Breakfast at The Putney Canteen

A recent move to the south-west of London opened up a rich seam of easily-accessible breakfast venues in quasi-mythical places that sound like Monty Python sketch punchlines, like Twickenham, Wimbledon and Clapham: irritating to reach when you have to trek from the north of London and through the fetid middle, but more appealing to visit when it’s a only a five minute train ride.

I visited Putney recently, with an assumption that most bits of London between Richmond and Waterloo not served by the Tube are leafy and unspoilt. This wasn’t a realistic assumption: what I saw of Putney felt like I’d travelled back in time to the ’80s to visit an English town bombed in the ’40s and rebuilt during the ’60s. There’s even a Laura Ashley department store; I was sure if I turned a corner I’d find myself walking into a branch of Athena.

I’m being unfair; I didn’t explore the place at all, so for all I know there are much nicer bits of Putney than the main high streets. Getting out was better at least, happily tripping up Sunday joggers on the Thames path with a view of Bishops Park and plenty of greenery.

The Putney Canteen turned out to be one of my many Hells, full of local families with toddlers and pushchairs and men who don’t take their coats off while they’re sat at the table. I hadn’t booked, because some part of me still doesn’t believe anywhere could be full at breakfast, and the place was swarming, I suppose because it’s the only place worth brunching at in Putney. Luckily there’s a designated ‘table for one’, a literal table for one with just one chair and hidden behind a pillar so I could surprise everyone that tried to use that route as a shortcut.

The brunch menu is typical; meat and vegetarian variations on the full English, five different Benedicts, pancakes. The ‘Smashed Avocado’ appealed to me because of my own anger towards the avocado breakfast, but I have to draw the line at a dish containing crumbled Feta, diced beetroot and cottage cheese, an ingredients list reading more like how it might appear on the way back up rather than on the plate.

Eggs Rancheros sounded good but wasn’t available on weekends; fortunately the full English was solid and hearty, and I’ve a lot of respect for a full English that includes hash browns and toast as at that time of day there’s no such thing as too many carbs. Ideally all breakfasts ought to come with hash browns; it’s a constant disappointment when I pour my morning cereal and find that none of it is deep-fried potato.

The staff were friendly and efficient, clearly on top of things despite how busy things were. I ate well, I had a decent time even surrounded by a hundred identikit families, but I can’t imagine I’ll go back unless someone can tell me there’s a nicer bit of Putney to explore. Regardless, I’m sure if you live in Putney, you’re glad that The Putney Canteen exists; it was the only place I saw that felt like it belonged to now instead of the past.