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.
Words & Pictures: Stephen Emms
What are your recent experiences at the Canteen? Pray share.