Saturday, 13 August 2011

Ben's Canteen - St John's Hill SW11

I was very excited to hear that a new cafe, Ben's Canteen was opening in my 'hood that was about good food and importantly good coffee (the fact that Brewed Boy was involved augured well).  We finally got there today and it was good - to be honest I would say there is great potential with some kinks to iron out (more on that below).  St John's Hill is a funny strip - really well placed and attractive but there has never been any (in my humble opinion) knock out food and drink places.  There's a cute French deli, a posh fish 'n chips place and others - there actually used to be a place called Louvaines that I liked but that went under.  The cafe that was in the Ben's Canteen location before was OK but kinda bland.  Ben's looks good - I like the blue and white and the casual, stripped back wooden vibe inside.  This has all the makings of a great brunch place and this corner of SW London really needs that.  The other half and I had two pretty decent flat whites (important to note that BB was not in situ when we went so they weren't to his usual standard), I had a tasty full English and the other half had a sausage and egg sanga.  The quality of the produce in my fry-up seemed really good - yummy bacon, great mushrooms, nice dark-yellow yolked eggs.  The only short-coming was the bread - I saw some great sourdough going out on a sandwich but my breakfast had nice but generic white sliced - good bread can change a good full English to a great one.  OK - so these guys are only in week two and I know they are finding their feet but I am going to play the know-it-all customer and give them some tips because I really want this place to succeed and thrive and I want to have lots more breakfasts there.  So here we go - London Rob's tips for making your pretty cool cafe truly great:

  • when people walk in, particularly when it's super quiet, make sure they have glasses of water delivered to them ASAP
  • make sure your waiting staff are on the ball - the waitress who brought us our menus took our coffee order and then promptly forgot it and never came back to apologise.  Having said that the other waitress was super nice and really efficient.
  • make sure the vibe is up beat (although not intrusive) - enthusiasm is infectious
  • as above, good bread with the fry-up is a must
  • make sure you check if people want more coffee when you pick up their cups - on the weekend most people will take you up on it
Anyway enough preaching - if you live in the St John's Hill area, this is a great addition to your neighbourhood.  Make sure you support these guys - we need more places like this in London.

Ben's Canteen on Urbanspoon


  1. So did you like it or not? You aren't usually so critical in your reviews? This is right near my house and I am really excited to try it out.

  2. Hi Sally - yes I did like it and I didn't mean to come over as critical. I just really want this place to thrive so was trying to be constructive!

  3. Looks like St Johns Hill is finally living up to its potential - I live just round the corner and have been waiting for a place like this to open for ages. Nice one.

  4. Howdy mate, thanks for the comments. Wish I could have seen you there. It has been a pretty interesting (and hectic) few weeks helping Ben get the canteen open. There is a definite commitment here to do something really great. I resurrected the poor old machine (see my blog) and got Square Mile on board so there is some great coffee coming out of here and as soon as we find a dedicated weekend barista (why so hard to find?) we will be pouring perfect flatties seven days a week.

    Weekend brunch will evolve over the next few weeks as we all find our feet. You will be pleased to hear Aussie style brunch is the main inspiration. There will be aome awesome dishes appearing on the menu with Ben committed to using local suppliers. Hamish Johnston on Northcote for example. You can check out to see the menu which is updated daily.

    Anyway! Come in on Wednesday night - I'm cooking tapas in the bar. would be good to see you.

  5. Hey BB - good to hear from you. I actually walked up Rupert St today and there was a big Brewed Boy-shaped hole (that sound a bit rude, wasn't meant to!) Soho misses you mate - but Soho's loss is Battersea's gain. In fact I plan to do a blog post on your departure and bigging up the other coffee carts around town.

    Will def try and come down Wed night - I am looking forward to spending lots of time at Ben's, love the whole ethos and the commitment everyone involved seems to have to make this a true local gem.

    Hope all is well - see you soon.

  6. Hello. I've been to Ben's Canteen to try it out and the latte and tuna melt that I had was lovely. No complaints there. I have been following on twitter and similarly am very keen for this place to do well. One comment from me having observed daily lunch menus appearing is that perhaps they could cater for the vegetarian a bit more when it comes to the sandwiches? All a bit meat and fish at the mo. BC is clearly getting lovely cheese from Hamish Johnston, so how about a bit more of that in the sandwiches? Other than that, I think it's all looking great and will definitely be coming back to try out dinner very soon.

  7. Agreed that we all really want Ben's to do well. My key observations on only two visits are:
    - I would like to see some sharper service (my food arrived before my coffee and then I had to re-ask for my water)
    - My breakfast (eggs benedict) was okay but really not a whole lot better than what I'd be able to make at home (with bought sauce).

    We're rooting for Ben's. Let's hope it picks up on these areas.

  8. Sounds like there is lots of support for Ben's from the SW crew - bodes well!

  9. I will try this one out, especially since the fabulous Brewed Boy is involved!

  10. GD - even though BB has left Soho you can make sure he realises his Soho regulars have not deserted him!