a shame as it looks gloriously mad. It’s not typically my type of film but Predator should be a complete blast as not only will we get Arnie and his chums eating jungle but Bunker51 – the venue – are dressing their dystopian warehouse as a jungle specifically for the event, and they’re offering discount laser tag beforehand! Finally, I’d be mad not to plug my own event, Shaun of the Dead (September 11th) at The White Swan in Charlton Village. I love the film, but I love that pub even more, and the team there have pitched in with a BBQ beforehand, we’ve got Bunker51 lending us some actual Zombies, we’ve got a member of the cast coming down, it’ll be bloody great fun.
Down to practical details. Where can people get programme and venue info?
The programme has endured a difficult pregnancy, but it’s now just about ready to go to the printers. And again, big thanks to designer Hakam for all her hard (and free of charge) work. Once it comes off the presses then myself and other members of the team will be handing them out at various train/tube stations in the area as well as leaving them in selected venues – look out for posters and programmes from Friday 2nd! And of course all the details are already on our website: http://www.freefilmfestivals.org/filmfestival/charlton/ You can also find us on Facebook and Twitter for the latest updates and general silliness.
What to bring? (Cushions etc?)
What to bring depends very much on the venue. Certainly anyone coming to General Gordon Square and St Georges should consider warm clothing and if you want to bring a garden chair or something that may be a good idea. Most other venues will be providing seating of some form or other. You can of course bring your own food to the outdoor screenings.
What can’t you bring?
The same rules – or common sense really – apply as it would if there was not a film screening. So don’t take your own food and drink to a pub or restaurant, that sort of thing. Gavin is fond of reminding us that free film festivals are generally fairly anarchic affairs, there aren’t an abundance of rules. Probably the best rule of thumb is to remember it’s free so come along prepared to pitch in and, in the smaller venues, be prepared to not get in and to end up having a night out elsewhere.
Will there be food/drink vans at any of the venues?
We certainly hope so. Only a few things are confirmed so far. We’ve got The Yawning Donkey team providing craft ales and ciders at a few events. We think we’ve got some food vans lined up for the big screen but not 100% sorted yet. Some places will have popcorn I think. There is talk of a cocktail pop-up at the Short Screenings night, but these are all the last minute details that are still being finalised.
Will there be loos?
A world exclusive for you here, I’ve just this minute had it confirmed from Gavin that all venues have toilets. Thanks especially to the Council for opening the toilets in Vincent Road for the General Gordon Square events.
Do you still need volunteers? How can people help at this late stage?
Yes we do! We still need volunteers to steward the big screen events, and there’s probably a drink and a sausage roll in it if people are interested. We also need bucket rattlers at various events, it’s a primary source of funding for future events. Anyone interested in knowing more can email Gavin on email@example.com
More than anything else of course we need people to turn out and support the festival. And at the end of it all, after a Blow Up Walk and Talk (September 17th, 5pm) and a screening of the film at Charlton House (September 17th, 7pm), everyone is very welcome to the Closing Party at The White Swan, from 9pm till whenever they kick us out. See you there!
One of my most favourite places on earth is Madrid’s Mercado de San Miguel. I spent a few hours there not that long ago, wandering, sipping, tasting, pointing, chatting, marvelling. It’s a happy place, very near perfect. Buy a glass of cava from the man, point to the oysters you want shucking, nibble on pinchos, experience bliss.
But it’s a bit of a hike to get there from SE18, which is why the Royal Arsenal Farmers Market has gone straight into my all-time hall of fame for Things That Are Good For Woolwich. Already a legend.
The market is held on the second and fourth Saturdays of the month. It currently occupies the huge warehouse near Taproom (go there for fabulous local beer and wine and pizza) but will move outdoors to No.I Street when the big ball of fire finally ups its game.
Okay, Woolwich isn’t Madrid. (The nearest tapas is in Greenwich, courtesy of a charming restaurant called San Miguel, coincidently, which I warmly recommend.) But no matter. Our market does exactly the same thing as the Spanish one: it showcases and celebrates fantastic produce in an inviting setting in which it’s easy to lose a few happy hours.
I love the social side of it. I always have a chinwag with my mate and fellow-Melburnian Despina, who runs Souvlaki The Greek with her partner Scott. Make sure you try one of their souvlakis, made to order on the spot. Get your laughing gear around a healthy and satisfying combo of chicken (or pork or lamb), fresh salad, and tzatziki, wrapped in soft artisan flatbread. Also try the life-saving breakfast souvlaki of sausage, gigantes beans, scrambled egg, and oregano. These guys recently made it into a Londonist feature on where London’s best souvlakis can be found.
Find more homemade Greek dishes at Greekelicious. Julia whips up great moussaka, stifado, pastitsio, dolmades and soutzoukakia. Not sure what soutzoukakia is? Only one way to find out (Google doesn’t count and isn’t as much fun anyway).
While you’re in Despina’s neighbourhood, stop by Southern Wine Roads and have a chat to Maria. She will take you through all the wonderful Greek wines she has on offer. Maria is based in Orphington and is passionate and very knowledgeable about her country’s wines. Buy a small glass for just £3 and sip while you saunter. She sells wine and beer by the bottle as well.
Wildes Cheese is another highlight. I met Philip and Keith a few years ago when their adventure in cheese was just beginning. At that stage, Philip was making the good stuff in his kitchen at home, learning the ropes and forming a business plan. These days, Wildes Cheese is well and truly on London’s food map. Philip has even been on the telly: he is a natural in front of the camera and really should have his own show. Their home market is Ally Pally, but they love coming south of the river now that they understand there are no dragons. On market days they bring the cheese down on the clipper.
Anyone who’s on Twitter in this part of the world will know about our very supportive online community of local purveyors and producers, all doing their thing around Woolwich, Shooters Hill, Eltham, Charlton, Greenwich, and Blackheath. You can meet this virtual network in the flesh at the market. There’s Mike the Very Green Grocer (@VeryGreenGrocer) for Kent-sourced fresh fruit, veggies, eggs, and honey. Mike also stocks other goodies: try to get your hands on the amazing hot sauce from Moon Hot Sauce (@moonhotsauce) and a bag of delicious Gildas Bear granola (@GildasBear). For gorgeous cakes, including gluten-free, see Geraldine at Besprinkle (@besprinkle_) and for tasty sauces see Emma at All Things Saucy (@AllThingsSaucy). Fresh bread abounds too, thanks to Adam at Season Bakery (@SeasonEtcetera) and Graham and Jen at The Honest Loaf (@thehonestloaf).
The market has all the food groups covered. Apart from the above, there are butchers, sausage makers, charcuterie makers, fishmongers, and of course Flicks Fancies for the most enormous sausage rolls imaginable.
But wait, there’s more wine. Don’t miss Andrew and Emma Nielsen of Le Grappin. Andrew’s Twitter profile says it best: Australian nano-négociant in Beaune making small lot wines from under-appreciated appellations across Burgundy. Wow! All I can add is that I highly recommend you buy a Bagnum (a bag of wine) and stick it in the fridge for summer. Buy two. Also take a look at L’atypique for natural, organic, and biodynamic wines.
For more sipping, I’m going to start off at Gin Tales next time. Coming into warmer weather, a G&T while shopping will be just the ticket and is really how life should be all of the time.
Circling back to the social aspect of the market, though, I love how it has become a magnet for all the ace friends we’ve made in Woolwich and slightly beyond. Despina and Scott’s stall has become something of an unofficial gathering spot: everyone seems to show up at roughly the same time and the laughs begin. And looking around the market, I see we’re not alone: there are many jolly groups gathered. London can be a lonely, cold, and overwhelming place sometimes, and it can make you feel very far from home. The Royal Arsenal Farmers Market does the exact opposite.
The Royal Arsenal Farmers Market has a facebook page and also tweets at @RAFarmersMkt
Cities are full of traces. Traces of destruction and creation. Of decline and prosperity. Of war and peace.
I’ve been thinking about this a bit lately, particularly regarding Woolwich and its see-sawing fortunes and the many score-marks of history we can see in its streets and buildings. Sometimes it’s as innocuous as a shoddy shopfront concealing an elegant eighteenth-century townhouse. Other times, it’s as conclusive as the rubble and carbuncles left after Greenwich Council razes an entire town block, or the Arsenal Gate being forever marooned by that flourish of 1980s “planning” known as Plumstead Road.
A few Sundays ago, I visited the ruin of the 1860s Garrison Church of St. George, which is opposite the Royal Artillery Barracks. The traces that remain are what survived after most of the building was blasted to oblivion by a V2 flying bomb in 1944.
The St. George ruins offer us a different type of trace. They carry the full weight of 20th-century history, for a start, rather than rubbing our noses in the misguided actions of council drones and short-sighted planners. And what’s left is well worth preserving. A new curved roof shields the stunning mosaic work and inscriptions from the elements, and is a marked improvement on the previous makeshift shed. This is also a site upon which other traces of memory have been inscribed. Besides the memorials to soldiers who fell while the church was whole, a more recent set of plaques remembers eleven men who have died in service since WW2 or by an act of terrorism. Lee Rigby is among those named.
A modest garden replaces the aisles and pews. The church’s roof was all but completely destroyed during the war, so now it’s an open-air space that functions as a memorial garden and is occasionally used by the nearby Royal Artillery Barracks.
During my visit, I met some locals who’ve banded together to form a friends group. They aim to gather enough similarly enthusiastic volunteers to enable the church to open to the public regularly (for more details you can follow them on Facebook or Twitter @StGeorgesSE18 or email them firstname.lastname@example.org). They’ve already amassed a pile of information on what the church, and its surrounds, used to look like, and will tell you about the plans for its future. Do pay them a visit; you’ll be glad you did.
By their nature, pop-ups are supposed to be temporary. Discovered by hipsters today, written about in Time Out tomorrow, gone next month. Plumstead Pantry started life as a pop-up a few months ago, but if everything goes to plan, one of SE18’s newest and brightest stars will soon become a permanent fixture in what is becoming a jolly decent local dining scene.
When I first heard that a brunch spot had “popped up,” as it were, in Tony’s Café in Plumstead, I had to know more. A pop-up? In Plumstead? A place surely where, much like hurricanes in Hartford, Hereford and Hampshire, pop-ups hardly ever happen. Even Twitter was a bit confused. Some didn’t know what or where Plumstead was. Others couldn’t picture Tony’s Café until locals pointed out its proximity to The Old Mill pub. I was intrigued by a posse of well-trained baristas and foodies invading a traditional Southeast London greasy spoon, but I couldn’t see how they were going to make it work.
That said, it only took a couple of photos of drool-worthy plates of eggs benedict, tweeted by indefatigable SE18 enthusiasts @saminus and @SteveToole, to convince me to traverse the lower slopes of Shooters Hill one sunny Saturday and strike out in the direction of Plumstead Common.
We’d woken up at the crack of 11am, busting as ever for bacon and coffee. Happily, we soon found out that Plumstead Pantry does both of those things extremely well. Owners Julia and Ashley source the bacon (and everything else) locally. Chef Ashley then performs some kind of alchemy in the kitchen to turn the succulent rashers into even more succulent Maple Bacon. I don’t normally go in for random capitalisations, but the Maple Bacon deserves it.
Our first crack at the menu was the Pantry Breakfast, the flagship offering. It features eggs on top of sourdough toast (bread baked that day by Charlton-based artisanal micro-bakery The Honest Loaf), a lip-smacking pile of Maple Bacon, a slice or two of black pudding, grilled tomatoes and broad beans. My friend Kim would not condone the broad beans because they go against her no-greens-for-breakfast mantra, but I think they complement the meatier aspects of the dish very nicely. If meat isn’t your caper, there’s the Veggie Breakfast of haloumi, mushrooms, poached eggs, sourdough toast, tomatoes and beans. No Maple Bacon, though, so I’ll probably never order it.
If cutlery and grown up things on a plate is too much for your hangover, just go for a bacon/egg or sausage/egg sarnie. They’re large and restorative.
And the coffee? Well, someone has to be the winner and I reckon Plumstead Pantry does the best coffee in SE18. At least, that’s my opinion as a Melburnian who has sat on many a fake-grass-covered upturned milk crate in Fitzroy, Brunswick, Abbotsford and central Melbourne’s café-lined laneways, sipping flat whites that come as close to perfection as can be imagined. I know I could spend an hour traveling to some hipster café in Soho, or queuing for 40 minutes outside Monmouth Coffee near Borough Market, but I don’t want to have to. I really don’t. The many flat whites I’ve inhaled at Plumstead Pantry have been consistently very, very good. Bold and bright enough, with a creamy texture and lovely finish. Well played, Plumstead Pantry baristas.
Besides ensuring the cranky likes of me get their fill of bacon and coffee, Ashley and Julia have also been working hard to establish the Pantry’s dinner menu. We’ve not been for dinner yet, but the menus that flicker across my Twitter feed sound seasonal, local, healthy, and wonderful. Green tea salmon with jewelled bulgur and harissa yoghurt. Pork tenderloin with greens, brown rice, and Oxleas Wood apples. Tofu burger with kimchi and miso salad. And so on. At the moment at least, you bring your own wine.
If everything falls into place, Plumstead Pantry will soon be permanent. An interior refurbishment is on the cards, too. The notion of the Pantry staying on and growing and becoming a beloved landmark will make its already-sizable legion of local fans very happy indeed. As a near-local from the other bit of SE18, I too cannot wait!
Details: Plumstead Pantry currently does dinner from Tuesdays through Fridays, and brunch on Saturday and Sunday. Dinner, BYO booze. The address is 16 Warwick Terrace, SE18 1QJ but most people just know it as the café near the pub. Follow on Twitter and Instagram @PlumPantry.
When I was little, we’d visit both sets of grandparents regularly and alternately for a Sunday roast. One of my grans was a dab hand at whipping up roasts, puddings, cakes, scones, and that sort of caper. The other gran, however, wasn’t that interested in cooking. I think she could cook, but was more interested in things like tending her bonsai and decorating her home with mid-century furniture. So when we went to her place for Sunday lunch, we got Kentucky Fried Chicken! Of course, we kids loved it (but I think my very health-conscious mum had some reservations).
What my gran needed, in far-off 1970s Melbourne, was something like the roast delivery service that Hannah McDuffus is now offering to the hungry denizens of Southeast London.
Hannah has already made quite a name for herself as BedNBreakfasttt, delivering full English brekkies, bacon sarnies, and omelettes to a very appreciative audience. (I’m sure she’s helped cure many a hangover and that her business, therefore, should be classified as an emergency service.) She’s now branching into full Sunday roasts, either chicken or lamb, with all the usual trimmings plus some special side dishes. Woo hoo!
I was lucky enough to receive one of Hannah’s roasts during her recent testing phase. I opted for the chicken. It arrived good and hot (her drivers use those heated pouch dooverlackies that pizza palaces use) and neatly packaged. Little containers held seasonal vegetables, homemade coleslaw, gravy, and apple sauce. A larger container held the quarter chicken, roast potatoes, and Yorkshire pudding. The chicken was tasty and moist and the roast potatoes were done to perfection. The Yorkshire pudding, albeit smaller than some I’ve tackled, was enough for me. I also ordered a serve of macaroni cheese, which came in its own small tub. Delicious! The easy packaging meant that I could scoop everything out onto my preheated plate and tuck in immediately.
Hannah’s roast delivery service is still in its nascent stage. She’s aiming to officially launch it in September as people come back from holidays, the weather gets colder, and no one can be arsed cooking. I think it’s good timing. Ooh and guess what…she’s talking to a local purveyor of fancy beverages about offering a cocktail delivery service alongside the roast chooks and lambs! Danger, danger, danger…make mine a Bloody Mary.
Roasts with the trimmings (vegetables, potatoes, Yorkshire pudding, coleslaw, gravy, and sauce) will start at £10.95 per serve for the chicken and £12.95 for lamb. Extras will range from £1.99 to £2.99.
If you like the sound of all that, keep an eye on www.bednbreakfasttt.co.uk, as Hannah will be posting a link to the roast service there soon. Also, follow her on Twitter @bednbreakfasttt for regular updates.