After a productive afternoon “protesting” at the Take Back Parliament Fair Votes rally on College Green, I decided that I needed a bloody good coffee. Having read at Londonist that the Deptford Project cafe (that fancy-looking spraypainted train carriage on the High Street) boasted some of the “finest coffee you’ll find in the local area”, I opted against struggling to find a decent coffee amongst the chains and expens-o-rama of the West End and instead caught the next train Deptford (and homeward) -bound.
After a quick mooch around the market, as it was packing up, I rolled up at Deptford Project for my eagerly-awaited cup of joe. Fully expecting either a soya latte or a simple espresso, I was mightily surprised when that highly-prized mainstay of Aussie and Kiwi baristas, the flat white, was on the menu.
Being a relatively sunny day (as nice as it can get in London before July…), I took my seat on the deserted deck and awaited my drink from the ever-so-funky-and-friendly staff.
Whilst I was expecting the ubiquitous latte art that tends to come with a flat white (which, incidentally, I first learned of through coffee-obsessed vegan Evan McGraw‘s blog), I care more about the flavour and consistency of my coffee. The consistency was great – a nice thin layer of smooth, dense microfoam with no large bubbles. And the flavour was good – well-roasted beans (not burned like some of the big chains), but let down by the use of the newly-reformulate (read: tastes worse) fresh Alpro original soya milk. Also, the temperature was perfect. After a few seconds to ‘eat’ the foam with a spoon (as is my wont) and the main body was at drinking temperature. These guys know how to make a good flat white – unlike Starbucks, who seem to think it is a cooler latte…
At only £1.80, with no extra charge for soya milk, this was a sustainably-sourced, fairtrade, UK-roasted, delicious bargain.
Lounging and caffeinating completed, I ventured home on the High Street’s veritable carpet of rancid chicken bones and fishwater with my next suprise find awaiting a serious devouring.
For those who don’t know me that well, let me brief you: I have Trinidadian heritage. My Dad, after being adopted by a mixed race, mixed nationality couple (Trinidadian calypso-musician and English shopkeeper) in the early 60s, spent his formative years growing up in the West Indies. However, despite my paternal grandparents’ relationship being tumultuous (and ended with my Dad returning to the UK with his Mother in the early ’70s), my Father retained a distinct love for the T&T culture – particularly for music and food – which was impressed upon me and my brother when we were growing up.
Pretty much every weekend would see our family taking a trip to Whalley Range (I grew up in Manchester) to get my Dad’s beloved patties, sugar cane and scotch bonnets. Also, every week, my dad would make a massive batch of his famed Trini “meat and rice”, a highly-spiced, chilli-fired blend out meat, oinions, herbs, scotch bonnets, spices and tomatoes, all served with rice & peas. However, when I turned 15 and decided to become vegetarian, this went out of the window. Not for want of trying, though. My Dad did try to concoct a vegetable-based version but, because he used the same salty, pungent spice mix as for the meat, even though the vegetables obviously didn’t absorb and distribute the flavours quite as well as the fleshy type. Shame, but that was my very last taste of traditional Trini food.
I have in the past walked past the Caribbean takeaway and bakery Chiconia (trivia: named after the Trinidadian national flower), situated at the newly Tesco-fied South end of the High Street, wrongly assuming that all that would be sold would be the meat-filled patties, roti and stews of my youth. This time, however, I decided to have a glance at the menu in the window. Seeing that their menu was over 50% vegetarian I figured that it would do no harm to ask the proprietors whether any of the evidently vegetable-based-sounding dishes were suitably for my sort.
Wow. Almost ALL of the freshly-made stews still available at that time of day (5pm) were vegan. After a brief chat about the veganity of the dishes with the two servers, seemingly representing both first- and second-generation Trinidadian immigration, they suggested a roti with the appropriate vegan fillings. Explaining as he did it, the chap fetched a fresh, warm roti (Indian-style wholewheat flatbread) and stuffed it full of three stews – pumpkin, potato and channa (chickpea) – adding a spicy hot pepper relish on top and folding into a giant burrito-style wrap.
Although the gent serving forgetfully offered my some of their homemade coleslaw, the servers (one of them had cooked that days vegetable dishes) were very aware of cross contamination, ingredients and dietary requirements – a big plus for when a vegan has to put theur trust in an independent, omnivorous eatery. A cheery goodbye and best wishes later, I headed home.
And what a treat I had waiting for me when I got there. The roti was, in all seriousness, one of the best things I have ever eaten in London. Now, of course I am biased, given my expectations, history and palette, but honestly. It was amazing. The warm, soft roti, spicy soft potatoes, tender, curried chickpeas and sweet, melt-in-the-mouth pumpkin all combined to be full on Trini perfection. And the aroma, heat and flavour of that scotch bonnet relish! I have MISSED that so much! I, or rather my palette, had forgotten that chillis weren’t just heat or sweetness. They can be all that and more if treated with respect. And Chaconia treat their food with respect – and it shows.
Did I mention it was only £3.70 for effectively a whole meal? If you know me, and how I devour platefuls of food, you will know that if one wrap can fill me up it must be one HELL of a beast!
Now, I know that a lot of vegans and foodies will baulk at me either: getting sentimental about pre-vegan food; waxing lyrical about an omni cafe; or, dedicating over 1100 words to what are in effect a sandwich and a cuppa. But I want to let people know a couple of things. Firstly, don’t write off omni places – they can help you explore world flavours and cultural heritage that a vegan fusion place may not ever do. Secondly, don’t think that Deptford and New Cross are such vegan wastelands – open your eyes when in seemingly vegan-hostile places and you never know what might slap you in your gizzards.
And thirdly, lastly, but most importantly, don’t ever diss a good sandwich.