Ask any Brit about the proverbial school bike shed English cousin to the space under the bleachers at an American high school and you'll likely hear tales of a first kiss or a puff on an illicit cigarette. But you wouldn't expect anyone to tell you it was where they ate the best lunch of their life. Unless, that is, they'd visited London's Rochelle Canteen.
Converted from a bicycle shed at the Rochelle School a redbrick 19th century elementary remade into artists' and designers' studios the canteen is a hidden lunch spot in the heart of the capital. And owners Melanie Arnold and Margot Henderson seem keen to keep it a secret. To get in, you first have to find the tiny button marked CANTEEN on the entry phone at the old school gate. Once you've been buzzed through to the grassy schoolyard you'll find the now glass-fronted Canteen, and a small three-course menu that demonstrates how simple seasonal ingredients can create perfect palette pleasers.
The starters are rustic but tasty treats, like a warming leek-and-potato broth ($10) and a serving of steamed mussels, cider and lovage ($13). The main courses which include tender onglet (hanger steak) with watercress and pickled walnuts and a hearty plate of smoked haddock and mashed potato (both $24) are careful renditions of rural French and British standards.
But at Rochelle Canteen the real delight comes with the desserts. Dig into a bowl of apple crumble with vanilla ice cream and you'll feel like a sweet-toothed schoolkid once again. Only this time, there's no teacher to stop you from licking the dish clean. (44-20) 7729 5677; www.arnoldandhenderson.com