The word “canteen” has some negative associations. Perhaps it’s the blanched pastry of “sausage” rolls. Or the oil-smudged bain-maries holding mysterious meat. Thankfully, Melbourne vendors are taking a different approach. Rustica Canteen is the latest among them.
Making the most of owner-baker Brenton Lang’s handmade sourdough, Rustica Canteen concentrates on takeaway faves: sandwiches, salads and pastries. Ex-Touchwood chef Tristan White has shaped the menu, supported by Matt Vero, the restaurateur behind Touchwood, Tall Timber and Marquis of Lorne. For Vero, the Canteen is about serving city workers quality food, quickly: “This end of the city is not in the heart of the high-rise offices, so there wasn’t a lot on offer,” says Vero.
Sandwiches will change every month or so. This month, there’s smoked beef brisket, carrot and red cabbage on ciabatta; Asian-spiced Berkshire and crackling with cucumber, chilli and pickled red onion; lamb shoulder with garlic, rosemary and watercress on a baguette; and a brioche burger with panko flounder. “Everything’s about showcasing the sourdough,” Vero says.
Salads include honey-roasted pumpkin, Vitelotte spuds, lentils and Persian fetta, and a quinoa, wild-rice, kale and heirloom-tomato number. And, of course, there’s a range of Rustica pastries, such as the “Pina Colada Choux Bomb” and a seasonal fruit danish (this month’s sports a bright-pink pear). And, there’s a succinct range of breakfast specials, such as this month’s chilli-scrambled-egg croissant.
The space stays true to its industrial heritage. The ribcage of the original roof beams is used to maximum effect, complemented by tables made from spotted gum. “We just went with a lot of timber,” says Vero. “We are trying to steer away from the classic cafe fit-out now, which is light timber and light colours – we went for a darker approach.”
If this model takes off there’s the potential for Rustica Canteens elsewhere. Vero, obviously, believes there’s a market for low-pressure dining in the city and beyond: “It’s really no fuss.”