Canteen food at the canteen

IMG_0977Goose is away and so I have no one to dine with for a few weeks. I doubt she will get the chance to read this while she explores Cambodia but just in case… I miss you Goose and I hope you’re finding some interesting tasty food experiences to share on your return.

This Tuesday I was working in East London, researching for my next history book (which is on the Whitechapel murders) and this took me to Tower Hamlets. Having spent most of the day pouring over maps and street directories I took a bus down the Mile End road towards Spitalfields.

I had a mooch around Brick Lane and a few moments of tranquility inside Nicholas Hawksmoor’s magnificent Christ’s Church before meeting an old friend at the Ten Bells pub. The pub is very old with strong links to the Ripper case (it is said that some of the victims were regulars there). Now it is (like most of the area) quite trendy and Camden Pale Ale at £4.60 a pint is hardly the sort of tipple that East End costers, prostitutes and even thirsty bobbies could have afforded. Still, its very nice and the blues playing on the sound system added to the ambiance.

Having slaked our thirsts we went in search of food. We probably should have ventured a bit further to Tayrabs (the best Indian in a curry house district by far), or taken the hefty hit to the wallets that St John’s Food & Wine would have caused. Instead we crossed in Spitalfields Market where there several chain eateries. Giraffe, Wagamama, the Gourmet Burger Company, and half a dozen others vie with each other for the early evening dinner trade.

We picked Canteen, because he’d eaten in one before and liked it, and I’d never been. The menu looked interesting enough and it wasn’t too dear either.


Francis chose two starters: breaded chicken with a lemon mayonnaise dip and potted duck with homemade piccalilli. I had the Arbroath smokie with a poached egg, and a side order of chips. He had more pale ale but sadly I was driving home later so selected a zingy lemonade. That was probably the best thing about the meal.

IMG_0973The smokie was tasty but ever so dry. The flesh didn’t so much as fall off the bones but cling desperately to it. It was overcooked and the egg wasn’t seasoned. I don’t much care for these poached eggs that feel like they’ve been dried off around the edges. I’d almost rather have one made in a mould like you can get in a greasy spoon café. Grilling the lemon was just a bit pretentious. So I was fairly unimpressed.

The chips were those rustic efforts, but cut like fries. Done well these can be great but I ate these because i was hungry not because I enjoyed them. At the bottom of the dish were some crispy bits – these were nice. I dunked the chips in Francis’ mayo but nothing was served with them otherwise.

IMG_0974His food looked better, particularity the potted duck which came with some hearty brown bread. I don’t eat chicken but he seemed happy to polish off his nuggets and the beer was good too.

My final gripe is about the service. Now they add 12.5% onto the bill and you can of course challenge this or take it off, but I doubt people often do. I’d much rather tip for good service than be expected to pay regardless. Just include in the food prices. Our waitress was Spanish and very pleasant but having cleared away and asked if we wanted desserts etc she didn’t listen (or didn’t understand). We asked for the bill and off she went. There were only two other covers in the place and so we were surprised at how long it took her to bring us the damage.

Ten minutes later we resorted to waiving at her. Then she must have twigged and after another five she brought it. £40 including service. We paid and headed off to Liverpool Street. I find it frustrating when restaurants can’t get the basics right. Canteen may have had an off day and they are only as good as the chef that works there but on this showing I won’t be rushing back. And in a few weeks time I’ll be in the Market with about 30 hungry undergraduates – I won’t be recommending Canteen to them.

It may be called Canteen – but you can eat better in our university canteen than I did this week


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