My experience of the Bonnington Café is one of marvel and wonder; to me it feels a little like coming home, and last night most especially as I lay awake wondering how to go about opening my own branch. For more than the food, people go for the experience, to know that a 3 course meal will cost £13 and the BYO has no corkage. The chefs are on rotation every night, the food makes barely any profit and, I think, goes back into the running of the building. The music is understatedly good and the girls who work there are sexy Europeans of all sizes. Yes, I have a bit of a crush on the place.
If it were mine, I’d use the same rickety wooden tables and school chairs, glass tumblers and fairy lights. And I definitely wouldn’t move the piano from the corner, just in case we had a lock in and a sing song from a passing musician. Nor would I alter the blackboard windows, the peeling walls or the scuffed floorboards.
The food, though it’s more than edible, and often good, would take a little changing. Rosie happened to visit the night before last and was served the pea and mint soup which, while it looks lovely, was apparently a bit feeble and required a skip full of salt before it took on any flavour. The vegetable lasagne and roast butternut squash that followed was fine but forgettable. For both of us, good vegetarian food doesn’t need to be puritanical and worthy: the Bonnington chefs need to start having some fun.
In good sense, I’d like to forbid tapioca from the menu and replace it with more mainstream (and healthy) alternatives. Keeping the choice of two dishes per course, I’d introduce red meat and plump up the breadth of the menu with some robust salads and tarts. (The lentil paté with caramelised onions I had last night was very good.) While the café does some good staple curries and side salads, and is unafraid of colourful, pan-international foods, it risks being a touch too sensible. It is slightly stuck in the catering-for-holistic-diners rut. What it needs are some bolder flavours, more salt and pepper, fewer watery vegetarian bakes and a bit more oomph. It needs, also, to stop using quite so many wholefood grains and to start catering for people who love food, rather than those who see it as a necessity. What the Bonnington does continue to do well is serve people fair food in intimate and inviting surroundings, as if everyone were at home. That is what I love about it.