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