Journal Canteen is easy to overlook. Tucked up a short flight of stairs in the main building of the CAE, just near City Library, it's the sister site of Journal, the funky little café that attracts so many sippers on Flinders Lane. A small blackboard advertising lunch is just about the only sign that this little marvel is there at all.
Lunch specials are $14. For that price, in the middle of the CBD's busiest lunching spot, you can usually expect a decent-ish dish, something that's edible but not special. I ordered the pork roast.
Apple, currant and rosemary porchetta roast with roasted potatoes and apple sauce. A simple salad of cucumber, onion and iceberg lettuce, dressed with a little vinegar, oil and herbs. A basket of bread with extra-virgin olive oil for dipping. A window overlooking the busy lane, with flower pots in the sunshine. All of this transported me somewhere other than a little canteen on Flinders Lane.
The pork was flavoured with roasted garlic, which combined with pungent herbs to create a delicate mix of flavours which penetrated the meat wonderfully. The meat itself was butter-soft. The apple sauce was as simple as some apples that had been braised in the juices of the meat – an amazing idea that I will definitely be trying myself. The potatoes were baked with rosemary – and the trouble with rosemary is that it can turn bitter, but a good balance of salt brought out just the right flavour.
The specials here change every day, but there is a predictability: a couple of pasta specials, a roast special, and something a bit simpler for the sandwich eaters. The dishes are always founded on the base of simple but good ingredients, put together with skill and a knowledge of what works.
At the heart of Journal Canteen is simple, good cooking. It makes sitting in this tiny restaurant, with its basic hardback chairs and wooden tables, one of the most enjoyable things you can do in the city.
To the chef at Journal Canteen: I am a little bit in love with you.