I have to admit to a degree of self-interest over the newly re-furbished Canton Arms. You see, if I look out of the window of our drawing room, and crank my head a bit to the left, I can see the place. We're that close. It's at the end of the street where we live.
We're currently sharing our hovel with a troupe of Polish builders, who, until the recent stock market crash put a spanner in the proverbial works, were about to rip out our slightly naff eighties-style kitchen. The plan was to use The Canton Arms as our local canteen, or failing that, to charm them into starting up a local delivery service.
For those of you who haven't been there yet, The Canton Arms can be found on the South Lambeth Road, directly south of the Secret Intelligence Service building, otherwise known as MI6. It's an ambigious area. No-one's really sure if this is actually Vauxhall or Stockwell, actually. The dreadful Foxtons call it "Little Portugal"- but then they would, wouldn't they? In truth, the Portuguese and Spanish tapas bars of the South Lambeth Road ain't as good as some people like to pretend (and sorry folks, this includes Rabato's.)
The Canton has been taken over by the team behind Great Queen Street in Covent Garden and The Hope and Anchor in nearby Waterloo. And it may be quite a shrewd move on their part, for the whole of Vauxhall (extending into Nine Elms) is about to become a major re-development and regeneration hot spot, with a Manhatten style skyscraper cluster planned for Vauxhall Cross (currently one spaghetti of a junction, dotted with edgy gay night clubs), and a picturesque Thames-side walk way extending past the new American Embassy quarter, all the way to a re-developed Battersea Power Station. There's even talk of a Borough Market style complex on the site of the New Covent Garden Market. And it looks like it's going to happen, for as I write, the cranes and diggers are at work on what I presume is going to be the foundations for the shiny new Vauxhall Tower, just to the left of the eighteenth century Brunswick House, where you can buy bits and pieces of resalvaged Old London at exorbitant prices. Ah, Brave New World.
The new owners have taken the very sensible option of more or less leaving The Canton Arms alone. They've painted the walls a satisfyingly Victorian plum red, and put up quite a few Art Deco mirrors- but that's about it. The scuffed floorboards have been left uncovered. The front of the pub, remains just that; a pub. At the back is where the action takes place, where the eager (if slightly awkward) staff direct you to the tables. And they seem to be doing well, as on every visit there's been a buzzy atmosphere, fueled by their new clientele- vaguely trendy, media types in late youth, wearing Tom Ford designer glasses. It's also becoming a destination restaurant: last week I saw a prosperous looking young couple arriving at the pub in a chauffeur driven black Mercedes.
Last night we decided to escape the chaos and drop by for a quick supper; on arrival we were directed to "our table", as one of their chaps rather kindly put it. The staff, by the way, wear black and white striped aprons. As at Great Queen Street, the menu takes the form of an austere bit of paper, and the choice is suitably frugal. Mrs Aitch's "potted shrimps" were served warm, oozed butter and were properly seasoned with nutmeg and spice. My "pressed pig's head" was served in thin slices, and tasted very similar to tongue. Mrs A's sole looked fine, though she felt that the chef might have had shares in Lurpak- for they're very keen on their butter at The Canton. My lamb was nice and pink and came with well cooked courgettes, and a crisp and- yes, again- buttery green cabbage. We ordered a few glasses of the house Beaujoulais and were offered the choice of either "warm" or "chilled". A nice touch, I thought. You can also order wine by the jug.
If you're sitting at the bar and want a snack, their "Foie Gras Toasties" might be just the ticket- I gather that these are already enjoying a certain following among le gratin. Yup, the food's not bad at all; actually, in it's own way, rather good. It's unpretentious, earthy and simple. No bad thing, that: pub's a pub, and who on earth wants their local to serve " a medley of fruits de mer presented on a bed of pampered whatever" ? Especially if it's on a square plate.