From London's fashionable East End to the cultural hub of the South Bank, Canteen is flying the flag for British cuisine and style
There could scarcely be a more appropriate site for the second branch of Canteen than at the Royal Festival Hall.
Its pared-down, basic style complements the iconic 1950s building on London's South Bank, which has recently received a major revamp following a £115 million investment.
Along with the Skylon Bar & Grill, the Royal Festival Hall's new fine dining restaurant that now takes the place of the People's Palace, it has a similar feel to the building itself.
Yet among the Royal Festival Hall's food offerings, the only unit that serves British food is Canteen. Skylon serves modern European food, and all the chains such as Ping Pong, Le Pain Quotidien and Giraffe serve international fare.
The remaining retail spaces in and around the base of the building include a music shop stocking CDs by the orchestras playing there, the only branch of Foyle's bookshop other than the original in Charing Cross Road, and a shop selling reproductions of the furniture and art that appeared here during the Festival of Britain in 1951.
The original Canteen in Spitalfields has only been open for 18 months, although it seems longer when you consider the attention it has attracted in the press. Almost every critic has praised its locally sourced, high-quality ingredient-led British menu as the way forward, and Observer Food Monthly readers voted it their Restaurant of the Year for 2007.
A week before the opening, Dominic Lake, Patrick Clayton- Malone and Cass Titcombe sit at a booth in their new all-butfinished restaurant. It was Nick Lander, the Financial Times food critic and adviser to the Southbank Centre, who originally suggested them as suitable for the site.
Clayton-Malone says, "This all started 12 months ago. We were incredibly keen to get involved. The Festival of Britain and the South Bank were the inspiration in terms of design and democracy, and the idea that it's for everyone. We all felt it was like coming home."
A second site was always part of the plan for Canteen but, says Lake, when they were looking for their first site, they had a place more like this in mind. "This is close to the original concept," he says. "It has a holding bar, for instance, something we wanted in Spitalfields but we needed all of our space for tables." With their new 260-cover (as opposed to a 140-cover) site, their holding bar is now in place, stocked with Meantime Brewery beer on draught and fronted with a piece of white-veined black marble. "It's the most expensive part of the design," says Clayton-Malone. "Dom sourced it in Italy and brought it over. That's how we could afford it."
But utility is the order of the day at Canteen. The aim behind Titcombe's menu is to create an offering which has simplicity and style and, most importantly, is reasonably priced for consumers. Clayton-Malone says, "That's what's so clever about Cass's food. British food had become bastardised and mass-produced. If you try to make it with very good ingredients, the food will be of high quality, and not exclusive. There's very little messing around with it in the kitchen."
As a result, Lake explains, "We get families, old men and ladies, and design heads." The design is also key to what they want to achieve, both in terms of keeping costs down for the customer, maintaining a democratic feel and highlighting the food. So, for instance, there will be a glass case in which pies and Neal's Yard cheeses will be displayed.
"It's not about having the best chair," says Lake. "It's about having the best chair at the best price – that is best for the customer."
"In principle," says Clayton-Malone, "it's created to work on any high street. We get approached by developers all the time – it's the only British concept that exists at the right price point."
It may be a large stage debut, but it looks like a nationwide tour may follow.
On the menu? Eggs Benedict; Arbroath Smokie; Pie of the Day; Fried Fish of the Day; Potted Duck, Piccalilli and Toast; Cos, Chicory and Anchovy Salad; Macaroni Cheese; Braised Lamb; Smoked Haddock, Spinach and Mash; Treacle Tart with Jersey Cream; Ginger Pudding with Rhubarb; Blackcurrant Jelly with Ice Cream and Shortbread; Neal's Yard Cheeses.
Size? Spitalfields, 140 covers; RFH, 260 covers
Where? 2 Crispin Place, Spitalfields, E1. Royal Festival Hall, Southbank Centre, Belvedere Road, SE1. 0845 686 1122 canteen.co.uk