Then in 1928, a great flood damaged the housing so badly that the area was razed to the ground. In its place was built Thames House – better known as the Mi5 building – and all around that site, imposing structures sprang up.
This construction boom did much to benefit the area, but equally something was lost: life. SW1 is packed with grand buildings, bland offices and, occasionally, pockets of manicured housing, but most of it feels detached from reality. Thankfully, though, there’s one strip of wild dandelions growing between the dominating stone slabs of Westminster: Strutton Ground.
On the cobbled streets there’s a regular market, with fruit and veg stalls and a trendy coffee stand. And down both sides of this single strip of city bustle, there are sandwich stores of varying quality, fried chicken shops, a bookstore, and a rather excellent fish and chippie.
Recently I stumbled across its latest addition – the Blanche Eatery – and decided to give it a try. On first impressions, it seemed that the staff had also just stumbled across it, because inside there was chaos. A long rabble of confused customers lined the counter, with no-one sure how to order or pay.
A waitress soon took charge, although if anything she was too efficient. I ordered a substantial slice of cannelloni and before I could even ask for any salad, it had been whisked down the counter to the till. The same happened to my dining companion, and a kerfuffle ensued as we insisted on some greenery – pressing back through the throng of impatient customers to mull over the options.
After paying (£19!), we bumbled around looking for somewhere to sit and, while the few tables upstairs were already occupied, we did manage to bag a spot in the basement. This had the ambience of a doctor’s waiting room, but with the brightly coloured furniture you’d expect in a crèche.
The food itself was pretty good. My large chunk of cannelloni tasted fresh and meaty, with good amounts of pasta and cheese. A risk with any cannelloni or lasagne is that it can be oily, or covered in gloopy, unctuous cheese. Not in this case. The salad was not worth the hassle, and the same was true for my friend’s. But her vegetarian cannelloni was equally generous, and apparently a good antidote for an achey head from the night before.
The choice of meals was limited, and it was on the pricey side. But their cakes looked great and, if you’re planning on picking up something substantial to eat back in the office, I recommend you give Blanche Eatery a try. What it lacks in order, it makes up for in life – and there isn’t that much of it around these parts.
29 Strutton Ground