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.


Camino on Urbanspoon

I was invited to review Camino


WalshyMK said...

Interesting review - that octopus tentacle looks amazing! Sad that Canary Wharf yet again fails on the food & drink front - I am so glad to no longer work there!

I do however think referring to the Batemans/Gekkos is a bit clichéd though. Most people who work there aren't bankers - they're mostly lawyers and accountants (who dress much more boringly than bankers) and people who work in banks (there's a difference!). There are many things to slate CW for, so I am sure you could be a bit more creative in your choice of disparaging remarks!

Kavey said...

I wouldn't really make a trip especially to Canary Wharf but for those who work there (poor souls) it might be handy!

That said, I was very pleasantly surprised at how easy and pleasant it was hopping onto the Thames Clipper from either Waterloo or London Bridge as a nicer way to get to Camino, the big advantage being that it docks RIGHT by Camino at the pier, rather than having to traipse over from the station.

Matt said...


There's plenty of good places to eat at the Wharf, fewl. Amerigo Vespucci, Kruger, Quadrato, (grudgingly) Jamie's Italian, Roka, Sri Nam, and, of course, Burger King.

Unknown said...

I'm a little dissapointed too in your sterotyped description of The Wharf. This is the same attiutude that bloggers were describing New Cross when going to #meateasy. Using unfair and generic sterotypes to describe the thousands of people that work there.

The food choice is pretty bad (not really news to anyone) but a lot of people without expensive clothes and haircuts need to make a living! Us accountants aren't really rolling in it!

PDH said...

Sounds like it was a laugh riot!

Gavin said...

Was going to suggest El Faro as a decent Spanish on the Isle but its lack of an online presence makes me wonder if it's still trading. Anyone know?

Anonymous said...

I agree with some of the above commenters - the stereotyping wasn't really necessary.

El Faro is a Spanish restaurant next to Crossharbour DLR, about a 10 minute walk from Canary Wharf, and it was amazing, though I can't afford to go there more than a few times a year. The Lotus, which is a floating Chinese restaurant, is right next to El Faro. It's gimmicky, but the dim sum is better than what Chinatown offers and the views are stunning if the sun is out.

WalshyMK said...

Kavey - darn right, the clipper (if time & money allow) is much more civilised, AND you can have a drink on board.

Matt - you're right, there are some acceptable places to eat, but consider that 80k+ people work at CW, that ain't so many!!

I would add Waitrose to your (short) list - quick steak and oysters while you do some shopping is nae bad thing

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Matt said...

I'd like to point out that I didn't disagree with any stereotyping, as I understand jokes.

However, the Thames Clipper is indeed ace. I used to get it to (and from) work every day when I lived near (ahem) Canary Wharf and worked in Blackfriars. It cost the same as the tube for a season ticket and was a far more civilized way to get to work (except on the days when there was a tube strike and the rubbish tunnel-dwellers all got onto the boat =[ They stole the complimentary copies of The Times and everything).

Everyone should get the boat. That is all.

Greedy Diva said...

Yep, the clipper is the only way. I nearly cried getting to Camino the first time, but the clipper home was a joy - an easy way from there directly back to civilisation. The rare Iberico black pig shoulder at Camino is divine.

German said...

Really is no easy to find a good spanish chain in London or a Tapas bar only a few. I remember Barra Fina, there were great in the start but i think is no easy to keep competitive prices with spanish high ingredientes. I think Camino is having the same problem 3 years ago the paella was good enough even for Spanish levels. Anyways Camino is so far to the new tapas and spanish food revolution http://kitchenvoyage.blogspot.com/