Rochelle Canteen at the ICA was one of the biggest expansion (and opening) stories of 2017. Margot Henderson and Melanie Arnold had run one of London’s most revered (and semi-secret) restaurants for years: The original Rochelle Canteen, on Arnold Circus in Shoreditch, was always a place to eat for those in the industry or in-the-know — a puritanical, St. John-like demonstration of seasonal British cooking. In October, the duo took their brand to a bigger, very public space at the Institute of Contemporary Arts on The Mall, just moments from Buckingham Palace. Taking over the cafe, and the whole food and beverage offering at the ICA, its new home could not have been more different. As Eater London’s award winner for expansion of the year, Rochelle Canteen 2.0 sets a new benchmark for gallery dining in London.
Here’s what Arnold and Henderson have to say about the restaurant six months in.
1. How have the first six months gone? Has it been a successful move?
What a crazy time, mental, with the events downstairs, restaurant and bar. We moved in just four days!! That’s it, and somehow we did it. I really don’t know how all these groups open a restaurant a year, or more. We have had the most exciting time, building a great team, I don’t know what we would do without them. We are loving, enjoying, hating, laughing and quite often crying, but it is all good and we are very very happy to be here. It feels good, the right fit.
2. Was it daunting opening a bigger site in such an iconic location?
Its always daunting with the pressure you put on yourselves to do a good job, not wanting to disappoint, hoping to the Gods that people will enjoy your food and style. It’s been wonderful moving into such a loved spot in town that so many people want to support so there has been an incredible amount of good will. The ICA feels a bit like the arts central London Community Centre. The building is blessed with all walks of British life, that’s the joy of being in a public building, responding to the variations of clientele.
3. How has it been moving from a small, cult-favourite restaurant to a more established restaurant bang in the centre of London?
The restaurant is very familiar and our regulars have enjoyed coming to a home away from home. A few familiar pictures, the tables and coat hooks and then Ben and Margot producing great food, food they know, food that suits a public gallery. Food that the art world enjoys.
4. Was there anything specific that you identified would have to be very different to the Shoreditch site?
The kitchen is miles away from the dining room, bringing with it certain complications. And just in work relations: it’s harder for everyone to feel on the same page.
5. Has the customer base been very different and if so, how?
A real mixture, we have been blessed with our regulars, blessed by foodies and also the die-hard ICA punter who knows what they want.
6. Are Ben and James still joint head chefs at the restaurant?
No, Ben Coombs is the head chef but, brilliantly, James came in at the beginning for the first few hectic weeks to help out and give Ben support.
7. Do you (Margot) cook at either site or are you just involved in the menu development?
Yes, I do cook at both sites as well as doing restaurant development.
8. It seems the pie has been a real hit. What’s the secret? Can you confirm that it Atora suet in the crust??
The secret is slow, simple cooking, with good ingredients, with a few cheeky elements, trotter gear, a pickled walnut, being generous in portion: you could always share it. And yes, it’s a suet pastry.
9. What is your relationship with the gallery? Do you lease the restaurant space?
A warm and loving relationship, with a few ups and downs. We lease the space.
10. It seems like a sensible move in today’s climate with premiums and rents skyrocketing. Was moving into an existing space, with catchment footfall a prerequisite for expansion?
Well there wasn’t much of an alternative. With the premiums, rents etc. all being crazy this all seemed workable. And we love art and all that flow with the art world.
11. Was there anything that you would have done differently?
Well maybe not headed off to cook in New Zealand just before the opening, bought a better ice cream machine and I would advise against changing book keepers!
12. Are there any plans to open more Rochelle Canteens?
We have some incredible people working with us and things are going really well but at the moment our focus is on a busy summer season at the two restaurants and lots of exciting events with our catering company Arnold & Henderson.