"It's not much but it's ours"

Thursday, April 03, 2008


Yowie! - it’s Connie Lee
At the wheel of her Shark-de-Ville

I did a JKD course once. That’s Jeet Kune Do, the martial art developed by Bruce Lee. During one session the instructor was giving us some practical advice on what to do “if it all kicked off”. As he demonstrated, on me, how to take someone down then break their arm, I could see all the other students – all nice middle class folk to a man and woman – give a big grimace. Then it was someone else’s turn. It got me wondering when I was last in such a situation. Sure, it can get a bit crowded down at Borough Market and there was some jostling once at my local deli when they had samphire in, but as a rule we don’t get into dodgy or dangerous predicaments, especially as we get older.

Another place high in the “least likely to kick off” stakes is Rochelle Canteen, a very middle class enclave in the heart of The Ditch. There’s a couple with their little son, chowing down on Grilled Squid and Coriander Sauce with a side order of Spring Greens and gulping Fentimans Ginger Beer. Look, it’s Margot Henderson, the owner, with her husband Fergus (of St John fame) sitting at an impromptu outside table with friends, laughing and drinking and smoking. There’s a man by himself with a half bottle of Chianti and a guidebook to Northern Spain enjoying a Smoked Mackerel, Dandelion & Horseradish Salad. This a place where people don’t have to be told what Bavette is.

Rochelle Canteen is only open for lunch during the week, which is my excuse for not having visited during the two years it’s been going - even though I’m only a short hop away. It used to be a super secret place that was known only to those in the er….know. But now you can book or chance your arm and just turn up. You still need to be buzzed in though, this is Hackney after all.

The food is more akin to St John Bread and Wine, a sort of St John Lite. It’s simple, it’s seasonal and the prices are ungreedy. What’s not to like ? Well, the cooking is a little uneven although to be fair I didn’t give the menu a good seeing-to.

Bread and Lucque Olives to nibble on were excellent. The aforementioned salad was nice: the bitter leaves working well with the smoked fish, although the advertised horseradish seemed non-existent. Bavette tasted ok but had been overcooked and was a bit tiède. The chips were great. Chocolate Pot for sweet was nicely done. Of the other dishes I saw going out the Foie Gras Terrine and the Grilled Squid both looked good.

So Rochelle Canteen is worth a punt if you’re in the area and fancy a lunch that’s a bit more evolved than an Egg and Cress sandwich or Pumpkin soup. The other attraction is that it’s BYO with no corkage, so if you don’t have to be completely cm in the pm you can have a really good time. And you won’t have to spend an arm or a leg let alone break one.

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