As you might have guessed, I love Brixton. I rarely venture outside the area these days as it seems to have everything I need. But the one thing I wanted that it didn’t fulfil was a place to buy decent cheese. It seemed like Brixton would be perfect when I heard that Cannon & Cannon were extending their cheesemongering into Market Row. But imagine my unbridled glee when I realised that along with their cheese loving downstairs deli, they were opening upstairs so that you could sit in and eat charcuterie and cheese over a glass of something. It was like wishing for a pony and actually getting one.
Cannon & Cannon are the work of brothers Joe and Sean who hail from Norfolk and have a deep and abiding love of British cheeses and charcuterie and want to introduce everyone else to these undersung food heroes. They’ve been selling at Borough Market for quite a while and offering Londoners to a smorgasbord of meat and cheese treats from the British Isles, but they haven’t been able to keep up with demand and interest so have branched out and opened their own place in Market Row to give people more of a chance to sample their wares.
Just opposite Wild Caper and Rosie’s Deli, it’s Tardis like in size. Downstairs is a nice sized deli draped in beautiful salamis and crammed with mouthwatering British cheeses where you can pop in and pick up a little snippet of something to start a meal with or to make up for the fact the weather has really been too rainy to picnic properly so far. There’s something for everyone including some amazing spicy vegan tofu jerky in the chiller cabinet, but without being such a big selection you feel overwhelmed.
But if you can’t wait to get things home, you can go upstairs and take a seat and sample a selection of dishes and platters of cured meats and cheese over a drink or two. The menu looks deceptively short, but you can construct your own platters with a combination of two cheeses, two meats and two side dressings from a good selection on the blackboard while there are also bar snacks and small plates and a cheeseboard to choose from.
I decided to be sensible and start at the start with some nuts and olives while I tried to decide on my ideal meat cheese selection. Bar snacks can be a simple thing and they can also be overlooked compared to the main events, but not here. The selection of nuts are hand skinned and then roasted by chef Nick Balfe in a sweet chilli and rosemary coating that is addictively flavoursome. The olives are plump juicy green goddesses from Borough Market and you can see why Sean and Joe are perfectly happy for you to pop in for ‘just’ wine and bar snacks when there’s this much thought put into them.
But I defy you not to want to try something else. I couldn’t resist the hot smoked pig’s cheek from Dorset with caperberries for £7 and after much pondering I finally decided on the cheeses and meats I just had to try on the platter for £7.50, picking the Binham Blue and Gorwydd Caerphilly cheese and the cold smoked mutton and the air dried ham from Trealy Farm over the choice of venison salami and wild boar. I managed to miss the list of sherries on the drinks menu first time round so went for a glass of the house white instead.
The smoked pig’s cheek arrived first and I was slightly taken aback by the size of the portion, fearing that I may have ordered too much to do it all justice. But then I sampled the meat and forgot myself in a plate of silky melting pork fat and deep smoky flavours. It was like eating the smoothest slivers of the best bacon around. I heaped it onto the stunning seeded sourdough from Brick House bakery and topped it with plump salty caperberries that brightened the mouth and allowed me to eat more meat and more butter in quiet bliss. The white wine was excellent (especially for £3 a glass) with the smoky fatty meat.
I was even more amazed by the meat and cheese platter which was abundant of both and came with a beautiful fresh green salad on the side instead of bread. Full of curiousity, I started with the mutton and was blown away. Sean had explained to me that the best difference between British and European charcuterie is that the British version has a stronger animal taste and that was immediately clear. The mutton was abundantly sheepy in a rich, slightly sweet way rather than a strong farmyard flavour. It was superb. The quality, care and higher welfare standard shone through and I think it’s the best cured meat I’ve ever eaten. The air dried ham couldn’t quite match those heights, but was still good, as were the cornichons and the date and apricot chutney.
The cheese held its own perfectly. The Caerphilly was a million miles from that supermarket stuff that manages to be chalk and cheese simultaneously while sucking the moisture out of your mouth. This was smooth and creamy but with just enough powderiness to remind you were eating it rather than letting it melt. The Binham Blue was firm and creamy and tangy but not overpowering. It’s a joy to eat good quality cheese that tastes of something but doesn’t frighten you with its intensity. Cheese should be enjoyment not competition as to how strong you like it and Cannon & Cannon have got a good balance. The organic French house red (also £3) was perfect with both cheeses.
Feeling very replete and happy and enjoying trying all these new things, it didn’t take a lot of twist my arm to try the Stichelton and pickled pear plate with a glass of Muscat to round things off for £8.50. I’m actually not a huge fan of Stilton, finding it a bit gaudy in its strong flavour so expected the Stichelton to smack me round the face, albeit in a delicious way. I was overjoyed to discover that it was strong and subtle from the unpasteurised milk, and creamy with all kinds of flavours and enjoyment. The pears were firm and spiked with ginger and vinegar and were fantastic on their own and with the wine. I like my drinks very dry so have shied away from dessert wine for fear of it being sickly, but this was beautifully balanced between sweetness and sharpness and I loved it so much I forgot to photograph it.
I had to go home shortly after and lie down after my feast, but I wish I could have stayed and tackled that sherry list. Even before I’d left, I was plotting what I’d be back to try next. The place was busy with a welcoming and relaxed attitude and I was very happy to sit by myself and eat cheese, listening to the big table next to me try the other cheeses and enthuse about them and spot who had called in for a pre-Ritzy platter. Sean explained that they don’t take bookings per se, but could reserve the biggest table for a party if you ask nicely and that building on the good relationships they have with other market traders, they have outside tables at the Express Cafe on their late night opening, so you can wait or sit outside and sip sherry and eat to your heart’s content.
I really liked Cannon & Cannon. It’s small, but been thought out carefully and with real love. Everything has great detail but doesn’t feel forced. The passion is equal for the meats and cheeses and vegetarians would find plenty to enjoy. Sean used to be a wine buyer and that interest shows in the drinks. There’s everything from bottles of English red to ales from The Kernel Brewery and Ossie’s Fresh Ginger drinks from Brixton along with great fresh ground coffee. And you can drink as much as you fancy as they also have their own toilet…
They’ve carefully brought the best produce in South London together and created a lovely spot in the market where you can really relax. I thought I knew my cured meats pretty well but I found it a treat to discover different things and try new favourites. I urge you to go and suggest you do it soon as I strongly suspect that it’ll be impossible to get a table on Friday nights very soon. See you in the queue!
Cannon & Cannon, Market Row: Mon-Sat, late night Thurs, Fri, Sat
*I was a guest of Cannon & Cannon. Many thanks to them.