Tuesday, 1 March 2011
Camino, Canary Wharf
For all the North London vs South London debate, the merits of the grill houses of Whitechapel vs those of Tooting, whether you prefer a Vietnamese from Kingsland Road or a Turkish from Green Lanes, there is one thing I think we can all agree on - Canary Wharf is a hideous, hideous place. Born out of the throws of 80s excess, an attempt to build a capitalist haven in a previously dilapidated area of the docklands, what we have ended up with in 2011 is a soul-less concrete shrine to banking, populated by American Psycho types in smart suits and neat haircuts - it's an area with as much character as a breeze block. Worse than this though, from my perspective, is the choice of places to eat and drink. All Bar One, Pizza Express, Slug & Lettuce, EAT, Pret, GBK, this tedious line-up of dreadful high-street chains turns an already depressing area into one to actively avoid, and avoid it I most actively do.
In the context of this location, then, Camino is not a bad restaurant at all. They cook proper Spanish food in an attractive room with wonderful views of the river, and the staff are as cheery and enthusiastic as you could hope for from people forced to spend their working days and nights in Canary Wharf. And although the food was hit and miss, I can see how you could enjoy an evening here, if only because the alternatives are too horrible to contemplate. Apologies for the flash photography in this post, but it was so dark nothing would have come out otherwise, and as we were the only diners in the restaurant for 90% of our meal last night I don't think we were annoying too many people. We started with Anchoas con pimientos, anchovies with sweet peppers in a sherry sauce.
I liked the bold flavours in this dish - the peppers were incredibly sweet and slimy, the anchovies salty and some sliced spring onions provided crunch. It wasn't a vast amount of food for nearly £6 perhaps but good anchovies aren't cheap and these at least were of decent quality.
Grilled octopus tentacle was very good - a single huge, meaty tentacle coiled around a blob of decent mashed potato and seasoned with a generous sprinkling of paprika. The grill had been used to good effect to get the outside of the octopus nice and crispy and the flesh inside was firm without being chewy.
Chipirones were less successful. The squid bits themselves were nice and moist, but although the batter was crunchy it was a little thick and overwhelmed the seafood. And the aioli wasn't very nice at all - bright white and synthetic, with no real hit of fresh garlic, I don't know for sure whether Camino make their garlic mayo in house but it didn't taste like they did.
And so to the main event, and the reason I'd been invited to Camino in the first place, a huge 32oz rib-eye on the bone. It certainly looks the part, doesn't it? Beautifully charred on the outside, confidently rare inside (we'd asked for medium rare but allowed them this because this would count as medium rare in Spain) and served sliced into neat strips, the only fault you could pick with the presentation was the tiny wooden tray it was served on, which had no area to catch the juices from the beef and so just dripped greasy beef fat all over the table over the course of the evening. Someone at Camino really knows how to grill beef, though, as in terms of seasoning and timing you couldn't fault this at all. Unfortunately, what did let it down was the quality of the beef itself which had hardly any flavour and a strange greasy texture making eating it all a bit of a chore. At £45 for two people, it would be a reasonable price to pay for such a lot of meat but only if it actually tasted of anything. There was, even more strangely, no smell either - none of that wonderful metallic, meaty aroma which hangs in the air in places like Hawksmoor or Goodman. Call me a beef snob if you like (guilty, I imagine) but if you grill beef this well and it still tastes like plastic it all points towards problems with your supplier; if Camino ever got hold of some decent cow they'd be on to a real winner.
With a bottle of very nice Descendientes de José Palacios Bierzo Pétalos 2008 for £30 ish (I know, check me out talking about wine - it was a really good one this though, fruity and rich and a perfect steak accompaniment) it came to £50 a head, which is actually fairly decent considering the view and surroundings, and would have been something approaching a bargain had that steak been any good. And service was brilliant - attentive, friendly, flexible when we couldn't make our mind up between a couple of dishes and not afraid to suggest alternatives. But I'm afraid the over-riding memories I will have of my meal won't be the tender octopus tentacle or the lovely wine, it will be that flavourless beef and the desolate, windswept journey to reach it. It would have to be a very special restaurant indeed to tempt me back to this part of town for my dinner, and I'm afraid I will have to leave Camino to the Patrick Batemans and Gordon Geckos of Canary Wharf.
I was invited to review Camino