Tuesday, 3 August 2010

Bonnington Cafe, Vauxhall

Atrocious photograph courtesy of R.B. Swift
For a couple of reasons, the validity of which I'll leave it to you to judge, I don't have a very great deal to say about the food at Bonnington Cafe.  First of all there doesn't seem much point, as the menu at this moderately famous, co-operative-run vegetarian restaurant in Vauxhall changes every day depending on which co-op member is taking their turn as chef. Because of this, what was on offer when I visited will bear no resemblance to what might be available should you go - as I hope you will - other than that it will be vegetarian or possibly vegan. Secondly and more typically, is that being BYO, the seven of us who ate there recently brought and drank so much of our own that my memory of what was bought and eaten is slightly impaired.

There's plenty that I can tell you however, most importantly (and I hope usefully) that I liked Bonnington Cafe very much indeed and that it's a terrific little place. What started as a squat cafe in the early 1980s is now a respectable - but not too respectable! - commercial enterprise, funding the work of the local community's Bonnington Centre of which it occupies the ground floor. Gastropubs and brasserie chains everywhere pay designers thousands of pounds to recreate something approximating the decor of Bonnington Cafe, with its mismatched furniture, candles in jam jars and eclectic artwork, but this is the real deal, organic, the product of evolution and hands-on community involvement over many years.

While it might be possible to replicate some of the interior elements, no smart consultancy or marketing wonk could hope to recreate the atmosphere of this place. Being so deeply rooted in the community and true to its co-operative values, Bonnington Cafe welcomes everyone and as a result attracts a very diverse crowd. So, on the night of this visit as well as our table of noisy, expensively dressed thirtysomethings popping champagne corks there was also a group of very intense, patchouli-scented, bindi wearing groovers, a cute couple on a date and a table of arty-looking chaps with immaculately waxed moustaches. Oh, and there was an accordionist playing, not that it was a French-themed evening, just y'know, parce que. It all makes for a very warm, inclusive, comfortable place which more 'professional' restaurants could learn a lot from.

I suppose at this juncture I should say something about the food, or at least what I remember of it. My starter (there are two choices for each course, chalked up on a blackboard) was listed as 'Spanish tapas' and further described by our waitress as being 'sort of nuts, some beans and spices, in like a tomato sauce' which prompted the couple on the next table to chip in "It's nicer than it sounds!" The dish which I received resembled nothing I've eaten on my extensive travels in Spain but was nonetheless a very tasty bowlful, nicely seasoned and very nourishing. The alternative was pea soup; it was a bit heavy on the parsley for my liking (though in fairness, any amount of parsley is too heavy for my liking) but perfectly good as soup goes and an enormous helping too.

For main courses (and this I'm afraid is where the liquor starts to affect my memory) there was a 'Cuban platter' or some sort of pie; I had the former and liked it very much. Along with some spicy, rich veggie mince came some golden savoury rice, along with - oddly I thought, but if it's typically Cuban, mea culpa - a baked banana. It was filling and moreish, the mince as hearty as any meat-based ragu I've tasted. The pie...well whatever it was I know no-one complained about it which gives the chef a perfect 7-out-of-7 for customer satisfaction if not for memorability. For pud there was a choice of chocolate or peanut tart, the latter vegan (I'll take their word for it that the cream-ish swirl it shared plate space with was dairy-free). Both were good, and as with everything cooked with love and served in generous portions for the price.

Ah yes - the price. A final clincher, if you weren't already tempted to give Bonnington Cafe a whirl, is that starters and puds are three quid each and mains are all seven pounds, so a good, filling, ethically-conscious meal can be yours for just £13. In fact not all of us had three courses so the bill for seven of us came to a ridiculous £85; we rounded it up to £100 only to have our gorgeous French waitress run after us as we staggered off into the night crying (assume your best 'Allo 'Allo! accent for this), "You 'ave left faaar too motch monnay!" We very happily told her to keep it.

Bonnington Cafe, 11 Vauxhall Grove, London SW8 1TD Bookings are made directly with the chef; check website for their numbers: http://www.bonningtoncafe.co.uk  Bonnington Cafe on Urbanspoon


  1. Sounds delicious and not too far from me. I will indeed be giving this one a try - maybe without the total obliteration. Maybe...

  2. Ooh, sounds like a welcoming little gem - even if it is vegetarian :)

  3. Ah the perils of drinking and then trying to remember what you've actually had to eat. I have done it far too often but great review nevertheless. Plus it sounds nice and cheep!

  4. Glad you like it... I never find myself able to honestly comment on the food there. I just like the atmosphere, the intent and the bring your own so loose any critical ability.

    Have a look at Italo if you ever find yourself in the area if it is open.


  5. Julianna - I think being at least *fairly* pissed adds to the fun and makes one more amenable to unidentifiable foodstuffs! Do give it a go, and let me know if you're going, perhaps we can go together.

    MiMi - It really is a fantastically welcoming place, and as a fellow enthusiastic carnivore I'd go so far as to say I didn't miss the meat at this meal.

    Food Urchin - Usually I get round the problem by scribbling (occasionally illegible) notes on the menu, but when it's attached to the wall as it is here it's a bit tricky to take home...

    Tom - Couldn't agree more; the food's almost secondary to the experience to be honest. Thanks for the Italo tip, I do love a deli!

  6. My dear Mr Wright - this place sounds like a joy, and particularly gorgeous that you were chased down the street with the tip! I know good meals are supposed to be memorable, but sometimes the best ones get a little hazy!

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  8. Now I can only wonder why you haven't taken me here!


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