As the crow flies The Spanish Onion Café is about two flaps of a pigeon wing from Bermondsey High Street. It’s near enough to London Bridge station to still be able to hear the claxons honk. It’s sandwiched between a launderette called Toxic Bubbles and, ironically, a branch of Santander Bank. When you walk inside you could think it’s just one large rectangular room. There are separate dark stained wooden booths down each side with fixed tables and brown studded leather padded seating. If you want to sit down there you have to slide in sideways. If you want to stand up again you have to slide out sideways. Above the centre of each table is an individual low hanging pendant light. Each fitting has a wicker shade. Some people call the lighting dim but I like to call it moody. Down the centre of the room there are separate tables big enough to seat just two people quite cosily. At the far end is a food counter and a chilled cabinet and, behind that, a coffee machine which looks like a space probe designed by the team at NASA. It has lots of buttons and knobs on it and a long spiky nosil which sprays hot steam with a very loud whooshing noise. There’s a proper, if tiny, kitchen out the back. How Guido fits in it, let alone cooks anything to the standard he does, must be down to contortion and the miracle of electrical appliances.
Guido and I live above the “shop”. I like describing it like that. Sometimes when I’m in the café sharing a table and having a coffee, another customer will get round to asking me where I commute into town from. I’ll say, I don’t commute, I live above the “shop”. I usually point casually at the ceiling with my index finger using an upwards motion. It makes Guido and I sound like complete inner city urbanites. Most commuters hate commuting and dream about being inner city urbanites who are able to walk to work so they immediately become hideously jealous of me and my easy access to an unlimited supply of buttered croissants. I call the flat above the café, a flat. It’s not an apartment. There’s a difference. Those who live in flats and those who live in apartments, you know who you are. Unfortunately our flat is also more loft than loft space. In fact once you go out the rear door of the café, through the small courtyard at the back and up the metal fire escape, you’d find that our main living area is just one open plan multi function living space. Apart from a separate bedroom and a bathroom, we live in one big room. We cook in it, we eat in it, we watch TV in it and sometimes we have a really terrific argument in it.
The café’s open from 6.00 am. until 4.00 pm. on weekdays. It never ceases to amaze me how many commuters stop by. They flood through London Bridge Monday through Friday but then at night and weekends when the population begins to thin out you realise just how many of us are left behind to call it home. On Fridays and Saturdays Guido opens in the evenings and on Sundays he cooks a roast lunch. Our lives revolve around food, food, food. Evening and Sunday openings were introduced about two years ago so Guido could prove he was actually able to cook rather than just fill sandwiches and froth milk in a jug all day long. What Guido really wants more than anything is a terrific food review in the London Evening Standard newspaper, or even better, the magazine Timeout. But as I keep saying to him, you can’t just go to the door and wave a food critic in when you feel like it. Unless of course Giles Coren just happened to be walking past at that same split second – in which case I would, of course, ask him to stop and peruse the menu. But only if he was in a good mood at the time.
Needless to say ever since I started this blog Guido has been trying to get me to use it as a vehicle to unashamedly promote the café. Last night he handed me a sheet of paper. Honest to God, he had written the following on it.
“Hey all you London Bridge foodies out there. Great News!! Did you know that The Spanish Onion has just taken delivery of its very own oven dedicated to perfecting the best baked potatoes in South London? It has the capacity to bake 120 potatoes at any given time. There are 3 fully removable shelves and a wipe clean glass menu on the customer facing side displaying up to 10 delicious toppings. It cooks 60 potatoes in 50 minutes – which is just as well because on its inaugural day this week 45 potatoes were sold in 30 minutes. They are literally selling like hot potatoes!!”
Why Guido thinks any of you would want to know that the shelves are removable is anyone’s guess. I also heard at great length that his home made sweet slaw has been by far and away the most popular topping. It’s out selling tuna mayo and leaving cheese and beans standing. He thinks his sweet slaw is legendary in Bermondsey. If the recipe for it somehow got compromised and the content was accidentally shared with the public at large I think he’d probably jump off a cliff.
Shred one head of cabbage and 4 carrots. In a separate bowl combine 14 tablespoons of Hellman’s mayonnaise with 2 tablespoons of sherry vinegar and 2 tablespoons of caster sugar. Pour over the shredded vegetables and stir to coat. Chill thoroughly.