Time to enjoy an afternoon on the tiles
12 March, 2020 — By Tom Moggach
There’s minimal choice at Mother Canteen – ‘just like your mum’s kitchen table’
STROLLING down Southampton Road, most people have no idea about the treasures hidden beneath their feet. Mother Canteen and London School of Mosaic occupy a subterranean space in Gospel Oak, hollowed out from a row of disused garages on the Ludham and Waxham Estates. The mosaic project has been building momentum for a couple of years, while the community canteen is a brand-new venture.
It’s run by the charismatic Chris Ilankovan, an artist and self-taught cook who previously ran supper clubs and worked at e5 Roasthouse, a café where they train and employee refugees.
Mother Canteen has a proper community vibe – unpretentious and straightforward. Trading hours are 9am-4pm on weekdays, with a new brunch menu on Saturdays until 3pm.
The welcome is warm and prices are low, so you’ll find people of all ages enjoying tea, cake or a nurturing lunch. The room is a simple but uplifting space. The pot plants are well-tended, the chairs mismatched, the artwork a charming mixture of student mosaics. Every day, the chefs cook two main dishes – a vegetarian or vegan option (£5.90) and one with meat or fish (£6.90). “Minimal choice – just like your mum’s kitchen table,” says Chris.
The concept is international home cooking – often from guest chefs on rotation. You might find a beef rendang with Kaffir lime rice, fried milk anchovy and peanuts with cucumber salad. Or a Sri Lankan fish kari with basmati rice, Puy lentil salad and a fresh coconut sambal.
Cakes are baked in-house by a chap called Keith; quality coffee is brewed with skill. Over several visits, I’ve enjoyed gooey cheese toasties, a filling lasagne and a lamb and aubergine khoresh – a type of Iranian stew.
If you do visit, pop your head into London School of Mosaic next door. This is an inspirational arts venue, run with great tenacity by an artist called David Tootill.
“Mosaic is a metaphor for London – all the peoples and tribes, creeds and cultures, faiths and freedoms coming together to make a brilliant whole,” he says.
The school offers various workshops and courses and, on Thursday evenings from 4-6pm, a free family session for local residents. Other projects have also taken root in the space. Local artist Matilda Moreton (matildamoreton.com) has helped to set up a “Gospel Oak Clay Co-op”.
Little Hand Design (littlehanddesign.com) has a Green Stitch Social Club, teaching you how to repair and upcycle clothes (£10 per session). Photographer Debbi Clark (debbiclark.com) also runs arts workshops with local families here.
There is a lovely symbiosis between the school and Mother Canteen. Every Wednesday from 11am-1pm, for example, local people over 60 can enjoy free clay workshops for a hot lunch for just £1.
London School of Mosaic has just won funding to expand further underground, opening more artists’ studios and community spaces. In this neighbourhood, Mother Canteen and London School of Mosaic are a compelling force for good.