Saltimporten Canteen

This is the simplest, neatest and briefest eating concept I’ve seen for a while.

Picture the scene.

It’s 11:58 and you’re stood on a quiet and unremarkable dockyard in Malmo, Sweden. In front of you is a slightly shabby, totally uninspiring 1970’s warehouse come office block. It’s not pretty. It’s not cool. It certainly doesn’t feel aspirational. You could well have the same view standing in a business park in Slough.

Things change as you enter.

The floor and walls are rendered in muted off beige concrete. Four long, sleek, dark wooden tables fill the room with benches to match. There are a few clear bottles holding single stem flowers, more bottles (more usefully) holding cold water, and some upturned wine glasses. On the wall hangs a utilitarian rail with a few coat hooks and from the ceiling, minimalist grey pendant lampshades (lampshades! How strange this should feel progressive). Along one side is a long, stark kitchen. There’s a stainless steel extractor and a prep surface. Some induction hobs, an oven, white metro tiles. It’s all remarkably (unnervingly) quiet and calming.

It’s 12:01 now. The room is empty.

Head to the counter at the front of that quiet kitchen and cut a couple of pieces of crusty sourdough for yourself. Decide whether you’re in for the dish of the day, or the vegetarian dish of the day. There are just a couple of staff. The person taking your money may also head over to a selection of gastro trays to plate your dish.

There are a few other people in the queue now, so you head to a table with dish in hand. You sit. Look. Ponder. Admire. Smile.

This is not a Pret salad.

Did you choose the vegetarian option? If so, today there’s a vivid yellow emulsion base, topped with a pile of barley, various pieces of beetroot – some pickled, some plain – a long sheet of daikon or black radish or something similar piled on top. It must’ve been sprinkled with a little salt, because it’s soft and bends and yields like a blanket of pasta. Obligatory New Nordic leek ‘ash’ is sprinkled on top.

Or maybe you had the standard dish of the day? Warm cauliflower puree, large cubes of lightly cured salmon, loads of fresh leaves, mandolined radish and cauliflower and a light vinaigrette.

Whatever. My guess is it’s 12:05 by the time you’ve stopped eating with your eyes. Which makes it time to tuck in.

As you pour a glass of water and pick up a knife and fork, you suddenly realise the spaces around you are now filled. There’s a thirty strong queue of people snaking out the door. Where did they come from? Apparently this dockyard houses a host of agencies. Sure, some are, let’s say, creative types. But most just look like office workers. The cluster of bicycles outside suggest people make a little effort to get there.

Eat, enjoy, chat if you’re with others. Read (tweet) if you’re solo lunching.

Neither the beetroot nor salmon dish is life changing. But they’re both good. They’re gratifying, satisfying, and fresh – and remind me of the best ‘staff’ meals served by modern restaurants between the rush of mid afternoon prep and dinner service. Tomorrow the menu changes – some other frugal ingredients spruced, buffed, shined and probably sprinkled with a little magic Skandi dust or crumb.

Is it 12:14? 12:40? 12:50? The pour yourself locally roasted coffee is cheap and delicious and certainly provides reason to stay. In any event, through all that time the place is totally rammed.

You won’t stay beyond 13:00 – presumably there’s work to get on with. But if you did stay, you’d find that queue pretty much continues until just before 14:00, when the doors close and the place cleans down.

That’s a two hour service window. Two, rapid fire hours. Two hours in which a tiny team  (just three people do all the cooking, serving, cleaning, collecting dirties and pot washing) produce innovative food for 250-300 people. From memory, it cost about 80 Krona per person. That’s £7.

This is Saltimporten Canteen.

I can’t think of anywhere in London with such a simple, focused and democratically priced menu. Certainly not one with such a stripped back and limited window of service. It’s like Beast would be if the Russians that owned it were communists. Or perhaps it’s comparable to the River Café when it was solely for the architects working above? If so, the Canteen and Café bear little resemblance now, save for large windows and proximity to water.

Actually, I’d be mighty surprised if the concept would work over here. The rent for a comparable space and location would be crippling; eventually River Café or indeed Beast prices would have to be charged. A two hour lunch window and a spend of less than £10 a head just isn’t feasible in a city where the streets are paved with gold and landlords make hay.

Saltimporten Canteen in 3 words

Simple. Swedish. Effective.

The Bill

Less than a tenner. – Hullkajen, Grimsbygatan 24, Malmö – +46706-518426

I ate at the Saltiporten Canteen whilst on a press trip courtesy of Visit Sweden. It’s a top place for a food adventure (they didn’t make me say that). More restaurant write-ups on their way.

Photos courtesy of Miriam Preis.