Exclusive: Kentish Canteen to close this Sunday

The pioneering restaurant serves its last steak this weekend. So what’s next?

A classic shot of the Canteen, around 2011.  Photo: KC
A classic shot of the Canteen, around 2011. Photo: KC
And now for news just in. Kentish Canteen, the modern all-day diner that pretty much kickstarted NW5’s recent food scene, is to close this weekend after four years. But the good news is it’ll remain a restaurant, rather than a Starbucks, who have circled it for years.

“I wanted your readers to be the first to know officially,” says owner Wendy Sinclair. “We have sold Kentish Canteen to Maxwell’s Restaurants, who’ll be revamping it into the second Joe’s Southern Kitchen And Bar.”

The first branch of ribs joint Joe’s is in King Street, Covent Garden, near where the original Maxwell’s has stood proud since the early 1980s. We haven’t eaten there, but the website talks of Deep South cooking in “a converted warehouse over two floors with our bar Cocktail Baby in the basement. The bar serves a wide selection of cocktails, beers, wines and spirits, all accompanied by a southern US soundtrack.”

How the Canteen may look: Joe's Southern Kitchen. Photo: PR
How the Canteen may look: Joe’s Southern Kitchen. Photo: Maxwell’s
We will, of course, reserve judgement. But what of the Canteen? Well, it opened in a former police station in September 2010, which had remained boarded up following the collapse of butcher Harry’s R.E.D joint. Initial fanfares from Giles Coren and Time Out meant the Canteen was quickly popular; and while service and food has varied over the years, it’s still a fun option for a local meal out. It’s also a hugely popular spot for weekend brunch.

Furthermore, it’s easy to forget that Kentish Canteen was revolutionary in opening the door to the flurry of new businesses that have flooded the area since. The decor was airy and light, with pendant lighting and booths, while the counter heaved with salads and pastries. On one wall, arty black and white pictures of Kentish Town encouraged local pride and a sense of identity – an act in itself which seemed slightly daring.

The Kentish Town mural on the wall of the Canteen highlighted the area's under-rated sights
The Kentish Town mural on the wall of the Canteen highlighted the area’s underrated sights
In early 2012, with the launch of Shebeen, the Canteen went on to spear-head another trend in central NW5: the subterranean cocktail bar (of which there are now three).

So won’t they be sorry to go? “We have had four and a half good years in Kentish Town,” says Wendy, who sold her WC2 restaurant PJ’s Bar & Grill earlier this year, too. “Our main concern is the staff, who are all being offered jobs by Maxwell’s. And we will certainly miss so many people. We really love the community here and have some wonderful customers. We’ll not, however, miss the constant struggle to find decent chefs. Just think of the amount of restaurants and food outlets which have opened in the local neighbourhood in the past 10 years!”

And finally, what about Shebeen, set to be reworked as the new cocktail bar at Joe’s? “That will be painful to leave,” she says simply. But whatever you think about the news, one thing’s for sure: both Wendy and her partner Owen should be proud of the legacy they leave behind.

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Kentish Canteen’s last operational shift will be Sunday night. Find it at 300 Kentish Town Road. The restaurant will be closed for two months and reopen in mid Feb as Joe’s Southern Kitchen and Bar.

Have you been to Joe’s Southern Kitchen? What’s it like?

  • Show Comments

  • Clare

    Does this mean Shebeen is closing too, or is it being sold as a going concern?

  • Nick

    I recently went to the Covent Garden Southern Joe’s for a Christmas dinner. Ok I’d say, definitely rank it with somewhere like Bodeans for large scale BBQ offerings. It’s nowhere near as good as the Grafton’s Texas Joe’s though.

  • Felix

    I hope people will be allowed to stand up in the new basement bar. Shebeen was great, but being told to sit down all the time as they didn’t have a license for people to consume alcohol standing up (or something along those lines) was really irritating and killed the vibe.

    • Lori

      It is a sit down cocktail bar who has staff that will come take your order. The guys behind the bar have to focus on the cocktail making. They are essentially like chefs. Just perhaps exhibt a bit of patience and adapt to the system they have in the bar and you will be looked after mate.

      • njwhitey

        I’m deeply unimpressed by the patronising tone of Loris response above, as a bar owner myself I’d like to agree with Felix. ‘Sit down only’ cocktail establishments are a huge buzzkill, as they kill bar interaction between parties and visitors, compartmentalise males and females in groups, and make the setting deeply unfriendly to individuals who wish to pop in for a drink, isolating them completely. Telling someone with a valid complaint to ‘exhibit a bit of patience’ is precisely the arrogant attitude that makes places like this so transitory, and sinks such joints over and over.

  • Dean Stanley

    Hopefully they new owners will provide speedier service than Shebeen ever managed. I’m all for a laidback vibe but the service in there was glacial.

    • Jenko

      That is a lil bitchy don’t you think? Theh cater to your every need and deliver such wonderfully intricate cocktails. Compared to any Weatherspoons the service is fantastic. Perhaps its bitchy comments like that that has caused the owners to sell up

      • Dean

        Hardly bitchy if it’s the norm whenever I’ve been. I’ve given them many chances and it’s always been the same, even when not busy. Shockingly slow and that’s if they even remember that you actually ordered a drink.

        It’s entirely possible that they’ve discovered customer service in the ten months since I gave up but from what my friends tell it doesn’t seem to be the case.

        It’s strange as the food and service in Kentish canteen is good.

  • Marky C


  • Elina Talvitie

    Shame. I hope to fit in one last Bury Me In Smoke.

  • Gavin

    thoroughly depressing news. I want eggs and bacon not some ponced up chain rack of ribs. Bollocks.

  • Alistair McIntosh

    Sad loss – lovely staff – will miss them

  • Ginny

    Such a shame! We love their brunches, and the staff was always so great. London really does not need another ubiquitous bbq rib shack (or whatever). I will not be going.

  • Camilla

    Please tell me Shebeen is staying!!! Where else to go for my poutin fix otherwise????

  • Martina Johnson

    Message for Wendy…little 6 year old Megan who goes to the Kentish Canteen every Sunday with her Dad Dave, will miss the food and her chats with you! Good Luck x

    • wendy sinclair

      Awww…I am worried I wont see her to say goodbye…please tell Dave I will be in this Sunday lunchtime if he can make it in. She is a little gem.

  • Kelly

    It’s a real shame to be losing Kentish Canteen 🙁 we have enjoyed many meals there and the staff are really lovely too and another good point is that they are also child friendly, which is important in our area. The new restaurant proposed is not ideal and will not last long I imagine as it really doesn’t fit the bill… We are steadily becoming an area for restaurant chain cliches 🙁 Wahaca coming soon too… Very sad news indeed 🙁

  • Mad Dog

    Another chain coming – very bad news 🙁

  • Lucy Bridgers

    I’m really sorry to hear this. What a shame. I especially loved Shebeen – it had a great speakeasy vibe and imaginative drinks list. A real one off.

  • fleur

    You’ll be missed guys! Won’t be the same without the Canteen – many a hangover brunch I’ve had there! Not to mention the poitin. I’ve developed a real taste for poitin … Xxx

  • D S

    Two chains in arguably the most prime locations in Kentish is depressing. Those spots should be reserved for independent food, arts & culture or community based activity. Like the rent and house prices, the slow creep of gentrification has brought us chains, and the new residents here will love them. I’ll miss the Canteen, and hope Maxwells produce an equally airy, bright(amazing windows and sunlight), laid back, tasty and fairly priced restaurant. I wonder what the general opinion of Kentish Towners is for the arrival of these chains. Should do a poll!

  • Katie

    Thats such a shame – Canteen was an all rounder – good breakfasts, lunches, tea + cake, and dinner… If Joes follows the same menu as its Covent Garden sister, its not going to offer such a varied menu. These ‘meat’ places are great as a one off visit, but i’m not sure they’re somewhere you’d go regularly (maybe guys might, but not many girls would…especially as there’s no healthy choices).
    Anyone got any new brunch recommendations?

  • Louise

    So sorry to see Kentish canteen go .
    Lovely atmosphere and staff.
    Will miss Mr Scott deeply