Yes, if you look for them, there really are seven dials and they are affixed to a column at the intersection. A blue plaque commemorates the spot where Beatles manager Brian Epstein had his music management company, NEMS – North End Music Stores. The plaque was officially unveiled in 2010 by the late Cilla Black.
Canela Café is small and cosy. Its high ceiling and Victorian urban windows add character to this eatery. Its paintwork and marble-top tables and chandelier remind one of such places all over Europe, but the map on the wall points emphatically to Portugal!
Produce comes directly from Portugal and the menu features iconic dishes. There is charcuterie, cheeses and wine from regions around the country. Pastéis de Bacalhau – Salt Cod Croquettes – and Croquetes de Carne – Meat Croquettes – are popular and might even be sold out by dinner time.
But there are less familiar dishes which are also outstanding! Dip de Beringlela Assada com Pão Tostado – Roasted Aubergine Dip and Toasted Bread – is a little starter for which I now crave. Granted, this isn’t a colourful preparation, it’s difficult to encourage an aubergine to look anything other than beige. But this doesn’t taste beige! It has a combination of texture and flavour which is remarkable. It’s comforting and addictive with a hint of spice, and a must-try at Canela Café.
Sardinhas Portuguesas com Pimentos Assados e Limão – Premium Portuguese Tinned Sardines with Roast Peppers and Lemon – might also not sound exciting, but tinned fish of every kind is celebrated in Portugal, and Spain, too. The best restaurants serve them and sometimes even in the actual tin, such is their status! Try them here along with a glass of red – Portuguese, of course.
Alheira frita e Ovos de Codorniz – Traditional Smoked Game Sausage and Fried Quail Eggs – must be a signature dish here. I was expecting some traditional-shaped sausages, sliced or whole. But these sausages are little patties of melting and savoury ground meat. They are on the edge of becoming a paté, they are so delicate. The quail egg is in proportion and makes a beautiful presentation.
There are daily Portuguese specials on the menu and they are well worth considering here. The boards of cold meats and cheese are evidently popular, and Canela Café is open all day so it’s a bolt-hole for those looking for a hot drink, a nice sit down and a nibble of something sweet.
Pastel de Nata – Portugal’s Famous Custard Tarts – are here, and tempt from counter-top stands. They are small and not elaborately decorated. They are simple but are the national dessert of Portugal because they are impossibly delicious, and these ones look just like your grandmother would have made – if she was Portuguese.
I think it would be improbable that one could visit Canela Café and not eat a little of this and that. On this occasion the cake of the day was Cookies and Cream. A gateau of biscuits enrobed in a creamy custard and then left to set into a sliceable cake. I would love their recipe for this …and the aubergine …and those sausages.
Canela had the air of a family-run café with lots of regulars. People might have their favourite table, they will know the waitress and the waitress will know them. It’s in central London but this is a transplanted fragment of Portugal and I won’t need a passport to return for a coffee – and I wonder what the cake of the day will be?
33 Earlham Street
Phone: 020 7240 6926
Opening hours: 8am–late
Visit Canela here.
Restaurant review by Chrissie Walker © 2018