You can’t rush perfection when it comes to sourcing local ingredients, says Stacey Black
The Canteen has long been a Bristol favourite, and with a prime location in the midst of Stokes Croft, it has a solid reputation as the place to drink, catch up with friends or see a band. The kitchen here has been consistently winning awards for sustainability and its support of local produce. With a slow food approach to creating dishes that are delicious and fair to suppliers, the team strive to offer a constantly evolving menu that satisfies all appetites.
Stokes Croft is a vibrant place. It’s easy to spend an afternoon wandering up and down the busy street, getting lost amongst its many independent shops and bars. In the centre of it all stands the imposing Hamilton House – impossible to miss, and always buzzing with activity.
The Canteen is installed on the ground floor, and this sprawling space is usually packed with locals, with people often spilling out over the terrace to the street beyond.
On a ridiculously hot and humid evening, a friend and I headed over and took a table under the Breakdancing Jesus mural that towers above the terrace. The main space inside is huge, and feels almost like a school hall with its utilitarian tables and chairs, but with the addition of local art, twinkly lights and the loud buzz of conversation, the vibe here is dazzling. The temptation to people-watch was too much, so we sat outside on the terrace. Shaded by the enormous canopy and surrounded by greenery, this quirky oasis is a sanctuary away from the hustle and bustle of the Croft.
The sheer humidity had made us thirsty, so we each had a glass of juicy and ice-cold rosé while we looked over the menu. This changes daily, depending on available ingredients, and always includes vegan, veggie and meaty options. The seven items on today’s chalkboard ranged from Korean rice bowls to pork belly and bubble and squeak. On making your choice, it’s worth remembering that every main comes with soup and bread, and this is pretty much a dish in its own right.
Today’s offering was Vietnamese lentil soup served with a drizzle of oil, sourdough and topped with seeds. A deep bowl of a thick, steaming soup arrived moments after ordering and as much as I tried to limit myself to consuming only half of it, I was soon mopping up the last of the golden, creamy broth with the doorstop-sized portion of sourdough. The warming flavours mingled perfectly, and there was just enough spice to give it a bit of zing.
Mains were similarly flavoursome. My friend opted for the falafel burger, and this should be reserved for the seriously hungry; it is mountainous. A big, juicy-looking patty was piled precariously high with hummus, chilli-pickled beetroot and house slaw, all wedged into a rounded Assembly Bakery bun. The burger was succulent, seasoned well with all the cumin and coriander spices you’d expect from a falafel, and the rainbow slaw gave a satisfying crunch. Chips are a must when eating a burger, and I helped my friend tuck into the large portion of crispy, seasoned skin-on fries that arrived on the side.
Broccoli is my favourite vegetable (I know, I’m a psychopath), so when I spotted broccoli Massaman curry on the menu, I had to have it. Again, a considerable bowl arrived filled with the fragrant Thai curry, chunks of broccoli, roasted baby new potatoes, chickpeas and toasted peanuts, all arranged beautifully on a bed of nourishing brown rice. Massaman curry should be rich, mild and subtly spiced, and this certainly didn’t disappoint. The bold flavours from the spices were tempered nicely with the coconut, and I enjoyed the pleasant chew from the rice. The broccoli was just crunchy enough, and the toasted peanuts injected a savoury kick. Feeling pretty satisfied after my soup starter, I didn’t eat all of it, but on a more gluttonous day, I reckon I could have polished it off.
The team at The Canteen demonstrate a real passion to serve affordable and delicious food, promote healthy eating and to offer at least one dish to suit every taste. With their commitment to local ethical suppliers, they’re also doing great things on the Bristol foodie scene as well as the community. A café, a bar, a music venue, a restaurant – The Canteen has all bases covered.
The Canteen, 80 Stokes Croft, Bristol, BS1 3QY / 0117 923 2017 / www.canteenbristol.co.uk