Rochelle Canteen comes with a stellar reputation. Described as a “hidden sanctuary” and “magic” inside a “walled kingdom” – you do have to be buzzed in to be able to enter – it now has a cult following. Post-lockdown, even securing a booking is a challenge, with a month-long lead time. Set up by St John founder’s wife, Margot Henderson, and Melanie Arnold, this discreet spot has become somewhat of a “below-the-radar” icon. Its clientele boasts fashionistas and food critics who exclaim that this is “one of the great places of our time”.
Although located just off busy Shoreditch High Street, hidden behind the very beautiful Arnold Circus – a green cornucopia within East London – as soon as you enter through the garden you feel outside of London. The space was formerly a Victorian school and that sense of history and age feels like a real privilege to be around. It’s total escapism – an ideal venue if you’re on a London staycation, though Rochelle is good for all occasions: a date, a celebratory meal, a long lunch with friends or family, and on this occasion a work lunch (though perhaps not a quick lunch). It’s a kind of East London oasis – if I ever thought there could be such a thing.
There’s a reassuring straightforwardness to Rochelle Canteen. The daily changing menu is black and white. Printed on A4 paper in Times New Roman, with daily specials on the blackboard. Plain and simple classics. Although there were no vegan options on today’s menu, the kitchen were happy to play around with seasonal ingredients on hand and create something bespoke.
To start, I was offered Rainbow chard, puy lentils and watercress. A seamless melange of effortlessly cooked ingredients, the end result was colourful, fresh and simple. The puy lentils were cooked to perfection – oily but with enough of a pleasant bite; the chard was wilted but still with sufficient texture; and the watercress added a touch of freshness.
For mains, more pulses – this time chickpeas cooked in tomatoes, alongside braised courgettes. This was another example of cooking touched by a quiet, calming cleverness. The two ingredients were artfully cultivated and a modest nod to the tomato fortnight celebrations at the moment.
Stunning yet simple food and conservatory dining in a former school, all in the sunshine, is a sum that adds up to happiness. Rochelle is a beautiful, special place.
Rochelle Canteen, 16 Playground Gardens, London E2 7FA