Cornwall’s hottest new opening isn’t a Michelin-starred restaurant or a boutique hotel dining room, but an industrial prep-kitchen on an old tin mining site. Canteen is the bustling HQ of catering company Woodfired Canteen, where the public can now drop in to try chef Ben Quinn’s colourful, wholesome dishes on a daily basis.
Canteen restaurant review
One of the UK’s hippest catering operations, Woodfired Canteen has become famous for hosting memorable meals cooked over wood fires, in unique locations: festival banqueting tents, botanical gardens and Cornish beaches have all been settings for their culinary adventures.
Co-founders Ben and Sam Quinn opened the hub of their catering company to the public in November 2017. Open from 8:30am Monday to Friday, Canteen is very much a working kitchen which, as a side line, serves impeccable coffee, the most delicious cinnamon buns you’ve ever tasted (courtesy of fellow Cornish outfit Da Bara Bakery), and a two-dish lunch menu of whatever the team is preparing at the time.
Canteen’s off-beat location adds to its allure. Perched on a clifftop on Cornwall’s rugged north coast, Wheal Kitty Workshops is a collection of engine houses and other mining-era buildings which have been transformed into an enclave of indie Cornish businesses. Outdoor brands, surfboard shapers, environmental charities, independent radio stations and production companies are based here, providing a steady supply of creatives and outdoor-types hungry for good food.
Each day the team behind Canteen can be found hard at work in the kitchen, crafting seasonal menus for weddings and other events, including the ‘Flash Feeds’ and ‘Lazy Smoky Sundays’ they have become known for. Boxes of fresh fruit and veg arrive daily to be prepped, as owners Ben and Sam talk menus with various clients and collaborators; it feels a bit like a drop-in centre for a community of food addicts.
Come lunchtime, anyone who wants a plate of whatever the kitchen is prepping can tuck in for just £5 (there is always one meat and one veggie option.) Other than water and coffee drinks are all BYO.
Canteen menu must-order
With a limited menu it won’t take you long to decide. The good news is that the food here is far from dull, and daily dishes are guaranteed to be fresh, inventive and packed with flavour, with a focus on seasonal vegetables and frugal use of good-quality local meat. At the time of our visit (winter) pickled, cured and preserved ingredients were high on the agenda, reflecting chef Ben’s root-to-stem, as well as nose-to-tail, ethos.
We shared both dishes. The vegetarian mezze featured roast onions and almonds, pickled mushrooms, eggs, smoked mozzarella, flat breads, clementines and green chilli. These seemingly disparate parts came together in a colourful and balanced plate of food, the star of which was undoubtedly the smoked mozzarella (a team favourite, I was told). Our beef empanada was rich and satisfying, and served with mejadra (rice and lentils with spices and onions), pickled cauliflower and a chopped salad.
Dessert was the aforementioned cinnamon buns and a freshly baked cookie – simple but spot on.
Canteen is unashamedly a working space and designed for quick drop-ins to satiate good-food cravings rather than long, leisurely lunches. That said, you’re likely to get sucked into a food-related chat or lost in a recipe book and stay longer than planned.