Canvas: Drawing a blank (May 2014)

As any estate agent would be only too pleased to tell you, when it comes to location, you need to think very carefully. Therefore, while Marylebone Lane may be a quaint and pretty strip tucked just to the north of Oxford Street, a restaurant isn’t going to survive here unless it does something pretty exceptional. Sadly, Canvas (which stepped recently into the location previously occupied by the now defunct Virru) is not. That my comrade and I comprised exactly half the diners in the restaurant on a Friday lunchtime is testament in itself to the restaurant’s prospects – although the manager did assure us (perhaps a little too hard) that the place got busier in the evenings. The concept behind Canvas is theoretically good – if not a little pretentious – but sadly, it was executed poorly. Diners have their own metaphorical blank canvas here, being able to ‘design’ their own menu from scratch. Surely, one may ask, and not at all unreasonably, isn’t this what most people do at restaurants, simply when they choose a la carte? Canvas would beg to differ: here, guests can decide that their meal may comprise anything between 1 and 15 dishes (on a sliding price scale, of course) and mix/ match from three different categories, loosely grouped around starters, mains and desserts. Beyond the conceit of the idea, the options sounded enticing, yet the reality was, for the most part, they were poorly executed. On the negative side, the bread which were offered to accompany our meal was bland, and could have been shop-bought, a simple failing and one easily correctable. Next, my starter of asparagus, avocado, raw beef and wild sorrel, while fresh, was incredibly salty. The main (for which we both opted) of pork loin, black pudding, potato and peach, could easily have been prepared at home, and was far from ground-breaking. And, the coffees with which we concluded were tasteless, inferior to those available in many nearby specialist boutiques. It wasn’t all bad: Canvas excelled with its generous selection of amuse bouches, palate cleansers and petit fours; the wine – an indigenous Austrian red varietal – was lively and well-priced, being drawn from a generally inventive list; and, the cheese board we shared contained some interesting choices, beautifully ripe in some cases and accompanied with a variety of chutneys. At £20 for two courses, or £25 for three (this offer only available at lunch), Canvas is not at all bad value, but this may not be enough to save it.