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Art for á la carte’s sake

11 April, 2019 — By Tom Moggach

Fresh radishes, leaves and all, are served with a tangy, salty dip of cod’s roe whipped with olive oil – lunch at Rochelle Canteen

“IT tastes a bit like my grandmother’s reindeer soup,” said my guest – a chef from Lapland in Sweden.

The dish was a mutton pie, topped with a golden suet crust and speckled with laverbread seaweed. The mutton was sourced from seaweed-nibbling sheep on the Welsh coast, an environment possibly not dissimilar to the mossy tundra of the Arctic.

My friend was visiting for work, so I treated her to lunch at Rochelle Canteen in The Institute of Contemporary Arts on the Mall.

If you’ve never been, current exhibitors include Scottish artist Morag Kiel who investigates “the impact of data-capitalism and digital technologies on contemporary subjectivities”.

But we were drawn by the cooking of Margot Henderson – a legend on the London restaurant scene and also wife of Fergus, who set up St John Bread and Wine.

The menu is deceptively frugal. “Cauliflower soup”, for example, may sound unappealing – but I bet it would blow your socks off.

The décor, too, is sparse and bright white, a trademark aesthetic shared by all Henderson outposts.

You’ll find a bar and café at ground level, serving coffee, cakes, simple meals and strong cocktails such as the Hanky Panky.

Upstairs, on the mezzanine floor, is the main dining room. A thicket of large tropical houseplants frames the right of the space. To the left, shelves are stuffed with jars of homemade lemon marmalade with handwritten labels. Linking the two sides is a long strip of white coat hooks, some hung with the colourful clothes of our fellow diners.

“It’s like an art installation that changes all the time,” observed my friend, taking notes.

Our lunch was memorable: food cooked with care and intelligence and served with friendly efficiency.

The best dish was chickpea fritters – the kitchen’s take on panelle, a street food snack in Sicily.

A simple dough of chickpea flour, subtly laced with chilli, is deep-fried in a light batter. It sounds easy to make, but is fiendishly hard to do well.

Sparkling fresh radishes, leaves and all, are served with a tangy, salty dip of cod’s roe whipped with olive oil.

We ate a spatchcocked quail, charred from the grill but still moist; a wondrous poached pear, served in a lake of chocolate sauce studded with fragments of praline.

Wines here are almost entirely French, with several from their own-label vineyard in Minervois.

All told, this is a excellent, offbeat venue to know about – right in the heart of London, yet peaceful and not too packed.

My advice, if you visit for lunch or dinner, is to choose dishes that don’t also appear on the café menu downstairs.

Our aubergine parmigiana, for example, was fine but designed more for a quick bite.

My chef friend was suitably impressed. In Sweden, she says, few restaurants exude the calm confidence of Rochelle Canteen.

She’s now back home for her latest gig: a culinary road trip in a VW Campervan, dodging the roaming reindeer.

Rochelle ICA,
The Mall, SW1Y
020 7766 1424


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