Tuesday, 13 November 2007
Canteen, Spitalfields Market
Looking for something to break the tedium of sandwich bar lunches in the City, today I wandered a little further down Commercial Road and stumbled across a row of interesting looking dining spots in Spitalfields Market. Choosing one completely at random - Canteen - I sat down in front of a refreshingly British looking menu populated with the likes of potted shrimps, gammon and potatoes, and Arbroath Smokie. The room was done up in the hideous Wagamama style of long bench seating, although unlike Wagamamas the staff weren't quite so keen to force you to sit cheek to jowl with as many other diners as possible, so I managed to keep a healthy distance from the Nathan Barley-esque advertising execs braying loudly over their Macbooks about their new pitch for JD Sports at the other end of the table.
Starter of Pea and Ham Soup was actually pretty good. There was plenty of it, and it did taste satisfyingly home made, although the accompanying bread was slightly stale, and it would have been nice to have some chunks of ham in the soup itself just to break up the texture a bit - but even so, not bad for £4.50.
I have written before about the curse of the foodie to always go for the most bizarre item on the menu, and so for my next course I chose Devilled Kidneys. I'd never had them before and they sounded like a nice traditional dish - very pre-war, offal, I tend to think. I am always open-minded about food - any dish would have to be pretty unusual if not actually dangerous to make me think twice about wolfing it down. But having been presented with a plate piled high with wobbling offal which smelt of urine, well, I must admit I was staring defeat in the face. You know when you go to the zoo in winter, and all the African animals have been keeping warm inside for weeks and the smell of camel urine and straw burns your nose as you enter the enclosure? That, on a plate, with toast.
If this is what they're supposed to taste like then I'm not surprised you don't see them on menus more often. And if they're not supposed to taste like this - and if anyone out there can enlighten me either way, please feel free - then someone should tell Canteen because, quite frankly, they were revolting.
Devilled Kidneys aside (which is where I left them), I am actually very much in favour of what Canteen is trying to do. Very reasonably priced, unapologetically British food, served informally and with charm. But to serve up a dish which is actually so bad it's inedible is pretty much a black mark against any place, no matter how good their intentions are. I can't recommend Canteen I'm afraid, but I'm optimistic about their future.