One of London's most discreet restaurants will step out from behind its red-and-brown brick walls next month when Rochelle Canteen emerges from the East End to open a café, bar and restaurant in the heart of the city, just up the road from Buckingham Palace.
Rochelle Canteen will open an outpost at the Institute of Contemporary Arts, which is across the city from the canteen’s home in Shoreditch but feels like a million miles away. In Shoreditch, the restaurant is hidden away in the former bike shed of an old school, behind a high wall. Guests must buzz at an inconspicuous gate to get in, then walk through a grassy playground to reach the canteen. Local residents might live there for years and not know it exists.
Chef Margot Henderson and her longtime friend and business partner Melanie Arnold opened the canteen in 2006. The original plan was to serve local employees.
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“The lovely thing is that it developed very slowly, and we could cook the food we wanted,” Henderson said. “And then one day we heard the buzzer and people started to come. Suddenly, we had chefs and money in the till. There was no great thinking behind it but it became something that was very dear to our hearts.”
Arnold and Henderson’s attitude has helped make Rochelle Canteen a magnet for chefs, artists and other creative types. “We like parties,” their website says. “No rules, everything will be great. We’re nice people and we have fun.”
The food helps, too. The menu of unfussy British dishes has many fans, and it will be similar at the ICA. Henderson and Head Chef Ben Coombs plan to serve dishes such as pumpkin soup, and pheasant and trotter pies. The venue will be open all day and Arnold’s son, Fin Spiteri, will be behind the bar.
Henderson is married to Fergus Henderson, whose London restaurant St. John is a favorite with chefs around the world, including Anthony Bourdain and Mario Batali, who are among the biggest fans of his signature dish of roast bone marrow and parsley salad.
Fergus Henderson himself is branching out. St John will open a bar and café next month at the new Bridge Theatre, on the south bank of the Thames, near Tower Bridge. It will be London’s first wholly new commercial theater of scale in more than 40 years.
Ahead of that, Henderson has teamed up with Shake Shack in New York to create an eel burger that will be served for two days only, this Friday and Saturday, at the Madison Square Park Shack. The $9.99 burger will feature smoked eel topped with smoked Niman Ranch bacon, pickled red onion, crème fraiche, fresh horseradish and watercress.
Richard Vines is chief food critic at Bloomberg.