This week in Brunch on Saturday, we visit the laid-back Ben's Canteen and make Mimi Thorisson's French cinnamon crepes with strawberries and cream at home

Brunching out...

Ben’s canteen has become a little bit of an institution for brunch. People not savvy enough to get there early (or who prefer a lie in) keenly queue outside the door of the Clapham Junction branch post 10am, even in the rain. While on sunny days pleased-as-punch punters sit outside on the benches in the restaurant’s suntrap. 

And it’s easy to see why they do. Ben's Cantenn is all about burgers, wine and brunch (their self-proclaimed specialities) and plenty of the green stuff people love – avocado. Boozy cocktails flow, the coffee is punchy, their crockery is instagramable and it’s all pretty laid back – thanks to their Aussi inspired ethos. In short, they know what they’re doing. 

The menu is indulgent, playing up to weekend stereotypes of either nursing a hangover with big old burgers (from £8.25), a breakfast burrito (£10.50) -with spicy chorizo, scrambled egg and cheddar- to your classic banana pancakes (£9) and a range of poached eggs on sourdough (from £7) with a pot of “BC Hollandaise” – to which you can add extras to. 

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Smashed avocado on toast is another Ben's staple, £9.75

The names are fun – from egg’s pigs out (£9.75), which is Ben’s favourite dish, made with pulled pork and hot sauce, to eggs costa brava with chorizo and Brixton sourdough toast. But the standout dish (and the most popular, according to our waitress) is the sweetcorn and courgette fritters. Two chunky circular fritters are accompanied by halloumi, balsamic roast tomato chutney and a poached egg. Although it’s vegetarian, there’s the option to add chorizo or dry cured bacon. I went for the bacon. 

The extras and sides are pretty large too. We went for the homemade hash browns. They come with melted cheddar on top and are better than anything you buy from a shop. 

The drinks are just as fun – if not a little too fun with the option for “Brunch shot – jager”, (not sure what’s brunch-like about it), with five for £12.50. But for a calmer option, go for Ben’s breakfast fizz, which could almost trick you into thinking you’re just drinking orange juice, bar the bubbly aspect from sparkling wine. There’s also the dirty Aussi iced coffee – dirtied by rum, or the virgin kind if hair of the dog is too much. 

You’re welcomed to stay for a while and, in true Aussie style, there’s no rush. The idea is based on a Sunday spent at the pub, but in a more relaxed environment. And that’s exactly what it is. It’s light and bright and you won’t want to leave. 

Ben's Canteen, 140 St John's Hill, Battersea, London SW11 1SL; 020 7228 3260; benscanteen.com

 

Brunching in... 

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Cinnamon crêpes with cream and strawberries

Serves 6 to 8  

This is a recipe from my Icelandic mother-in-law, Jóhanna. She’s been making these crêpes forever, always in the same pan, and when she comes to stay with us she brings the pan with her. It’s a very popular recipe in Iceland, perfect for long, dark days when there is nothing better than to snuggle up inside and watch the weather blowing outside. Jóhanna always makes a lot of crêpes: the first 25 are eaten immediately by the army of children waiting impatiently next to the stove. The next 25 she lets cool slightly before folding them over a generous portion of whipped cream, sometimes with strawberries. They are divine, so much so that I started making them too, though Jóhanna’s remain better than mine.

There is a story involved that I’m not sure I should go into (you know, mothers-in-law, and all that), but here goes. When Oddur, my husband, was little he never really liked these crêpes (much to his mother’s chagrin), particularly not the ones with cream. But now he’s developed a fondness for them, even the creamy ones. This irritates Jóhanna, and when she sees him eating them she just shakes her head. He tries to explain that he’s just grown into them but she won’t have any of it . . . mothers and sons.

30g unsalted butter
65g caster (superfine) sugar
2 large eggs
500ml full-fat milk

½ tsp vanilla extract
180g plain (all-purpose) flour
1½ teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 tsp baking powder
¼ tsp fine sea salt
250ml double (heavy) cream

strawberries, diced

In a small (20cm) sauté pan over a medium heat, melt the butter. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool.

In a large bowl, whisk together the sugar and eggs for a minute. Gradually whisk in the milk and vanilla. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, cinnamon, baking powder and salt. Whisk the flour mixture into the milk mixture until you get a smooth, fluid batter. Finally, stir in the melted butter.

Return the sauté pan to a medium-high heat. When the pan is very hot, spoon 2 tablespoons of the batter into the pan, swirling the pan to cover the surface evenly. Cook for a minute or so, until the edges start browning. Lift the edges slightly with a blunt knife, then flip the crêpe over and brown the other side, about 30 seconds.

Transfer the crêpe to a plate and continue cooking the remaining batter in the same fashion, stacking the crêpes on top of one another. You should get 20 to 25 crêpes. When finished, cover the stack with an inverted plate, wrap in a clean tea (kitchen) towel, and cover with cling film (plastic wrap) or a plastic bag to keep the crêpes moist and soft. You can keep them this way for up to 6 hours before serving.

Just before serving, whip the cream until it holds soft peaks. Spoon
 a tablespoon or so of whipped cream into the centre of each crêpe, add some diced strawberries, and then fold in half and in half again to form a triangle. Serve immediately.

French Country Cooking by Mimi Thorisson (Hardie Grant, £25) Photography © Oddur Thorisson

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