Perhaps it was because we came in from freezing rain and hail, but Baker Street’s Canteen initially had a Nordic sort of feel to it. There was a hushed, warm, slightly retro feel to the décor and low lighting that put me in mind of something like Let the Right One In. I have to say it didn’t bear too much resemblance to the Formica and discordant scraping of my own school canteen, but enough of the touchstones are there that it still felt nostalgic. And that’s kind of what Canteen is all about. A London chain with restaurants in Spitalfields, Royal Festival Hall, Baker Street and Canary Wharf, Canteen specialises in fairly simple British food created to the utmost standard.
When evaluating the character of the restaurant, there are few better indicators than which movie quotes they try to sneak into the menu. For Canteen, The Hudsucker Proxy was a good choice. A guileless, hugely underrated film, it is both an object of nostalgia and nostalgic in its own way for 1958, which it replicates with a cosy grey sheen that it shares with Canteen.
A fairly unexciting-sounding menu (fish finger sandwiches aside) quickly makes good. Starters were a dainty mushroom salad and a thin chicken broth that definitely warmed the cockles. Still trying to defrost ourselves, we both went for stews that proved rich, comforting and wholesome. My venison was deliciously crumbly and tangy, and was perfectly filling, though the chips ordered as a side were essential for variety, as well as being wonderful in their own right. Luckily, the menu changes throughout the year in much the same way as school canteens of yore, ensuring that you won’t overheat on stew in July. The comfortable booths are outfitted with snazzy lamps, and deeply familiar coathooks on which to sling your schoolbag, but I could have done with a fan by the end of the meal.
For all the talk recently of a renaissance in British cooking, there are still very few places that do traditional British dishes to a really high standard, most restaurants opting to distort the classics for their own nefarious ends. Canteen is unashamed to give these excellent dishes the showcase they deserve, and everything else is secondary.