A couple of weekends ago my life revolved around the Hackney Half marathon, a couple of friends and I had entered the race and the day before was spent trying our best to prepare, basically eating as many carbs as possible!! All in the hopes of being able to trudge around (in my case) the streets in and around Hackney the best we could. Our plan; to spend Saturday carbing up at their home in Chelmsford, then travel to Hackney early Sunday morning for the race. It’s a good job our friends love eating out as much as I do and had a suggestion up their sleeve, a place called A Canteen. An independent family run business that started off as a cafe and moved into larger premises in February. On first impressions, this place wasn’t just a canteen, the space also housed a coffee shop/grocery, a bar and homeware/lifestyle shop! All of this under one roof!
It was soon obvious the place was a popular one, bustling with people, many tables were occupied and staff were bezzing around. Soon informed we could sit at a table, but there’d be a 25 minute wait for food, we took this into consideration, but were happy to wait as reports from their previous base had been good by all accounts.
Drinks were ordered including a Bloody Mary and a few coffees, all arriving in time for our food order to be taken. The place has a varied lunch day menu, whether it be their all-day breakfast, a selection of sandwiches, wraps, salads, bigger plates such as fish and chips, burgers, also pizzas.
For most of us carbing up was the priority so we went for sandwiches and baps, also some extras of roasted squash salad, sweet potato wedges and chips. The drinks were going down well, in particular the Bloody Mary which was very good with a good mix of sourness and spice and the coffee. Made using beans from local roasters The Coffee Officina, it was excellent and also a lovely surprise!! I remember first enjoying their coffee at a cupping in Leeds’ own La Bottega Milanese a few months ago, liking it so much I brought a bag home.
The space became very full while we waited, virtually all tables became occupied and our waiting time was longer than expected, more than 35 minutes. When our food was brought across, it would’ve been nice for a ‘I’m sorry for the long wait’ sort of comment but nothing. Oh well.
Portion sizes were decent, but there was another wait for the other half’s food (which an apology was given for) – some hiccup because the chef hadn’t paid careful enough attention to his order; asking for a lamb burger with gluten free bread, preferring sliced bread to the focaccia it should have been served, as it would’ve been laden with it. Also I found the idea of focaccia being used for a burger an odd choice, I may be wrong, but that’s just my opinion. After all that palaver, the lamb burger ended up being swapped for the Moroccan spiced lamb sandwich instead! When he finally got it, it fell apart as the sliced bread which was soft, a definite plus with gluten free bread broke apart easily when trying to hold/eat it. The lamb itself was well spiced and tasty enough.
Portion wise, I was really happy with mine and there was a similar view across the table. My pork bap came with lots of chips and the bap was filled generously with pulled pork shoulder, stuffing, apple sauce and tomato. On taste, the pork shoulder lacked a little flavour but was moist, it benefitted from the stuffing which did its best to add what was missing. The chips were great, crisp, golden and fluffy on the inside!! After eating it all, I was pretty full and definitely needed a break afterwards.
Overall, I really liked the concept and the cool space they’ve created. The food in general was good, tasty and filling, however there were a couple of niggles which need ironing out, possibly a consequence of how busy they are. The speed of service is an obvious area for improvement, with the potential for a large number of covers to be served at any one time, they found it difficult to keep up the pace. Yes, it was Saturday lunchtime and located in a prime spot, so high numbers would be expected, but to wait ages for food without even a hint of an apology was a bit of a shame, as well as the mess up with the order.
The place has definitely got a lot going for it and tonnes of potential, it’d be good to see how the place improves and develops over the next few months.
35 New London Road