London Larder was devised in 2012 to bring you the ultimate eating and drinking guide to London. It was borne out of a need for up-to-date, quantitative and whole-heartedly recommended places to eat and drink.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Ben's Canteen


On first impressions, the name ‘Ben’s Canteen’ and the outward exterior of the café-cum-restaurant are non-imposing. Walking down the road, you could almost be forgiven for not noting its presence, but step inside and you will find yourself in one of London’s newest and most forward-thinking food establishments, unafraid to push the boundaries of traditional cooking. Its motto ‘British food, done well’, and we can say without doubt that this is true.

Ben’s Canteen is all about taking British food and its cooking one step further beyond the norm. You might be satisfied with a tasty side of lamb or a well-assembled burger. For Ben, his head chef Dave Adhern and the team however, food is much more than this. They explore food in a way most chefs would be afraid to tread and brings what many might consider ‘obscure’ into the main arena. It’s all about where the meat comes from, from what type of animal it is to where on the body the meat is sourced (we’re not talking about the normal cuts we find in the supermarket), and how that meat or food component is treated when it reaches the kitchen.

We started the meal with two of the more traditional starter options on the menu; a glorious potted ham with homemade piccalilli and gently toasted bread, and Ben’s Canteen’s infamous all day breakfast scotch egg. The potted ham was full of generous chunks of meat which had been cooked in cider for several long hours (being from the West Country this got a big thumbs up from us) before being mixed with butter and other ingredients. It was served with some of head chef Dave’s home-made piccalilli sauce served on the side, which had a real piquant kick contrasting perfectly with the subtle flavours of the ham. The star of the show however (and we had already heard the stories) was the scotch egg with its crisp-to-the-bite outer coating, generously thick blend of pork, bacon and black pudding outer layer and the perfectly cooked egg in the middle – cooked so that the meat was hot but the yellow centre of the egg remained consistently runny. We listened intently when Dave told us the stories about how many boiled eggs he had to ruin before he got that right.

The main dishes we had included a beautifully cooked thick moist chicken breast served with a soft garlic and mushroom mash and a bacon and tarragon sauce with Sambrook’s Wandle ale; a great dish if you like subtle flavours, and the much anticipated BC Burger, listed as one of Scout magazine’s top 10 best burgers in London; a homemade Black Angus patty (cured for 21 days) with homemade corned beef, smoked cheddar and Ben’s secret homemade burger sauce, served with lightly salted thick hand cut chips. The burger was juicy and perfectly cooked in a generous portion size and the corned beef was really meaty and a great alternative to bacon. The overall taste combined with the secret sauce was positively like nothing we have tasted before.

Completely full, we felt that we could go no further. However, the promise of dessert could not be ignored, for this was like nothing we had ever eaten or even come across before. We were served a rum jelly with coke flavoured ice-cream and lime marshmallows; something you might think you won't enjoy if you are not a fan of the odd drink of rum and coke, but believe us when we say this was a truly enjoyable desert. With this, we sampled some of the Powerhouse Porter ale cheesecake. The construction of the dessert was flawless, with a thick biscuit base and light and airy cheese layering, but the ale flavouring was exactly like drinking a pint of Porter ale. Great if you love ale, but for us just a small taste was enough for us.

If you think this all sound exciting, Dave tells us that there is a lot more experimentation to come, with many more recipes tried and tested and just waiting to make their way onto the menu. This will come as the seasons change and the meals gradually make their way to becoming more elaborate. If Dave had his way, he would have dived in head first to bring us an all-out avant-garde menu from the start, but he knows that the British public love their traditional British fare, and it is only fair to introduce us slowly if Ben's Canteen plans to eventually bring us around to the enjoyment of a truly contemporary gastronomic experience.

Average price for main meal: £15
Average price for a glass of wine: £6
Food/Drink: 5/5
Service: 5/5
Value: 4/5


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