Less than a year after the British restaurant group’s Baker Street opening comes Canteen’s fourth venue, located in Canary Wharf.
Canary Wharf is becoming a foodie destination as of late, with second and third locations of successful restaurants opening up in a constant stream. Canteen is located on Canada Square’s Park Pavilion, which, when construction is completed, will also be home to the third branch of Wahaca and the second branch of Roka. This is the fourth branch of Canteen, following up a late 2008 opening on Baker Street, but if you’ve been to a Canteen before you’ll find the style quite similar. Industrial style seating and plain, light coloured woods make up the chairs and tables, with a few large booths covered with rough green fabric.
The venue seems quite small, with a bar area tucked away in a corner and an open kitchen further down a small hallway. Floor to ceiling windows let in as much light as possible, and the doors open up onto an alfresco terrace area with large umbrellas lined with heatlamps. Compared to the other locations though, it feels just a touch too sterile – maybe some more colours would liven things up – but then again, it might just be that it’s all so bright, shiny and new.
If there’s one thing a location in Canary Wharf guarantees, it’s a crowd, and even early on in the week Canteen is packed close to bursting. The crowd is mostly a young, trendy-looking lot, with lots of groups of three or more and the occasional braying businessman, struggling to make sure his voice is louder than the din of contented diners. Staff are smiley and seem happy, balancing trays of drinks and plates with ease. There’s free Wi-Fi – plus sockets and library-style lamp lighting – so expect lunchtimes to be mostly laptop-toting locals. As with the other locations, much of Canteen’s menu is available as half portions for children, but it’s hard to imagine anyone younger than twentysomething going for dinner in this neighbourhood.
Fans of Canteen’s food will be glad to know that things don’t seem to have changed much with the new location’s menu, which features classic British dishes and a variety of daily changing options. Prices are reasonable for the area, with most mains around £10; hardly anything on the menu can be classified as expensive, and even the steak is under £15. Daily changing specials include soup, pies, stews, two fish options, cakes and ice cream, a cocktail and even a juice.
Portions run towards the large side at Canteen, which you’ll find if you order the hot buttered Arbroath smokie (£8.50). Although it’s listed under the starters/small plates section of the menu, it’s nearly a meal in itself and is a huge piece of fish. Getting to the intensely smoky flesh takes a bit of perseverance – and some de-boning skills – but you’ll be more than rewarded by the quality of the fish. Potted duck with piccalilli and toast (£7.50), on the other hand, is pretty much the perfect size, with four thin wedges of toast matching up almost exactly to the amount of soft, tender potted duck and intensely sweet, bright yellow piccalilli – it’s all very rustic, right down to the chunks of cauliflower and mustard seeds in the piccalilli.
The potted duck is considered one of Canteen’s specialties, along with their fish and chips, which changes daily. A recent cod option (£13.50) is another good-sized portion; it’s cooked well, with a lightly fried outer layer, and served with chips that, although they taste nice, look a little lacklustre. The accompanying tartare sauce is subtly spicy. Sausages and mash (£9.50) is exactly what it should be, with two plump, juicy sausages nestled in a bed of smooth mash, with an aromatic, herby onion gravy complete with little tendrils of onion. Should you need more veg, sides are £3.50 and include a big bowl of carrots and swedes that have been mixed together so that they have a texture like chunky mashed potatoes.
Desserts are about £6 and continue the British theme, with dishes including treacle tart, rice pudding, banoffee pie and apple crumble. Gingerbread with pears is unexpectedly rich, the complete opposite of the crumbly gingerbread you might be expecting. A brownie ice cream sundae, served in a squat glass, is also a success, with the sugary, fudgy brownie and smooth vanilla ice cream livened up by slightly salty caramel. The only downside is a slice of biscotti, which tastes strangely dry and chalky.
Canteen’s drinks list is really interesting, with some creative cocktails, unusual beers and ciders and even the occasional British wine on the list. Non-alcoholic drinks include freshly made juices, bottled juices from Luscombe and Chegworth Valley, soft drinks and Belu water, plus teas, hot chocolate and Monmouth coffee. A variety of lagers, ales, stouts and ciders are available, priced between about £4 and £8, with helpful descriptions for the non-experts, although connoisseurs will no doubt recognise the British names and places. St Austell’s Clouded Yellow is definitely lively – best be extra careful pouring it – with a clean, lemony taste.
Cocktails are about £6 to £8 and feature a variety of classics with a twist, like a Plum Collins, seasonal gin and tonics and flavoured Bellinis. The Cockney Cobbler is like a grown-up apple juice, made with apple vodka, pear liqueur, lemon juice, triple sec and apple juice – it tastes refreshingly sweet, but not too sugary. Wines are incredibly well priced, starting from £3.50 a glass and £12.50 a bottle, and the international list includes France, Spain, New Zealand and England – a 2007 Chapel Down Flint Dry.
The Last Word
Although Canteen’s Canary Wharf location is a bit colder than their other venues, the friendly staff and comforting British food makes it a great place for warming up in the winter.