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23 April 2009
Who better to take as a dining partner for a restaurant review than the best cook in the world - my mum - and with her birthday imminent a trip to Cantina Vinopolis was just the thing. Cantina is part of the magnificent Vinopolis complex by Borough Market that houses a cocktail bar, a beer bar and a wine bar as well as wine-tasting tours, fine and casual dining and even once a month comedy nights!
We were shown to a corner table with comfortable banquette seating that provided the perfect view of the restaurant. A cool calmness pervaded the atmosphere as waiting and kitchen staff quietly and professionally went about their business. The high vaulted ceilings of the railway arches absorbed the sounds from the open kitchen and dining area leaving a comforting hum and the ubiquitous Muzak playing at the right level in the background.
There were no condiments present on the table, the required amount of seasoning obviously provided before the food is served. A succession of servers looked after our immediate needs before menus were brought.
The options showed a good all round selection of meat, fish and vegetarian dishes, and as the whole raison d'etre of Vinopolis is about viticulture, the dishes all have accompanying wines recommended by the resident expert.
With me being a member of the 'bring a bottle of house white' gang, Vinopolis offered the ideal opportunity to drink wines specially chosen to complement certain foods, so found myself drinking a first-class sauvignon from Tumbarumba to go with the artichoke and asparagus starter; its bitter-sweetness reflecting the citrus and herb salad dressing and perfectly cooked vegetables like nothing I would have ordered.
Mum's Austrian wine also worked wonders with her pan-fried scallops and olive and tomato salsa.
I usually get fed up with being constantly asked if the meal is okay while I'm trying to eat a salad dripping with vinaigrette, waiters usually timing their run perfectly with half a dozen rocket leaves protruding from my mouth, but at Vinopolis I actually relished the chance to tell them how much I was enjoying myself.
As me and mum spoke about all the brouhaha that accompanies any TV chef turning his kitchen into hell it was a comfort to see how a relatively small kitchen can cope with a 180-seat restaurant with no fuss at all.
After a decent interval the mains arrived with enough vegetables so as not to require further side orders. Mum's plaice was deemed 'beautiful' and my cod supreme was, well, supreme; even more so with the New Zealand Riesling that brought out the spicy tang in the supplementary chorizo potato cake.
I sensibly left a little on the plate in order to leave room for dessert as there were some absolute blinders on the menu.
We struck up conversation with our Spanish waitress Pamela, who had hhmmmed and aaaahhhed as we placed each order, adding comments such as: 'That's my favourite… That is really good…You will like that', confirming our choices as wise ones. As she told us of loving life living in the Elephant & Castle and her dream of improving her already good English here, we both fell in love with her. Mum remarking on her lovely smile, me wishing I was 30 years younger.
Eventually we had to let Pamela get back to work while we chose our desserts, and there was much to choose from - all sounding delicious. I went for the New York cheesecake with an Aussie Shiraz that made me close my eyes and fantasise about becoming a cheesecake taster, while Mum had some full-on chocolate creation that came with a Lebanese dessert wine that went down easily from where I was sitting.
We then had coffees, mainly because we were too stuffed to actually get up and walk and needed to stay seated for a while longer. Mum's overall observation was that everything was great, 'and those toilets are spotless' she ensured I told readers. This from a lady who has Catherine Tate's old lady as a role model are heartening words indeed.
After lunch Eduard the restaurant manager gave us a guided tour where we were shown the wine-tasting section, where Vinopolis brew their own beer and the various bars. Surfing the website later I found Vinopolis boasts a whole load of meal deals, promotions, attractions and events. I think everyone should find the time to visit as they will not be disappointed.
Cantina is not for everyday lunching but an excellent place for evenings and weekends - or for treating mums - and the whole Vinopolis complex has something for everyone whatever the strength of the pound in their pocket.
I wouldn't normally spend as much on wine as this so the total is not a real reflection of an average bill.
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