Canteen restaurant is this year’s Observer Food Monthly “Best Restaurant of the Year”, so Jon and I have been meaning for a while to see what all the hype’s about. Unfortunately, Canteen doesn’t take reservations until 6 pm on the day you want to visit, and I’d heard it’s always a wait to get a seat at one of the resto’s long, communal tables.
Well, it seems the trick to getting a table at a popular restaurant like Canteen is to eat there when everyone else in the country is watching, say, a Rugby World Cup final match between England and South Africa. And that’s how Jon and I found ourselves with a choice of seats at Canteen on a Saturday night.
Big pluses for Canteen based on our visit: convenient, fun location (in Spitalfields Market, near Liverpool Street station); low prices (few main courses above £10); lots of wines served by the carafe; multiple vegetarian options; casual, helpful service; and an all-day breakfast menu (for when you just have to have eggs benedict!).
Minuses of our meal there: uneven quality of food; a carafe of Meursault served lukewarm (gross!).
Overall, the pluses outweigh the minuses, but I did have high expectations thanks to that whole Observer Food Monthly thing.
Potted duck (aka shredded duck cooked in duck fat till it’s spreadable) is one of my favorite dishes of all time, and I think I might have to live in the UK forever to ensure a regular and continous feed for my addiction. At Canteen, its consistency was thick but still spreadable, and it smelled rich and meaty. Imagine my surprise when I found that it tasted kind of bland, which is why the piccalilli was so key for adding some fruitiness to all the blandness. Overall, the Albion‘s potted duck remains tops, and Canteen’s felt like a waste of calories.
Craving the comfort food, Jon ordered a macaroni-and-cheese that was hot, sharp and goeey in the way only melted, high-quality cheddar can be, but the ratio of sauce to pasta was a little off (i.e., it was too liquidy) and the macaroni was so overcooked that it was in danger of turning into a pasta mush. That said, we had no problems scarfing it down in less than five minutes, which goes to show you that comfort food isn’t about technical perfection. As the cold, rainy days of winter move in, I’m sure we’ll be craving more of that buttery, cheesy goodness.
Even though the food we ordered didn’t blow me away, Canteen seems to be a great place to try British classics in a pretty space and at low prices. Our two starters, two mains, a side dish and a carafe of wine set us back £27 per person, so I’ll be visiting Canteen again, no doubt. I’m thinking it’d be a nice place to bring a large group of friends.