A couple of weeks ago, while wandering round a bitterly cold Covent Garden before meeting a friend for an early evening meal, I came across Canela. It’s rare to see a Portuguse cafe-restaurant in London and because I’d recently made some Pasteis de Nata for the first time, I was particularly intrigued to try Canela out. I made a mental note to return some other time and today provided the perfect opportunity to try it out.
I was booked on a day’s art history course at CityLit. It’s one of London’s best adult education colleges and I’d already done great days on Grayson Perry and Caravaggio. Today I was there for ‘The Art of Siena’, inspired by having recently booked a short break in Siena in June. I decided to arrive in Covent Garden early enough for a coffee at Canela before heading to the college for a 10.30 start and go again for lunch. I really liked the look of their menu with a mix of plates to share, bar snacks, salads, sandwiches and mains. It’s the kind of place you can go for coffee, breakfast (there’s a separate breakfast menu), a snack, enjoy as a wine bar with friends, or have a more substantial meal.
I’d seen the entrance in Short’s Gardens when I first found Canela, but the address and main entrance is in Earlham Street, which was my route in this morning. It wasn’t long after opening (9am on Saturday and Sundays; 10am other days. They’re open until 9pm on Sundays, 10.30pm Mon-Wed and until 11pm Thurs-Sat).
No one else was there but I walked through to the other entrance and took a table. The waitress was really friendly and welcoming and I ordered just a cappuccino and croissant.
My ‘breakfast’ was very nicely served and even came with a glass of water, continental style. The coffee was good though not exceptional (especially considering I could have got one of the best coffees in London at Monmouth Coffee just round the corner). But I was happy with it all and happy sitting in a welcoming space. It was also well priced for central London, at £2.50 for the croissant with butter and jam, and £2.80 for the coffee.
Back there at lunchtime, I took a table in the larger space fronting Earlham Street. The waitress recognised me and welcomed me back. By now the cafe was busier and it had a nice continental feel to it, which I really liked. I haven’t been to Portugal, though Lisbon is high on my list of places to visit (not just for the Pasteis de Nata!), so I can’t say it felt like being in Portugal, but I could certainly imagine that I was away on holiday rather than in central London (much as I love my home city!).
There was a large central communal table in the centre and smaller tables to the sides; I took one for 2, sitting on the banquette looking out into the cafe. I ordered some sparkling water and it was Portuguese (£3). It was slightly tempting looking at the list of Portuguese wines to indulge at lunchtime, but with another three hours of art history to go, it didn’t really seem like a good plan.
I’m a great fan of baccalà – salt cod – and always eat lots of it in Venice where it often comes in a creamy mix, mantecato, on small pieces of toast as ciccheti. Thus I couldn’t resist the main of Bacalhau à Brás – Canela’s Classic Salt Cod, Potato, Egg and Salad (£13.50).
When it arrived, it wasn’t quite what I’d expected. I think I’d had ‘cold’ in mind because of all that Venetian food, and more of a salad, whereas it was a warm mix. However, it tasted really delicious and I immediately liked it. The unfortunate drawback was it contained lots of bones so I had to eat it very carefully. This seemed lazy cooking to me; cod bones are quite large so there’s no excuse for not removing them when preparing a dish like this. It was a shame because I was really feeling Canela was a good find and I’d certainly go back – but maybe give the salt cod a miss!
Well, of course, I couldn’t leave without trying their Pasteis de Nata (or Pastel de Nata as they and many others call them). I’d read they’re some of the best in London. I ordered one (£2) and an espresso (£2.20) to go with it.
Well this really was excellent. The pastry was so light and flaky; the custard a good consistency – thick but not heavy and not too sweet; the dusting of cinnamon on top traditional and perfect. The espresso was good too. I can see I’m going to be tempted back into Canela anytime I’m passing for a Pasteis de Nata and espresso! But it’s also got a good kind of vibe that makes it a great place to hang out either alone or with friends when in the Covent Garden area.