Kentish Canteen

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Sometimes I just can’t be bothered to come home from work and whip up a meal in 30 minutes, sorry Jamie; but I don’t want the other extreme of a fussy foam-filled blow-out either. Domino’s Pizza (always cold), Nandos (never in a million years) and the local Indian (meh), are also out of the question. So what is one to do on such an occasion, when all you want is a delicious, freshly prepared, reasonably priced meal served, preferably, with a smile and in comfortable surroundings?

Ladies and gentleman, may I introduce you to Kentish Canteen. The North London deli-cum-boutique café/restaurant launched at the end of last year by Owen Crinnigan and Wendy Sinclair, the duo behind PJ’s Bar and Grill and Guanabara in Covent Garden.

As a former Kentish Town resident-turned-Archwayite, I’ve known about the place since it opened, though our relationship has never developed past the driving-by stage, until recently. I’d heard good things about it, but nothing to lure me through the door.

The other must-visit sign I missed, you’re not alone Mel Gibson, is the blanket of sun it’s basking in nigh on every time I pass. Come rain or shine, it sits at the quiet end of the road, gleaming like a shiny penny, as if there’s a greater being guiding hungry people away from the riff-raff and into it’s welcoming embrace. If there was a god for me, it would be one who operated in this particular mysterious way. I’d attend worship every Sunday, most likely a mass buffet of some sort, and find meaning among the prawn-stuffed vol au vent.

I digress. The sun continues inside, highlighting the montage of local sights plastered along the length of one wall, reflecting off the cylindrical copper lamps, and into my face for much of the evening. Another sign perhaps? I had a good feeling about the place within five minutes of being nicely greeted and seated, no doubt largely helped by my transition from work day to weekend in the form of a bergamot-infused English Julep cocktail.

The canteen element is echoed in the chalk boards of daily specials and clipboard menus, but that’s where the school dinner reference ends. There aren’t any sticky tables or nuggets of gum lurking underneath, and the menu is an appetising mix of Brit meets Mediterranean, with a couple of token Asian dishes. A deli counter, or ‘larder’, greets you upon entry, sporting an array of aesthetic delights such a Joyce’s Double Lemon Slice (a must try, seriously, I took a slice home to have with tea the next day, and very nearly drove back for more), Derby wood chip smoked salmon, made on the premises; jams jarred by a Kentish Town resident, and other daily takeaway-able bites.

Choosing was a lengthy affair, everything sounded so promising. It was a close call between the butter bean houmous and crostini and the cool courgette and lemon soup, but the latter won, and thankfully delivered with a palate refreshing crispness, a dollop of mint gremolata, and a comforting bite from the lentils. I’ll be whipping that dish up myself, just as soon as my little zucchinis are ripe for harvest. Adam’s chilli crab linguine was nicely oiled, herbed and fiery, or as he summed it up in his Swansea lilt, after a particularly enthusiastic slurp, “right up my street”. Pan-fried sea bream and Scottish lamb rump followed for the boy and me respectively, shortly after. The former, with orange, olives, shaved fennel and the daintiest of Jersey Royals was the epitome of summer on a plate; whereas my lamb had that lovely grilled crunch to the outside, a melt-in-the-mouth tenderness, and a smell so delicious it could make vegetarians weep.

Even with my most critical head on, I couldn’t fault any of the dishes we’d eaten thus far; perhaps why there was a momentary dip when it came to dessert. Adam’s cheesecake with a generous dollop of fresh passion fruit was nice enough, but my crème brûlée just didn’t deliver. It had the desired caramelised sugar top, creamy custard and vanilla pod flecks, but the lavender I just knew would go wonderfully, was a no show. In my useless Britishness I didn’t want to darken the mood by complaining and it’s certainly not enough for me to hold a grudge; everything else really was executed perfectly, and worth heading back for.

Wendy and Owen set out to create, ‘a modern, local eatery with top produce, simply cooked and presented’, and they’ve done just that. Kentish Canteen is cheap – around the £5/6 mark for starters; £10 for mains; and £4 for desserts – cheerful and utterly lovable; a great impromptu dinner-out place, just be prepared to form an orderly queue at weekends. Personally, it’s my favourite of their offspring, an impressive example of good, honest food, and the best Kentish Town has to offer.

Kentish Canteen, 300 Kentish Town Road, London NW5 2TG. Tel: 020 7485 7331. Website.

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