I don’t need to spell out the background of all the restaurants I go to. I feel the “background” of any sort works either to raise one’s expectation or to become an awkward disclaimer when the food sucks. This is not quite the case with Rochelle Canteen, a brainchild of Melanie Arnold and Margot Anderson – the latter, the wife of THE Fergus Anderson of St John. That’s it. Like St John, you may expect at Rochelle Canteen daily changes on the menu – here only breakfast and lunch – and the nose-to-tail cooking philosophy.
The place is situated in the Boundary Estate – the first council estate in the UK dating back to the Victorian era but now looking the poshest among the 21st century council blocks! – and I needed to buzz myself in via the “Boys” entrance. The restaurant itself is converted from a bike shed. Tiny as half the shed forms the kitchen and the other half the dining space. Cute little haven. The downside? On my visit the place was fuming. That said, you could opt for al fresco dining and no charcoal smell on your outfit…
Simple St John lookalike menu. I believe the place was meant to be a St John Bread and Wine offshoot. Reasonably priced dishes, the most expensive of which was £14.50 on the day I visited. Casual front of house. You’d pay for your own bread. I opted that out.
The starter of Braised Cuttlefish and Clams (£7.50) was wonderful. Intense and thick seafood jus. Kicks from chilli; aromatic herbs; mild acidity and zesty freshness from lemon. Tender and flavoursome chunks of cuttlefish. They absorbed the goodness of the jus and turned light brown – a wondrous sight making me wonder how they could braise it that brown but not overcook the meat! Gaping clams; the smell of the sea permeating the dish. Peas could do with a few minutes less cooking. It was a love at first bite and now I wished I had bread to mop up the plate.
Could still use my fingers.. suppose…
I went for Quail & Broad Beans (£12.50) for my main. The quail sat coyly crisscrossing its legs. Nicely roasted and boned to facilitate eating. Fluffy meat. Pronounced bacon flavours from the jus. Broad beans served skin on never bothered me one bit (as it did at St John Hotel). They tasted so damned rich. An all round comforting dish but did not wow me in the way the cuttlefish did. The side salad (£3.50) of watercress, gem lettuce and rocket was underdressed. Could do with more mustard infusion. Great value for money, though, and many mouthfuls of freshness.
The meal concluded with the Custard Tart with Strawberry (£4.50). Very rustic. Tart base; a slap of finely chilled, thick but light custard; and fresh strawberries. Everything was so right about it. So effortless, yet so decadent. Nice vanilla scent, too. I would lick the plate clean (but I didn’t).
Taking into account the money spent and the relaxed ambiance, Rochelle Canteen is a very pleasant place to be. Yet, the food is not a gastronomic revelation but an indulgent comfort. (Too bad this comfort does not extend over weekends). The flavours verge on being safe as opposed to St John’s robust offal offerings (no pun intended). This, somehow, takes Rochelle Canteen slightly off my food map. No risk, not superbly central location. So, what’s the point? The meal today did prove my assumption. I did not have to be there, but when I was actually there, it was actually very, very lovely.
Will I return?
I will (if I have stuff I need to do in the area, otherwise St John Hotel will do).
My head rating says, “9 out of 10″.
My heart rating says, “8 out of 10″.
Tel. 020 7729 5677