Wednesday 12 November 2014

Rochelle Canteen - London

Yeah I know.
We’ve been here before and yes, I promised that I’d be around a lot more than I have. I tried, I really did, but I fucked up. I could offer you excuses, I could swear that things will be different this time and you might believe me, but who are we kidding? I might be around, I might not. I just don’t know.  I just can’t stay away though…

So here I am.

Like an illicit lover. I’ve sneaked back in to your life. Made love to you in the most erotic literary fashion by way of this Rochelle Canteen review and disappeared once more in to the grey, early morning light, leaving you sleeping soundly with a wistful smile and tousled hair, a rose on your pillow and a used condom lurking under the duvet, no doubt stuck to your leg.  

It’s me!

Ok. Enough of that. Rochelle Canteen….

As you are probably aware, I’m a massive fan of all things St John and Fergus Henderson. I love the British’ness of it, the simple, seasonal, ingredient led menus, the spartan plating and the near fanatical obsession with using dismembered animal bits and bobs that are rarely seen on other restaurant menus. I even, God help me, have learned to like the odd cheeky Fernet Branca, Mr Henderson’s favourite booze, famously always on the speed rail behind the bar at St John.

Where am I going with this? Well, Rochelle Canteen is part of the St John family, literally in fact. It’s owned and run by Margot Henderson, Fergus’s wife and her business partner, Melanie Arnold. It’s just behind Shoreditch High Street, on Arnold Circus in an old Victorian School, and this is where I found myself, in the pissing of rain last Monday lunchtime.

So far, so good. Except it wasn’t.
Considering that I knew exactly where Rochelle Canteen is located, you’d think access would be just a mere formality. Well, it would be if you could find the correct door with the intercom button labelled ‘Rochelle Canteen’. I wandered around in a torrential downpour for ten minutes, circling the entire school wall before finally happening upon the entrance.  To save you suffering the same rain soaked indignity and frustration, I have thoughtfully included pictures of the doorway in question and the intercom button where finger pressure is required. Consider yourself forewarned.
Anyway, I finally made it into the courtyard and wandered across to the small, glass walled outbuilding that houses the canteen and slid open the door.

Inside, as you’d expect it’s very white, very bare looking and judging by the lunchtime crowd, very Shoreditch, which is hardly surprising given the location. There’s a counter with a well-equipped open kitchen to the left and some communal seating in a dining area.

I normally research my restaurant eating and drinking options meticulously before I even book, but this time I had somehow dropped a massive bollock. I was absolutely flabbergasted when the server told me Rochelle Canteen doesn’t sell alcohol. It turns out it’s BYO with £5 corkage. Taking a brief moment to repeatedly slap my own forehead violently, interspersed with shouting “stupid!” “STUPID!” I resigned myself to soft drinks and tap water. Yeah. Bastard.

Recovering my cool, I scanned the menu and was struck by two thoughts.

1) It’s not frigging cheap
2) I want to order everything.

This is bad news. The worst possible combination. A menu perfect storm ensuring that I will probably leave devoid of any dignity, crawling towards the exit, uncomfortably full and being extremely vocal in my agonised groaning. At the same time, I’ll certainly be so utterly skint I’ll have to resort to selling my beautiful, taut, muscular young body to accumulate the train fare home.

Damn you Rochelle Canteen! *fist shake*
Taking into account that it was cold, grey and damp outside, conditions mirrored by me on a personal level after wandering around trying to find the entrance, I ordered duck broth with “Frittaten” (A herb pancake cut into ribbons and draped artfully in the soup). They’d run out of Duck, but they had chicken. Even better. I could think of nothing more comforting to someone in my bedraggled condition. Simple clean flavours, steaming hot and absolutely delicious. Like the peasant I am, I quickly progressed from mannered spoonful’s to dunking huge chunks of sourdough bread slathered with butter into the broth and from there into my gob and felt better and better with every slurp and bite.
When I said ‘it’s not frigging cheap’ Chicken and leek pie, I’m looking at you. 
Maybe I am really a peasant, maybe I no longer have any idea how much things cost in London, now that I live in Bristol and only return intermittently, but £16.50 for a pie, for one, with no other accompaniments at all seems, pardon my Francais; a bit fucking steep. 
To make matters somehow worse, I can’t deny it was absolutely bloody gorgeous. Beautiful pastry, albeit a bit rustic looking, filled solid with bits of chicken and leek.
To round things out a bit and also because I’m a notoriously greedy bastard, I complemented my solitary sixteen and a half quid delicious pie with a bowl of roasted new potatoes, carrots and garlic. All nice enough.
Simple things are often the best, typified perfectly by a slice of ginger loaf with vanilla ice-cream and butterscotch sauce. I demolished the lot and smiled broadly between every mouthful.

After gawping and at the bill, I walked back out into a soggy London afternoon, significantly lighter of pocket but happy, full-up and generally pretty pleased with lunch; so I reckon it was worth it then.  

I liked Rochelle Canteen a lot. Yes it’s a bit on the steep side, but there’s a beautiful almost rustic simplicity to the food. It’s like a far less formal version of St John, similar in outlook (unsurprisingly) but much less restaurant and more like eating around a friend’s house who happens to be an amazing cook. There’s no frippery, no fancy plating, just solid cooking with excellent ingredients and sometimes that’s all you want. I found it refreshing and pretty damn comforting. If you can actually find the bloody entrance, you should go.

Rochelle Canteen
Rochelle School
Arnold Circus
E2 7ES

Telephone: 020 7729 5677