Canteen Canary Wharf: Failed quest for nostalgia (January 2016)

What is it with the past, why do we always feel a need to return there? Only a certain sort of person, surely, would decide to call their restaurant (or mini-chain) canteen. Prior to dining here at a friend’s suggestion, I looked up said word in the dictionary. Accordingly, canteen in extended use refers usually to ‘a refreshment room at a factory, school or like.’ I have never worked in a factory and left school over 20 years’ ago, so why would I want to return to such a place now? Shiny Canary Wharf is certainly institutionalised but a different sort of way, yet it feels like a depressingly appropriate location for such a venue. Inside it’s clean lines and functional furniture. Diners are served by slightly indifferent and surly staff (akin perhaps to the dinner ladies of yore – although I doubt this was the restaurant’s intention). And – joy – you get to stare at skyscrapers from your seat. Canteen claims to offer the best of British cooking and make nearly all of its products in-house. With regard to the latter, just because it’s made in-house doesn’t mean that it’s inherently better than a competitor’s offering; surely it’s down to the chef. Furthermore, in terms of the former, since when was ‘onglet’ a British dish; and, if it this place is supposed to be about all things British, then why no curry? Our starters (pate and salad) fared better than the mains. My mackerel pate at least had pieces of real mackerel in it and carried a lovely lemony tang. The accompanying bread on which to spread it though was disappointingly stingy. Onto the mains and my haunch of venison could – frankly – have been any meat. All notional gamey-ness that ought to have resided here had been stewed out of it. My comrade’s fish pie looked (and probably tasted) as if it really had come out of a canteen of yesteryear. Prices are at least competitive (roughly £7 for a starter and £15 for a main), but I would rather spend my money elsewhere. Perhaps the pub?