I have heard many good things about Canteen in the new Spittalfields market in London since it opened in the Autumn of 2005. In the 2006 Observer Food Monthly awards it came second in best for breakfast (public vote) and in this years food monthly awards it won best restaurant. On paper it sounds like everything I love, quality ingredients cooked well and at very reasonable prices – starters are from approximately £5-7 and most main courses are under £10. It’s not fussy either, just good food. We decided we’d go for my birthday and booked a couple of weeks in advance.
It’s a nice looking restaurant, modern with a clean sharp look. The walls are glass facing out into the market so it’s great for people watching and there’s a busy open kitchen facing the diners. When we arrived tonight we were offered two seats squashed between two couples at a communal table. I know its communal eating but surely if you book two weeks in advance you can get a better seat? There was absolutely no room between these people and there was no sensible way of sitting there, the other diners didn’t look too happy to see us try and I can’t blame them. There were booths accomadating 2 or 4 people, so we asked if we could wait and have one of those. I played the birthday card and they were very good about it. So far, so good. We waited about 20 minutes and were seated at a very small booth facing the window but at least we weren’t squashed with other diners so we were happy. Service was confusing, at this point we had 3 people serving us but that seems to be the informal style of the restaurant so I’ll let that go.
The menu looked promising, with a standard menu and a nice looking specials menu, always a fish of the day (two today) and veggie and meat pies of the day. Good rustic comfort food. One bizarre thing about the specials menu was there was some asparagus and hollandaise listed after the cheeseplate, as soon as I saw the cheeseplate I stopped reading as I assumed the next dishes were sweet so missed it adn saw it afer the meal. I would definitely have ordered new season asparagus had I spotted it. For starters I had the crab soup, which had nice fresh crab but the soup itself was bland and oily, very disappointing. Our other starter was an excellent potted duck with homemade picalilli and toast, the picalilli particularly was outstanding. For mains we had macaroni cheese, which was as good as macaroni cheese gets, creamy & cheesey inside with a lovely crisp top and chicken pie with mash and greens. The pie was nice although it would have been nicer if there were chunks rather than shreds of chicken in the pie. The mash had a nice texture and taste and the greens were lightly cooked an buttered. We couldn’t fit a dessert so finished with coffees. We accompanied the meal with some organic pilsner from the Meantime brewery on my partners part and a glass of valpolicella for me. The pilsner was excellent and we’ll look out for it in future, the wine was only ok, but it was by the glass not the bottle.
Even with all this, the service killed it for me. It was very impersonal. The manager was very helpful even while clearly under pressure but otherwise the service was slow and inconsistent. If I worked in the area it would be a good option for the occasional lunch, they do have a helpful section of the menu detailing the dishes for people that want to eat quickly. It didn’t do it for us tonight though.
Update 3rd July: Andy Hayler has recently reviewed Canteen on his site.