It’s fair to say that the opening of the River Cottage Canteen in Winchester was one of the most anticipated events for Wintonian food-lovers during the summer of 2014. The dormant 18th Century mill, located in the city’s immaculate Abbey Gardens, had been converted into a spectacular two-storey restaurant, beautifully decorated with a contemporary, rustic charm: exposed brickwork, original timber beams and funky rope light fittings.
When the doors finally opened to the public in September, we knew instantly that the Canteen had been worth the wait. The first thing to note is that unlike so many other restaurants, the Canteen appears to have a team of people who genuinely care about the place. The general manager, Phil, is often at the door with a warm welcome and, once you’re seated, Becky and the front of house team look after you with a charming, respectful informality. The importance placed on the production and provenance of the food and drink served runs through everything about the place; visiting the canteen feels a little like being wrapped up in an ethical comfort blanket.
So what better place to enjoy a lazy Sunday lunch?
For many the Sunday roast, like the Full English, is one of those meals where often quantity wins out over quality. For us, however, Sunday roasts are not a weekly occurrence and so they have become somewhat of an occasion; we don’t want to compromise on quality. For this reason, having a good, affordable option within walking distance is a thing to be prized!
On a recent visit, we were really pleased to see a good choice of roasts on the menu. Normally, I would shy away from anything served with rich, fruit sauces but felt compelled to try this Gressingham duck with a blood orange sauce – possibly subconsciously driven by our previous post but almost definitely by the fact that it was supplied by award-winning Hampshire butcher, Uptons of Bassett.
The meat was beautifully cooked, falling of the bone and with a nice touch of crunch, and the sauce did not disappoint in the slightest. Far from overpowering the dish, the subtlety of the blood orange played off the sweetness of the roast vegetables and complemented the duck delightfully. Roast potatoes (for some the most important part) were crisp and plentiful. All roasts are served with possibly the largest Yorkshire Puddings we’ve ever seen. The vegetarian option was a generous portion of herby, roasted squash served with a deep, rich lentil gravy. Thumbs up all round.
Puddings here are a veritable treat; not your usual fare but a perfect complement to the main course. We indulged in a rich chocolate brownie with cashew cream and salted caramel (pictured), and a interestingly textured parsnip cake with butterscotch sauce and vanilla ice cream.
This was everything we wanted out of a Sunday Roast: interesting yet honest and hearty with good, quality local ingredients. Bravo team Canteen; we shall return!