In the two years since I’ve left, Canada Water has really blossomed – new-builds are complete, and shops and amenities are moving in to turn the place into a proper neighbourhood. What I really appreciate, though, is that it has been a measured transition so far. Maybe it’s simply because there was nothing much to gentrify before, unlike in many parts of Shoreditch, say, where the ‘vintage’ has muscled out the actual vintage.
Still, the Rotherhithe Peninsula does have some of its own heritage and places. While Canada Water Cafe is completely new to me, the Salt Quay – formerly the Old Salt Quay – is one of the most evident reminders of what Rotherhithe used to be, namely part of the Docklands – a huge network of canals, pools and warehouses that supplied London with the world.
Converted from a warehouse and directly overlooking the Thames, the Salt Quay was – when I last saw it – a slightly brooding space, both from the dark wooden interior and the restrained light and music. To be upstairs in the evening was to be in a quiet space, perfect for writing. Things have rather changed now; it has become a lot brighter, the music oscillates between rock standards and indie, and there’s even wallpaper with sketches of pufferfish. Yes, okay, I get it – it’s a new crowd they are angling for, with beards and earnest glasses. But what’s comforting is that the food still goes on much as it did.
Pork belly, for example, comes covered in dark gravy, though it lies on a dollop of mash with spinach in it. But the pork itself is perfectly serviceable. The fat layer looks diminished, but its taste has gone into the gravy and juiced up the meat as well, making for something glistening and tender.
Equally, steak and ale pie has each component falling into its assigned place, from chantenay carrots and roasted parsnips that are almost sugary to a pie crust that happily mingles with the gravy and filling. The beef, bathed in savoury brownness, is tamed but not destroyed, with a pleasant bit of chewiness.
Canada Water Cafe is an interesting contrast to the Salt Quay, a cafe as new as the pub was old, and decorated cozily, mostly with blonde wood and cushions. Hot chocolate here is thick, grainy and moderately sweet, and latte is mild-mannered.
But it’s the staff who really give it the magic touch. They are multilingual (I’ve heard French, Italian and Spanish at least) and so very friendly; on my second visit I’m already being called ‘dear’ and ‘darling’ and asked about how the morning went. That the morning in question had high winds, lashing drizzle and about 3 degrees Celsius seemed less consequential. Of course the morning is good. Nice people asked me nicely about it, and then they will make it a lot nicer. With breakfast, for instance.
Sometimes I’m still not sure about the full English breakfast because there really isn’t much interaction between the ingredients. But this one, on its sunny plate, improves on the usual with fluffy scrambled eggs and coarse-ground sausages, both of which work well with the crisp toast. The mushroom also stands out, earthy and woody.
Unlike the full English, Eggs Benedict is a breakfast with a plan, to be eaten together. The hollandaise, which is what holds them together, has just a little tanginess to go with gloopy, oozing poached egg yolks, and they’ve also toasted the muffins a little hard. By itself it would be a bit difficult; it needs the sauces and runny yolks to pool on and smoothen it. Bacon, while it never needs anything, happily contributes its straightforward saltiness to the mix.
So here we are. Thing is, Canada Water remains mainly a place to go home to rather than eat out – but sometimes it’s precisely this that drives demand for better food closer to home. That’s what happened to Shoreditch, and as the moneyed flood into Canada Water, food places may well follow them all the way home. It might not have quite the same vibe as it does out East, but it’ll be fun – and encouraging – to see what does come in.
163 Rotherhithe Street
London SE16 5QU (map)
Mon – Thu, 11am – 11pm
Fri – Sat, 10am – midnight
Sun, 11am – midnight
Canada Water Cafe
40 Surrey Quays Road
London SE16 7DX (map)
Mon – Fri, 7am – 10.30pm
Sat, 8.30am – 11pm
Sun, 8.30am – 9pm