Comedian and food-fiend Jessica Fostekew puts her mouth where others fear to tread. A celebration of eating: from posh nosh to kebab shops to stuff that’s been on the floor. This week Jess has dinner with Rachel Riley and Catherine Zeta Jones. In theory.
The Gantry. It sounds like somewhere you’d find a farm-hand canoodling with a stable-wench. In reality it means either ‘a bridge-like structure’ supporting cranes and cameras or a little bar to hold optics. So, a very dangerous place to make love. It transpires though, a flipping delightful place to hoof lunch.
My friend (and fellow Standard Issue apostle) Kiri was staying near me in Brockley, South East London. So we stayed local, I’d had my eye on this place for donkeys.
It’s classy without being smug, like Rachel Riley off of Countdown. Unlike Rachel, the inside is woody and leathery, with wending little off-shoot rooms and nooks everywhere. It’s like someone has put a bar and restaurant inside a hobbit’s library. The atmosphere is a warm and friendly one but you never feel confined or overheard. Which was handy because we had loads of military secrets to discuss.
We met at midday when there’s a sexy brunch menu if we’d wanted. It boasted a ‘Special Eggs Royal’ (£9). Muffin, salmon, avocado, poached eggs, chives and hollandaise. That got my tum’s attention. My eyes, however, were drawn to the ‘Nordic Seafood Platter with Buckwheat Blinis’. It included anchovies and octopus salad. Woah, woah, woah. For breakfast? There’s ‘adventurous’ and there’s ‘pervert’. I thought ‘I’d never get that’. Then I thought ‘I’d like to watch someone else eat that.’ And then I thought ‘who’s the pervert now?’
In the end, we were too smitten with the main lunch menu. With no consultation, we both ordered the ‘Salmon and Coriander Burger ’. Great mouths think alike. It was an option to have a green salad or chips. I went for chips because 1) I’d been spinning that morning and 2) it was January and my soul ached and 3) the options were green salad or chips.
It arrived, bountiful, on the obligatory wooden plinth. It looked sexy and homely all at once. Like Catherine Zeta Jones in The Darling Buds of May. Our highly-covert mutterings about genetically enhanced robo-warriers paused while we tucked in. Alright, we weren’t really sharing military secrets, but that gives you an idea of how exciting the chat was. The food was pretty exhilarating and all.
The chips were lush. Home made, from scratch. They were scrumped, dark brown, salty, molten-middled and crunchy-edged. Not too skinny, not too fat. Mmm. They came with a pot of mayonnaise that had garlic and some other secret magic in it, it was so delicious. Maybe a tiny drop of tabasco or chipolte? It was warming and wholesome but intriguing too. And there was a mighty hillock of them. It’s so miserable when a pub serves you a posh burger next to four lonely chips stacked up like the start of a Jenga-tower-for-one. On this occasion, there were more than even I could conquer.
Jess with her dinner
Kiri, dinner mate extraordinaire
The burger was even more compelling. I’d never had a salmon burger. It came in a brioche bun, as is trendy at the moment. As a rule I think they’re overrated. Why bread-makers mucked about with more invention once the crusty cob already existed I’ll never know. But in this instance, the slight sweetness of this glazed French bap went well with the citrus and fish flavours. From the bottom up there was a heap of young spinach leaves, earthy and crisp. Then there were some giant slabs of hearty beefsteak tomato, meaty and sharp. Then a slab of feta. What a bold move with fish. It worked. I already knew it was best mates with tomato but was over the moon beam that it fitted in with this concoction. The burger sat atop that, a juicy salmon and herb patty. It was super light and delicate. Squelching through it all was the centrepiece for me, a lime mayonnaise. It was like a heavenly arbiter, keeping it all in check. Artful, it had a real punch; it physically stopped it falling apart and it kept it from being too dusty. The combined flavours and textures of flakey fish, big lime and chalky, salty cheese were scrum-diddly-umptious.
It was simultaneously comforting and invigorating, as if my mouth had had a bath and a shower. If mayonnaise mastery was a sport in the chef Olympics then gold most certainly goes to the Gantry.
We were too full of food for puds but too full of talk to leave so I glugged a coffee and Kiri had a hot chocolate. Both of them lovely. What a top place. It’s reasonably priced for the atmosphere, quality and innovation there, in the place and the menu. It’s on my doorstep but even if it’s not on yours, it’s well worth travelling for. I’ll see you there.
The Gantry Restaurant and Bar
188 Brockley Road, London, SE4 2RL
0208 469 0043
Access: Not really. Wheelchair access to the courtyard and bar level but no accessible toilets on that floor and passageways very narrow
Jessica Fostekew is a writer, comedian, actor, law degree-waster, sister, daughter and beard-fan with an unabashed food infatuation.