Rochelle Canteen is co-owned by Margot Henderson, wife of Fergus Henderson of St John, and has a similar culinary approach. It opened in January 2006, with Margot in charge of the kitchen, though the head chef since 2014 is Anne Tobias, who previously worked at The River Café. Ingredients are left mostly to speak for themselves, with no fancy presentation or cheffy trickery.
The restaurant itself is open only for weekday lunches, and is well hidden. In Arnold Circus in Shoreditch is a former school, and there an old school gate with “Boys” engraved above it now has a series of buzzers next to it. Ring and you will be admitted; walk along a little path to what was apparently the bike sheds of the school, now converted to a simple cafeteria dining area with two long wooden benches. On a sunny day there are rather more appealing tables outside, along with a blackboard listing the specials of the day.
The menu changes seasonally, with starters £6.50 to £7.50, main courses £14 to £16.50, side dishes £4.50 and desserts £5 to £5.50. There is no alcohol license, though corkage is just £5 a bottle. Bread is from St John Bread & Wine, a good choice as they produce some of the better bread that a restaurant can buy in London (14/20), though this is a chargeable item at £1.50.
Artichokes and goat curd on toast was an example of the simple style of cooking here. There is nowhere to hide if things go wrong but here the cheese was very good, the artichokes carefully cooked (13/20). Smoked mackerel had good flavour and came with carefully timed seasonal Jersey Royal potatoes and watercress salad (14/20).
Chicken and wild garlic pie had a good pastry topping. The garlic flavour came through nicely though the chicken itself could have had more favour (13/20). Baked eggs with morels was pleasant, the eggs a notch up from supermarket quality, but although the mushrooms were good I think for £15 they could have managed more than the three morels that appeared to be present (13/20).
Buttermilk pudding was rhubarb was very good, the rhubarb carefully cooked so that it was softened but still had a bite of acidity, balancing the buttermilk nicely (14/20). Chocolate tart with hazelnuts had good pastry, plenty of chocolate flavour and fresh-tasting hazelnuts, with crème fraiche on the side (14/20).
Service was friendly but very stretched at this service, so progress was slow. The bill came to £31 per person before tip with just water to drink. Given that you can bring your own wine for £5 then a typical cost per head sharing a bottle would not be much more, perhaps £35. This seems good value to me. Rochelle Canteen does not offer much in the way of luxury or even comfort, but if you get lucky with the weather then it is a very pleasant spot to enjoy a simple spot of lunch.
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