John and Peter Canteen
April 07, 2012
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Photo: Sasha Woolley
It's a killer contrast, as every fashion photographer well knows. The stunning glamazon standing proudly amid urban decay, the debris at her heels highlighting her splendour.
Set within the aged walls of the cavernous Carriageworks in Eveleigh, John and Peter Canteen works its appearance exactly the same way. White tables and chairs sit on a dazzling podium bordered by a fringe of glistening threads above and banks of bold black patterned Marimekko fabric below.
The look is glamour meets grunge - a collaboration between designer Iain Halliday, from architects Burley Katon Halliday, and creative director Tony Assness, known for his work most recently with Sydney Dance Company and his signature theatrical flair.
Photo: Sasha Woolley
Their creation has caught the attention of Vogue Living magazine and made the short list of this year's Australian Interior Design Awards.
But if the fitout is gussied up, the food is almost the opposite. It's relaxed and effortless, with a focus on fresh seasonal produce and clean flavours. Italian terms litter the menu, though it's not too posh to call a chicken a ''chook'' or offer spit-roasted suckling pig for party groups (with a day's notice).
Since opening their eponymous venue six months ago, top-notch caterers Peter Lin and John Wilson have proven the value in avoiding ''frou frou food''. In fact, Wilson - who owned Potts Point restaurant Osteria Moana a decade ago - favours unfussy cooking to the point he'll make no more than three fluid movements to get food to the plate. Such economy is almost a necessity at a venue like this, where theatregoers and arty types must be shuffled out in time for performances and cultural events.
On our visit, we're among the few who are skipping the show. There's a young couple on a dinner date, a cultured older pair a few tables down and larger groups dotted around.
Since we're in no rush, our table begins with a couple of lazy aperitifs as we dither over the options.
We settle on zucchini soup and buffalo mozzarella with peperonata for starters. Both are simple, heart-warming dishes with robust flavour.
For a little pile of humble green spears, the asparagi con cacio e pepe elicits an amazing number of oohs and aahs around the table. The glistening asparagus tastes wonderfully tender, offset by a cheese-and-pepper sauce.
Out of curiosity, we try the celery with bottarga and white anchovy - a strange-looking heap of celery covered in orange roe and slivers of silvery fish. It's the surprise of the evening, packing just enough crunch in each salty mouthful.
Freshness and simplicity rule the mains, too. Take the handsome pork cutlet, which comes atop roasted red capsicum with a lemon wedge, or the hunk of tender blue eye covered in crunchy slivers of kohlrabi. The latter portion could be more generous, however.
The salty roast farm chicken with mild, soft polenta and sage is loaded with comfort factor and, for sides, we're won over by sweet dutch carrots and polenta chips.
Even the desserts play it simple, with an ultra-smooth panna cotta with fresh raspberries and a rich, almost cheesy, cassata. The gianduja cake delivers a great chocolatey hit with just the right amount of homely crumble, too.
Beneath this glamazon, there's a simple girl at heart.
Menu Seasonal, effortless fare with Italian influences.
Value Fair. Entrees, $14-$18; mains, $26-$32; dessert, $12-$15.
Recommended dishes Roast farm chook, wet polenta and sage butter for two; celery with bottarga and white anchovy.
JOHN AND PETER CANTEEN
245 Wilson Street, Eveleigh, 8571 9004
Lunch, Fri-Sun, noon- 3pm; dinner, Wed-Sat, 6pm-10pm
- Entrees $14-$18, Mains $26-$32, Dessert $12-$15
- Lunch: Fri-Sun, noon-3pm, Dinner: Wed-Sat, 6pm-10pm