The first thing you’ll see when you step into The Canton Arms are the eyes of faces at the bar turning to clock who’s walked in. The first thing you’ll smell is a comforting mixture of beer and butter. And the first thing you’ll hear is the thud, scrape, and shuffle of an old boy and his walking stick. This is a local pub for local people. Only it’s not in Royston Vasey, it’s in Stockwell, and you’ll want to pay it a visit.
As with all great pubs, there’s nothing flashy about The Canton Arms. The interior is brown and wooden and looks like the kind of place a Guy Ritchie-eque heist would be planned by a group of feckless geezers. The bar is the great unifier and the great divider of the space. It’s a big old wooden thing surrounded by stools and solo-but-not-solo locals. If life was a film you would get up on this bar and do a jig after a few too many, much to the delight of the pub. Thankfully life isn’t a film, and everyone here appears to live in a quiet but respectful fear of retribution from The Canton Arm’s characterful staff.
The menu is split between bar and dining area. At dinner time, the only thing you can eat up front is toasties. Triangular, molten-heated bastards forged in the mouth of a Breville. They’re glorious, after-school, beans and cheese nostalgia trips. Except here you can get them filled with foie gras or haggis as well. If you’re looking for a venue for a liquid lunch or dinner that has some excellent and optional stomach-liners, then you want to be here.
photo credit: Giulia Verdinelli
On the other side of the bar, the dining room is where the Canton seamlessly pivots from pints into puy lentils. The menu is a touch European and a touch British, and the food is neither brilliant nor bad, but perfect for the space. Homely portions of Montbéliard sausage and beans, a fish whose final splash is in a pool of butter, a plate of ripe peaches and stracciatella. It’s satisfying stuff that has some faults. Things like overdone beef or a garlic clove too far on more than one dish. But it’s impossible to dislike. Because although eating tasty food matters here, it doesn’t matter quite as much as having your nearest and dearest, and a drink, next to you.
A majority of the food at The Canton Arms subscribes to the age-old formula of butter and garlic, while a majority of the regular clientele stick to what comes out of the keg. Two classic combinations in an altogether classic pub. One where the thrills and spills are provided by punters, rather than anything else. Which is, really, exactly what you should you look for in a local.
photo credit: Giulia Verdinelli
The menu changes daily at The Canton Arms, but you can always expect to find a few smaller vegetable plates, salads, a pasta, a couple of meat options, and some fish on.
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Peaches, Stracciatella, And Almonds
There are some things that you can eat any time, day or night, and this is one of them. Ripe and sweet peaches with creamy stracciatella and a healthy drizzle of olive oil. It’s very European, apart from your pint of bitter next to it.
Heritage Tomatoes, Feta, Chilli, Garlic, And Lemon
A perfectly nice plate of tomatoes. Not quite good enough to be on our tomatoes-we-talk-about-like-they-have-personalities list.
The expectation for handmade pasta in restaurants these days means that you notice when it’s the dry stuff. That doesn’t really bother us because this spaghettini was tasty and generous with the crab (and also the garlic).
Montbéliard Sausage, Lentils, Watercress, And Aioli
A big old smoky French sausage on a pile of mustardy lentils is always a good thing. We prefer aioli to be thicker, but it still tastes nice enough.
Duck Heart Skewer And Chermoula On Sourdough Flatbread
The cinnamon, cumin, and paprika in this dry chermoula rub is delicious. And it’s perfect with pink duck hearts. This, or anything similar, should definitely be part of your order.
Brill, White Beans, Porcini Mushroom, And Garlic Butter
This piece of fish is served in an ocean of garlic butter. It’s alright. But, like when a dog runs onto a football pitch, it’s the garlic that takes centre stage.