It’s hard for me to believe that my favourite restaurant may close in London. Its situation is quite complex (a planning issue), and yet it’s the simple little things that they do so well at Rochelle Canteen that makes the planning situation all the more unbelievable. I can’t ever imagine a time when with a hand cupped to the glass, I’ll peer in at silent reflections; rows of tidy chairs neatly tucked in underneath the white tabletops, the whitewashed walls, the little vases flowlerless, the coat hooks empty, tumbleweed and the ghosts of artists who popped in for a (perfectly-brewed Illy) coffee.
Please don’t disappear!
Of course, currently it’s still open, this 30-seat small dining-room housed in a former bike shed at the Rochelle School in East London and I think only one thing as I walk through the grey metal gate towards it). Please don’t disappear! Built in 1899 as a school for children from Bethnal Green (which is now studios, exhibition and performance spaces owned by James Moores’ A Foundation) the Rochelle Canteen was opened by Margot Henderson wife of Fergus Henderson of St. Johns (my other favourite restaurants). For those outside the Rochelle School walls, entrance is via this grey gate and a buzzer. It’s a secret. Shhhhh! Tell ALL your friends.
Snailey hates showey offey places, and I do too and Rochelle Canteen is the antithesis of that. That’s why we love it. Once inside and seated you’ll notice that the space is a natural suntrap, the sunlight always seems to put in a brief appearance at lunchtime, making the puddles on the path shimmer outside after a rainy morning. The menu is jolly and although I eat here lots it’s the day I had this saffron fish stew with red snapper which stays in my mind. Snailey bagged the lamb shoulder and borlotti beans – a dish of rich and complex browness, as memorable a mouthful as he’d had in months. And while he doesn’t want to bang on about the chocolate pot with pouring cream too much, he insists that you should know that IT ROCKED!
Meanwhile, I don’t know much about fishing, butchery or animal husbandry myself and am bound to make a lot of foodie mistakes. But then I don’t know much about a lot of other things either, and that hasn’t stopped me finding the best recipes from great chefs. Also, and far more importantly, finding nice meals is meant to be fun – and harping on about my favourite spot and its fear of closure is pretty soon going to get dull, No, no. It is. So for once let me be less sentimental and more factual.
You are probably going to take a bit of persuading I reckon to schlep all the way East to Bethnal Green to have lunch in a glass bike shed but if you slide into a window seat you’ll have the opportunity to take in the full impact of the architecture and atmosphere of the Rochelle School – gigantic, red bricked, beautiful and enjoy the full impact of Margot Henderson’s culinary wizardry. While I’m sure you’ll take pleasure in both, I don’t want to overdo the preaching. It’s just that I care very deeply about this little place. Enjoy!
Rochelle canteen may be closed for good by the council soon. Please lend your support to keep this little legend of a restaurant open. Details of what we can do are on the link below. Thank you.
Tel: 0207 729 5677