Cattleya (Chu & Cho)

52 Charlton Church Lane, SE7 7AB

I’m going to have to visit this place again soon (not least because I still haven’t seen the band that plays there on alternate Sunday nights) mainly because it’s unfair to base a review on a visit at 6.30pm on a Monday night.

Not that I had a bad time – far from it – but more of that later. Merely that we were (understandably) the only people in there – and though I try to bring the party feeling with me wherever I go, I can’t do it all on my own…

We nearly didn’t get in at all. The sign said ‘open,’ the candles were lit, and the lights dimmed. They’d just forgotten to unlock the door. We began to wonder whether it had gone back to its pre-Cattleya opening hours, but a swift phone call did the trick. Terribly sweet people, deeply embarrassed, opened the door for us, and that kind of thing breaks ice – though I doubt it needed breaking. The service from the start was charming.

It’s an odd mix, Thai and Spanish Tapas. I had somehow expected more of a crossover – classic Spanish dishes with Thai spices, for example, or Thai dishes with a solid Spanish twist. But it does actually seem that the menu is Spanish stuff on one side and Thai on the other – more of a combination than a fusion.

Just to be absolutely fair, we decided to do our own fusion, by ordering a selection from both sides of the Tapas menu – a real melange of flavours – something for our stomachs to deal with later – and sat back with drinks from the bar. They do a good selection of beers, but frankly 6.30pm on a Monday was too early for my new drinking regimen (aw, c’mon, I’m trying…) so I just had tap water, which The Evening Standard will be delighted to know came without question. (BTW am I the only person in the world who hasn’t had any trouble getting tap water in restaurants for about 10 years? I truly wonder what all the fuss is about – every eaterie I’ve been in, from excessively smart to down-and-dirty, quite happily coughs up free tap water if I ask for it. Seems to me people are just too scared of looking tight to ask.)

The place has had a bit of a makeover to become Cattleya. Folding sliding doors for summer, the obligatory laminate floors and simple, solid-colour walls softened with funky lights and little exotic flowers in vases, which may or may not be the orchid the place is named for. Atmosphere was nil – for the reasons stated above, but I bet on a Saturday afternoon when Charlton are playing at home it’s a different story. I’ll try again on an evening, later in the week, for a compromise.

The food is good. Simple, honest and down-to-earth, (though they have registered the word Thai-Med as a trademark, which seems a little OTT to me, given that it’s just two different types of food on the same menu.) It’s not cordon-bleu – but that’s not what you go to a place like this for. The Spanish stuff has a heat that’s pleasing and the Thai dishes (essentially starters from a classic Thai menu) were very enjoyable. The tempura, always a bit of a test as it can be utterly horrid – wrong temperatures, old oil, bad batter, I’ve had ‘em all – was crisp and fresh, and if ever so slightly oily, at least it was good, clean oil.

I always manage to over-order tapas so we ended up with a sea of dishes around us and, troughing away in the empty place, we felt like the parents out of Spirited Away. What’s worse is that I was brought up to clear my plate, so I scoffed the lot. Well. It would have been rude not to.

So now I need to go back. I’ve heard this place has a great atmosphere and I want to experience it. But one thing’s for certain – it fills a gap in Charlton which is not exactly over-endowed with good eateries. A nice find.

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