Tuesday, 21 April 2009


It's been a while since I've eaten at Canteen. What was once a refreshing change to London's restaurant scene, a trailblazer in the form of affordable back-to-basics British food, well cooked, has now become a fast-growing chain that seems to be losing its va va voom.

The Royal Festival Hall Canteen was certainly thronged with people, a happy sight on a Monday night. We started with a few drinks at the bar while we waited for a table, a hearty pint of Samuel Smith's Organic Ale, and a good value bottle of 2000 Chateau Camplazens. Safely ensconced at our table, we waited....and waited.... Our waiter was laid back to the point of horizontal (albeit with a smile, so we managed to forgive him!). Our starters of devilled kidneys on toast, purple-sprouting broccoli with hollandaise, and potted duck were pleasant, and certainly hit the spot, but were not earth shattering. Predictability is not necessarily a bad thing, however: these starters have featured on the menu for years, and you can guarantee they will taste good every time.

The main dishes were touch and go. The daily special, a beef stew, was a low point: it was more sodium soup than savoury satisfaction. My companions ate a lamb and mint pie with mash, pork belly, and chicken and chips. The pie seemed to render agreeable murmurs, and the chicken and chips did what it said on the tin. I didn't try the pork, but it looked like a good piece of meat, with crackling that could have had done with being a little crisper.

It was too late to try puddings, but at a fiver each I wish we'd given at least one a go. Next time. Anyone else had similar experiences? I'm not writing Canteen off for good, but they need to listen to their customers, and talk to their Festival Hall chefs (it's hard to make a beef stew unpleasant: all it needs is great meat, and a long, slow cook).

Now, a month later, I've revisited and saved room for dessert. Boy, how disappointing! No-frills is one thing, but this was well below par: a chocolate sundae with less than a hint of chocolate sauce, room temperature piped cream, chemical-aftertaste vanilla ice cream, and so-so brownie; stodgy steamed pudding with a split anaemic custard and negligible syrup (obviously chucked in the microwave). The mains didn't rock my world either, so I've decided to steer clear for a while. Canteen and I are parting company for the foreseeable future: more fish to fry on the London food scene!
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