CANTEEN: THE BENCHMARK FOR AVERAGE EATING
Opened around six months ago after the redevelopment of Spitalfield's market, Canteen has been getting plaudits out the wazoo to use a technical term. The critics have been almost universally lauditory and the place is always packed whenever I wander by it on a Sunday morning.
My plans for this evening were changed and I was left to ponder on another solo supper. I had a reservation for two but cancelled that one at 7.30pm and headed down there directly from as hard a day's work as is possible to do in publishing and did a walk in a little after 6.15pm.
Canteen sits between Giraffe, a family friendly organic cafe serving innocuous food which fills a gap and Scarlet Spice Bar, which is slowly recreating exactly The Marie Celeste. There was one person in there tonight. The only person I have ever seen in there.
When I arrived at Canteen, it was practically empty, but a number of parties were turned away as I ate as they were fully booked. By the time I left, they were close to capacity.
A blowsy Scot friend of mine described it as being like "Wagamama's with pork scratchings" She was, as usual, bang on. It is, as its name suggests, canteen seating. Those hateful, hateful benches that are supposed to bring back the age of communal dining rooms but in reality stink of planners trying to cram in as many covers as possible while making sure you don't get comfortable enough to linger.
However,you know the state of play before you get there and I was fortunate in that I was shown to a side booth. Admittedly one of those reserved for two people who have been married for forty years and who don't want to sit opposite each other but would rather sit side by side and not acknowledge each other during the meal. But, still, anything is better than those bleeding benches.
Service was immediate and extremely affable and I was left to have a look at the menu printed on the place mat.
To begin, I was about to order the Eggs Benedict which is on the all day breakfast menu. The hostess/server asked what I was going to have to follow and, when I told her, she said "that's going to be a bit much. Why don't you let me do you a kiddie portion of the Eggs to begin with?"
Now the last time I had a "Kiddie portion" of a meal was when I had behaved particularly well on a shopping trip to Sheffield with my mother and was taken to The Golden Egg for a Pirate's platter which came with a free hat and some crayons.A bit embarrassing really as I was 27 at the time.
No crayons here, but what did arrive was an excellent half portion of what is becoming their signature breakfast dish. A beautifully poached egg with a glistening runny yolk on top of a muffin and covered with a fabulous, thick, creamy, hollandaise sauce. I could have easily eaten twice as much. Damn me for listening. And no free hat to boot. I sucked on a very passable, if overpriced glass of Rueda (£5.75) which suited well with the acidity cutting through the creaminess of the hollandaise.
To follow, the dish that had caused such consternation. They have a wide selection of main courses including a daily pie. There are few words in the English language that are better than "pie" and when added to the words "beef & stout" one could almost have to disappear for a private moment. I substituted the offered mash for some mushy peas ( you can take the boy out of the north but you can't take the north out of the boy) and accepted the wilted greens that came with it as a colon cleanser.
Unfortunately, the dish was not a success. The pie had gone long on pastry, short on filling. What filling there was lacked seasoning and the pastry was very tough. The mushy peas were suitably dense but had no discernable taste and the greens were, well, greens. Ho hum. I ordered an equally overpriced but woefully non descript glass of Burgundy to have with this. They suited each other by both being entirely forgettable.
The bill for the two courses of food was £12.50 ( £3.50 for the Eggs ) and for the wine, a stonking £11.50. With a 12.5% service charge, a whopping £27. About the same as three courses and a coulple of glasses at The Fox.
I am sure there are better meals to be had at Canteen and I am sure I shall have them there. But, at that price, it has got to be pretty good for a drop in. As Hermano Primero put it "how good can a pie be to be worth £9?" Well, a sight better than this.