Monday, 21 June 2010

Canteen; Spitalfields, London

You could be forgiven if the term "canteen" conjures up bad memories of school dinners or second rate lunches served up in a work cafeteria, but this image couldn't be further from the truth here. Canteen does not pretend to offer fine dining, but does unapologetically offer a menu of solid British classics. It is unpretentious, carefully sourced and well cooked food at reasonable prices.

Canteen serves a casual all day menu from breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea and dinner. Nostalgia reigns and the menu pays homage to homely British grub; pies, stews and roasts (which change daily), macaroni cheese, Arbroath smokies, devilled kidneys and the good old fish finger sandwich all feature. The dishes are simple favourites, but all homemade and cooked to order using free range, additive free and seasonal produce.

Located in the re-developed Old Spitalfileds Market, inside the restaurant is surprisingly modern and minimalist; something of a cross between a functional transport caff and Wagamamas. There are communal wooden bench tables but also booth seating, along with a large covered outdoor dining area. The kitchen is open and you can see the chefs at work.

We visited for an early dinner last Friday whilst in London; it was perfect for a quick, informal yet good quality meal before the football.

On arrival we were seated in one of the booths by the huge glass windows overlooking the market. We ordered drinks - a fresh lemonade and an "English Rose" (a refreshingly different long mixer of cranberry, apple and rose) - which arrived promptly and our food order was taken by the friendly waiter.

We decided to share a starter (unusually, even I already had one eye on the tempting deserts) and so we ordered the Potted duck with piccalilli and toast. The duck was smooth and tasty and the toast to spread ratio was spot on. If I am being picky, for me the piccalilli was slightly too sweet and I felt that the dish would have benefited from it being a bit sharper, just to offset the rich meat. But a good start all the same.

For mains I went for the roast free range chicken, garlic mayonnaise and chips. Available as leg and thigh or wing and breast meat, I chose the former and it was deliciously succulent with beautiful crispy skin. The chips were a cross between french fries and thicker chip shop style chips, with crunchy edges - perfect dipped in the pungent garlic mayo. This was really simple cooking but, even so, utterly heavenly.

Dave had the daily roast, today it was pork and served with roast potatoes, spring greens and gravy and apple sauce. The pork was tender and full of flavour, topped with crispy pork crackling and tasty gravy.

The deserts sounded good enough to entice me away from the Neal's Yard cheese and I finished with Blackcurrant jelly, ice cream and shortbread. The jelly wasn't completely clear but was deliciously sharp and loaded with blackcurrant flavour. Dave opted for the classic Treacle tart with clotted cream; great comfort food.

Canteen's no-nonsense traditional menu has brought good British cooking back to the capital's high streets and it didn't disappoint. Unlike the England football team who let the side down with a deeply unsatisfactory 0-0 bore draw with Algeria. Maybe they are missing their food.

2 Crispin Place, Spitalfields, London, E1 6DW

Nearest tube - Liverpool St.

Also branches in Baker St, Canary Wharfe & Royal Festival Hall

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