Good things are happening in King’s Cross. Firstly St Pancras opened on time and with a serious amount of “Ooooh ahhhhhh” factor, and then Spanish bar Camino went and got itself voted Best Bar in Britain by the Observer. They say good things come in threes, but I don’t know what the third one is. Sorry.
Quite happy with the notion of finding out if good-thing-number-two was in fact any good, we jumped on the Northern line and headed for Regent Quarter, a respectable looking oasis of moderate calm just off Pentonville Road. Camino, which has been running for just over a year now has plenty going for it. The bar was buzzing when we arrived on a Wednesday evening, the restaurant was starting to fill up, and a good handful of people were making the most of the UK’s limited quota of sunshine in the courtyard outside. A courtyard, which will incidentally be playing host to a series of Latino bands and DJ’s throughout the summer of 2008, as part of Camino’s ‘Viva Camino’ series of street parties.
After grabbing a margarita and a rebujito (a cooling combination of fino sherry, fruit and citrus zest, topped with soda), we headed towards our table. The restaurant sports an open plan view of the kitchen with a view of the bar at the side, so you’re not short-changed on kitchen drama or bar buzz. There’s also a huge dome roof spilling extra light into the place, which used to be an old varnisher’s yard, and still boasts wood panelling throughout.
The restaurant menu at Camino is short, which is a relief once you’ve already tackled the lengthy bar menu. There are endless Sherries vying for attention on the bar menu and a good set of wines and beers to choose from. There’s also Spanish cider or ‘Sidra’ on offer, which is poured from a bottle into your glass from a great height, in order to rustle up a foam, thus releasing the full flavour of the cider. Oh and it’s pretty strong too, so be warned, you could be wasted before your starter arrives.
To soak up the cider, we ordered a bowlful of chilli olives, a plate of Iberico ham, which was soft, buttery and moreishly nutty, and a plate of bruschetta for mopping up yet more of the cider. During the interlude between starter and main course, we watched the chefs notching up the temperature as they threw slabs of steak, chicken and pork onto the huge charcoal grill, imported from Spain, which took pride of place in the open-plan kitchen.
The real relief about the restaurant at Camino is the portion sizes – they are welcomingly realistic, with our main courses of pork skewers and a hunk of steak turning up in moderate portions that we could actually eat. Thankfully there was no expensive or unnecessary waste going on with our plates. The steak, which came with big, fat tomatoes and a handful of very fresh rocket went down well with my carnivorous dining partner, whilst the pork won on the juiciness front. There are some provincial oddities on the menu with the likes of Cornish mackerel injecting a British feel, and the side order of green beans we were served up providing rather more of a French finish. This aside though, the menu is simple, straightforward and essentially delivers when it comes to quality and taste. In fact, the crema Catalana went beyond the call of a standard dessert and had me promising myself that I would learn how to make it, in order to gluttonously consume it every day of the week. We also tried the Bourbon vanilla ice cream, complete with a generous glug of Pedro Ximinez, before finishing our meal with two more glasses of the lusciously sweet sherry to round things off.
Camino has much to offer – whether it’s a drink at the bar, dinner, or breakfast smoothies you seek, this Spanish-inspired establishment manages to offer up a mix of all good things. Whilst the laid back atmosphere of the place feels effortless, it’s the detail in the design of Camino that makes it work. Even the metal edging of the cork bar has been fashioned with a slanting angle, so that you apparently never get your arms wet when you lean up against it. How good to know, that after a few too many manzanillas, propping up the bar at Camino’s won’t leave you feeling bedraggled.
A meal for two, plus drinks will set you back around £80.00.
Camino: The Regent Quarter, King’s Cross, London, N1 9AF. Tel: 020 7841 7331.
Reviewer: Helenka Bednar