28 Westferry Circus, Canary Wharf, E14 8RR. www.camino.uk.com/canarywharf
Tel: 020 7239 9077
Cost per person without wine: £35
IT must be tricky designing a Spanish restaurant. One route is to go rustic, with wine barrels, crates, bull-fighting memorabilia and castanets everywhere, and instructions to staff to wipe their hands on their aprons at every opportunity. This approach always seems too kitsch by half to me, suggesting that you genuinely think that a grizzly old geezer called Pepe might drop in at any moment, order a massive glass of anis and set about demolishing a packet of those dusty, dirty Spanish cigarettes, periodically hawking onto the floor.
The other approach is to totally ignore the temptations of the Spanish clichés, and to go spaceship. By this I mean that you deck the place out in minimalist, highly-polished metallic surfaces, complicated modernist chandeliers and employ staff who you half recognise from Dolce & Gabbana ads. Such a choice might work with some sorts of foods – say, the ones that rely heavily on foams, reductions, emulsions and infusions – but it feels a little odd with Spanish food, which tends to be what people call “honest”, meaning that it tastes of what it is and where it comes from. Spaceships are for space food, and I never saw a fat jamon in the Starship Enterprise.
At the new Camino in Canary Wharf, they have got the balance just about right. It’s in a modern building, right by the waterfront and it’s clean and swanky, but with reassuringly rustic touches – barrels to rest your drink on, antlers on the walls. In fact, it is pretty similar in feel to the original Camino up at King’s Cross, which has been swooned over ever since it opened. Just like the original branch, the new place is also divided between drink and food, and the evening we went in was very busy, with a youngish crowd knocking back some post-work beers and wines. That gives it a pleasantly rambunctious atmosphere. The choices of drinks are good, too, with a selection of unusual beers – a porterish stout and a pale ale, both from Zaragoza – and ciders that knock the socks off the industrial swill you get in pubs. Wines are chosen with care, and they venture well beyond over-oaked Riojas.
Over in the restaurant, the food is bang on. We started with a plate of mixed charcuterie, with several types of jamon, lomo, salchichon, and fuet – Catalan sausage. It was subtle, salty and smoky, just as it should be. We were told that we had to try the grilled octopus tentacle, and they were right. A whole, fat tentacle with black grill-lines served on a splodge of olive oil mash, it was the best dish of the night.
As a nod to the bankers and brokers of Canary Wharf, which sounds even better translated as “Puerta de Canaria” – they have a “Big Guns” wine-list with champagnes and some serious Spaniards. We were drinking a wonderful biodynamic wine called Villa de Corullon and so we decided to keep it meaty with Solomillo, a fillet steak served on spinach and with a red wine reduction, and chuleton a la parilla, sliced Basque-style steak. But when I go again I’ll try the monkfish with white bean stew and sausage, and piquillo peppers stuffed with morcillo black pudding. And the Dorset lamb cutlet with Jerusalem artichoke puree. And the pig shoulder blade with garlic puree.
That all makes it sound quite heavy, but there is a solid selection of tapas as well, and a nice choice of classic seafood including grilled baby squid or prawns, and a gratinated scallop with saffron, which sounds fantastic.
The great thing about this place is that you could drop in for a beer and a tapa, or you could have a belly-tightening chow-down. The views of the water sparkling outside and the up-market wine list mean that it would even work for informal client entertainment. That makes it sound like I’m looking for an excuse to go back. I think it’s safe to say that I am.