On Location: Canteen (Southbank, London)

I met up with my good friend K and her adorable baby yesterday on the Southbank. After the culture, we went for a bite to eat. I had grand plans of heading into the West End or Shoreditch, but of course, these things are a little less easy with a pram. She’s actually great at getting around and doesn’t see London transport as an insurmountable obstacle with a baby in her arms, but still, it probably made sense to stay somewhere local.

This is how we ended up in Canteen. Our initial plan was to try and see if the Skylon cocktail bar served afternoon tea. For the record, it doesn’t, which is a shame as it has a great view over the river. At the back of the same building, there is a branch of Canteen , so with the heavens about to open, we popped in there.

Canteen prides itself on serving traditional British fare in a contemporary, relaxed atmosphere. The seating is a little like in a diner, although you are quite close to each other, so it is certainly intimate, but does not feel crushed.

What was pretty obvious from the menu is that there is little by way of vegetarian food. From memory, there was a vegetarian pie, and the barley dish I went for. I think that’s actually a pretty poor showing. I know that you can create a meal through the strategic ordering of side dishes, but that is something I feel is reserved for holidays in France, not going out for lunch in the centre of London. Limited choice aside, I went for barley with marjoram and roasted squash and fennel. Got to say, it was pretty good. It was well-salted, but they had just gotten it right. A nice combination of the slightly chewy barley and the soft squash. The fennel was just right – cooked, but with a little texture and plenty of light aniseed flavour. We had it with a portion of chips – perfectly good, but what had they done with the mayonnaise? One of my little habits from living in Belgium is that I quite like chips with mayo, but this stuff was gelatinous, greasy and a bit off-putting. In the interests of the greater good and love of food, I tried it. It tasted alright, but a bit oily. Then I did what I normally never do – I reached for the tomato sauce, and ate the rest of the chips with that. They need to sort out their mayo! K went for scrambled eggs (“The most yellow eggs I have ever seen”) which looked alright nad seemed to go down well. I’m not a fan of scrambled eggs, so can’t really offer my opinion.

After finishing the mains and a bit of a chat, we finished with tea and shared a cake. We took the cheesecake with hazelnut brittle. This I liked a lot. It was a baked cheesecake, which is often quite dense, but this was light, soft, fluffy and kept a good amount of tanginess from the cream cheese. The slice was massive and a but too much even for two to share, but it was a nice little treat to round off the meal. I’ve been to Canteen at Canary Wharf too, and found their carrot cake and their Victoria sponge to be good as well. Perhaps this is a sign that Canteen is somewhere to come for a quick cake and a cuppa?

Would I go back? Yes, given its location and the fact that there are a few things on the menu. There is not a huge amount of choice for vegetarians, so I am more inclines to come here if passing and hungry, rather than seeing it as a “must come” place for dinner.

Canteen Southbank, Royal Festival Hall, Belvedere Road, London SE1 8XX. Tel: 0845 686 1122. Tube: Waterloo or Embankment.

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