Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Rochelle Canteen + Change

“Change is in the air”.

It always seemed a very ominous (melodramatic, even) saying, but every year there comes a day at the beginning of September when you wake up and everything has changed – light slanting through the windows has turned to gold, the once-balmy breeze has whittled an edge, and, yes, even the weight and quality of the air has thinned and shifted, making leaves chatter in the impending blue evenings. Autumn arrives unannounced, but unable to ignore.

In the past, autumn has always heralded the return to routine, a vestige of back-to-school days, when everyone returns from summer adventures, freckly and full of stories, and readies themselves to ‘hit the books’ once again. No matter how old you get, the year seems to restart in the fall, but it’s an interesting time – although it’s a return to ritual, the slate always wipes fresh and there is an opportunity to question how best to refresh these rituals, moreso even than the New Year and its forced resolutions.

So it seems an appropriate time for change.

Although I alluded to an upcoming change when discussing my “leaving” from work on a frothy swell of champagne bubbles, which is really the only way to go, I hope I kept the hint sufficiently casual to keep you from sleepless nights on my behalf. I won’t go into the injustice of the shift in UK policy that is unceremoniously booting almost all Americans not on a banker’s salary, but suffice it to say that it led to an amazing and unexpected opportunity – I’m moving to China. Shanghai, specifically. And I couldn’t be more excited.

But before I embark on this new adventure, I’m taking my time. I’m taking my time wandering the streets, revisiting places I’ve grown to love, seeing people I’ve come to know, and generally finishing this chapter of my life with a flourish. (While also sorting the logistics of visas and moving back to America and then on to a place I’ve never been). So I stopped working slightly earlier than I could have and have been living the life of a lady of (slightly pressurized) leisure. Although I have a lengthy list of boxes to tick before my departure, let me tell you – I highly recommend it. I also encourage everyone to leave their jobs if only for the raft of leaving lunches, but that’s a bold move.

As a lady of leisure, I finally had the chance to try a place I’ve wanted to go since I moved to London two years ago. The Rochelle Canteen, run by Fergus Henderson’s force of a wife Margot Henderson, is literally around the corner from my flat but is only open weekdays for breakfast and lunch, and Shoreditch was always a little far for a lunch run. Up until now.

After entering through the beautifully wrought “Boys” door of the former school, I met my friend Cam and we sat in the open courtyard at tables positioned to catch the last of the late summer sunshine. The school has been converted into studio space and we were surrounded by who I imagined were the creative types installed in this collective, giving the place a familiar feel. If I worked in the area I would eat here every day too – the menu changes daily and is priced within reach of the creative budget. Plus it’s BYO, making it irresistibly tempting for a boozy lunch.

Watching the dishes decorate surrounding tables with the bright colors of seasonal produce, Cam and I wanted to try everything, but we settled for a few starters to share.

The thick green “bobby beans” were topped with a duck egg, which ran into and added to the salty anchovy dressing. Kohlrabi was thinly sliced and combined with cucumber and chervil leaves in a refreshing though salad. Meaty grilled cuttlefish was mixed with a balsamic tomato salad. 

It was the epitome of late summer simplicity – combinations of well-dressed ingredients that added up to more than the sum of their parts.

We ended with a “terrine”, textured more like rillettes, with sharp cucumber and onion pickles to cut the richness of the rabbit when smeared on slabs of grilled St John bread.

The deep meatiness alongside the spiced pickles tasted like the first days of autumn, a literal bite into something more substantial. A change.

I guess it’s in the air.

Rochelle Canteen
Rochelle School, Arnold Circus, E2 7ES

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