A few weeks ago I had a very happy accident of my own, when my friend Gay James (as distinct from Straight James, Posh James, Fat James or Baby James) managed to get off the bus a few stops too early for our assigned meeting place and called to say that he was in Borough, not Bermondsey, and lost.
It was easier to go to him than to try to direct him to me, so we found ourselves on Borough High Street, late-ish at night and with no idea where to eat. I figured that if we wandered towards Borough Market, somewhere would still be open; somewhere was, and it was Elliot's, which turned out to be fabulous.
In keeping with most of the shops and restaurants around Borough Market, Elliot's looks from the outside like it could be a butcher's or greengrocer's but inside is a delightful all-day cafe which despite its bare brick walls and stone-flagged floor manages to be warm and homely. One long zinc-topped table designed for sharing dominates the front of the room; at the back there are tables for twos and fours where G.J. and I settled ourselves in.
The menu (which changes daily but is available to view on Elliot's Tumblr page) reflects what's in season and thus available at its prime in the market, with about two-thirds of the dishes of starter or sharing size and the remainder larger main courses. James and I ordered three of the former and it was all very impressive.
A salad of Heritage beets and goat's curd - a dish which in its ubiquity is fast becoming the Caesar salad de nos jours - was beautifully done, the sweetness of the roasted beets complemented by a fruity, citrusy dressing and the refreshing crunch of little gem. Silky venison tartare, lightly spiced with a hint of cumin, was let down only by the rather hard rye crackers served with it; I thought Melba toasts would have better matched the tartare's delicacy. Shoestring fries were just as they should be, super-thin, piping hot, crunchy and salty, and lovely dunked in some heady, olive oil-rich aioli.
Two desserts were available so naturally we tried both. Quince sorbet with jellied quince, and bay leaf ice cream with mulled clementines were as delicious as they were unusual. I'm not much of an expert on coffee - OK, I know nothing about coffee, apart from whether I like the taste of a particular cup or not - but our Americano and flat white struck me as being pretty good too.
Service was delightful; friendly, enthusiastic and completely unpressured - I felt quite sure that we'd have been as welcome to drop in for a coffee and to keep warm as for a full-on feast. Best of all though was the bill, which for five dishes, two coffees and a glass of wine (from a list strong on organic and biodynamic bottles but like the rest of the venture, entirely un-wanky) came to just £35. For two.
Elliot's is open all day from breakfast until night; when the kitchen closes between services a selection of cold plates is available. With Borough Market and the streets around it increasingly choked with tourists lacking any sense of direction or spatial awareness, I'd suggest going early morning or, as Gay James and I did, late evening when the area and Elliot's are quieter.
With its formula of brilliant, fresh, seasonal food, fair prices, a thoughtful drinks list, pleasant service and cool design - check out that fab stone door handle - there's a lot to love about Elliot's. Like Fleming and penicillium notatum, I'm really rather glad that I found it.
Elliot's Cafe, 12 Stoney Street, London SE1 9AD Tel: 020 7407 7436 http://www.elliotscafe.com