The Big Review: Kentish Canteen

Kentish Canteen is a place everyone seems to have an opinion on. It opened back in October 2010 to a …

Kentish Canteen is a place everyone seems to have an opinion on. It opened back in October 2010 to a fanfare from Giles Coren, Time Out, The Guardian and others, was rammed for a while, but like many an instant celebrity, the pressure began to show. Readers would tweet us about inconsistency and occasional service issues, but then things settled down, with the food fighting back (in particular a fantastic crab linguine). Yet it was still sometimes rather quiet.

Owners Wendy and Owen resolved the evening lighting issues late last year (candle-lit at last!) and they hired a new chef, Paul Ribands (ex Lanesborough), who won praise from you lot in our 2011 Awards. But despite frequenting the lovely Shebeen cocktail bar downstairs, we confess we hadn’t eaten upstairs for a while.

Invited for dinner the other Friday, the joint was packed. Conspiratorial couples. Gig goers. Guffawing groups. ‘D’you know what,’ said Mrs Kentishtowner, tinkling the ice in a Negroni, ‘it’s pitch perfect now, isn’t it?’


The evening menu is populist and accessible, peppered with more grown-up dishes. Irish manager Dave unveiled a list of London micro brewery beers, but we were in a New Zealandish kinda mood (Marlborough Yealands Estate) to match Rye Bay scallops with cauliflower, chorizo and thyme, and a zingy mackerel ceviche, with citrusy apple and the deeply aniseed qualities of fennel.

Mrs Kentishtowner simply wasn’t in the mood for meat. So we chose pan-fried bass with saffron noodles, thai broth and razor clams, restorative in both fragrance and balance – ‘like eating air,’ said Mrs KT. (If she was still a model, she later confided to Dave, she would live off this.)

Our other main was an open lasagne of taleggio, grilled peppers, pine nuts and sage butter with tomato fondue. More-ish, comforting, creamy and definitely one to thrill a good veggie like our co-editor Tom.

‘I feel like I’m falling in love with the place for the first time,’ sighed Kentish Town’s first lady as she dipped her spoon into the lavender creme brulee. And after a mouthful of baked toffee fondant with vanilla ice cream and raspberry, it was time to descend into the bar for a dimly-lit espresso martini or three.

So, our advice? Even if you’ve felt it inconsistent in the past, give the place another whirl. No-one else is doing quite what this lot are in the manor. It’s buzzy, stylish and glam. There’s good service. And atmosphere in spades.

Oh, and Wendy emailed the other day to say that there will be new surprises on the menu soon. We’ll report back.

This is box title
Kentishtowner Rating: 8/10. Don’t forget they offer a 2 course set menu for £13.95. A three course meal for two with wine is about £70.

Words & Pictures: Stephen Emms

What are your recent experiences at the Canteen? Pray share.


  • Show Comments

  • Judy Young

    We went there when it first opened, and now the words “Lavender Creme Brulee” have jumped off the page at me………..I’ll definitely be going again as soon as I can make my way up North!

  • Jon Simmons

    The gf and I went here when we first moved to NW5 in September after reading a great review in Time Out, but we’re pretty disappointed. Sounds like its worth another try though.

  • Mrs Z

    Always had a great experience there but was utterly disappointed today. I hardly eat lunch outside as my working hours are short. So when my manager decided to treat me today (as I’ve been a good girl), we decided on Kentish Canteen. We were greeted at the door ok, but then no one came with the menus. Called out politely to a couple of staff who looked back at us and then disappeared to the backroom. When our meals came, my fish was really dry (fish and chips) and despite asking twice for the salad dressing to be on the side while ordering, my manager’s salad still came with dressing mixed in. She had to return it and wait for the kitchen to rectify the order. Then we had to ask for the bill twice. Tsk tsk. Hopefully better service and food next time.

  • lovefood

    Have had a couple of nice lunches here, and one bad dinner. Main problem is the service and the staff – food is ok. But expect to wait for it.

  • Natalia S

    I love this place!! Ever since it has changed ownership & got a new head chef , the food is soooooo much better than ever, every time we go there to eat it is always great & the place is full, especially on saturday mornings! much better than before & check the downstairs bar. Great cocktails & love it that it is small & cosy, great for a get together or a cosy drink. Staff have always been friendly but sometimes trying to get their attention can do with a little more improvement, otherwise it’s a great place for great food in our local area.

  • chaz

    I really don’t get Kentish Canteen. It promises so much (delicious-sounding menu), it has a great location (love the views up towards the Heath), it presents everything beautifully, but the substance is for me, almost without exception, disappointing.

    I return fairly regularly, simply because it’s so well placed, I like to meet friends there, and – like a partner returning to a doomed relationship – I KEEP thinking ‘surely it will be better this time’. However, although I find that for coffee and cake it’s fine, the food itself is always mediocre at best, and a bit crap at worst. Just yesterday I re-braved the Eggs Florentine, having once had a bad experience with it there (runny white, acidic hollandaise). I specifically asked for a well-cooked white (just can’t stand gloopy translucent jelly oozing onto my muffin) and what did I get? Gloopy translucent jelly ahoy! On top of that, the hollandaise was again thin and overly citrussy. It’s just well below par for a restaurant that is supposedly up there with the best in NW5.

    Am I the only one to experience constant disappointment with the quality of the grub at the Canteen, despite desperately wishing for it to live up to its potential? It’s happened so many times now I can’t believe it’s just whingey old me…

  • Pat K

    Average at best.