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The expat has returned from voluntary exile and finds herself with a new domain to discover: London.


Thursday, 26 August 2010

El Camino hacia el cielo? New restaurant sets sail at Canary Wharf

Camino Puerto de Canario
The first branch of award-winning Spanish bar and restaurant Camino Cruz del Rey has become something of a King's Cross institution; a large but lively space providing commuters and local workers with a handy after-work venue (and an extensive drinks and tapas menu). By locating their new second restaurant at Canary Wharf, the folk behind Camino are obviously aiming to replicate this success with the boisterous banker crowd. At Camino Puerto de Canario, the bar area is only a little smaller than the dining section - presumably liquid refreshment is expected to account for a fair share of the business, and with the addition of table football to entice the punters, this is no doubt a fair calculation.

The airy, high-ceilinged new venue is at by the water's edge at Westferry Circus, a complex of shops and restaurants. Thanks to huge windows, it has the bonus of a river view - although given the lively atmosphere for a Wednesday night courtesy of the tequila-downing table next to us, I'm unvonvinced it would be the perfect location for an intimate dinner a deux, although some brave souls were trying.

Recently transplanted from Madrid, I was craving a tapas fix and the half-price offer during Camino's 'soft opening' period seemed too bargainous to pass up - after all, I'm used to paying around €3 for a tapa, not the £5 or so usually charged back in Blighty. Camino's menu features many dishes around that mark; with options such as gambas al ajillo (garlic prawns) at £7.75 at the higher end of the expense scale and vegetable dishes from a resonable £2.50. Divided into cheese, meat, vegetable, fish and salad sections with 3 different sharing platters on offer, their selection of tapas aims to cater to all palates and dietary requirements - as the rather eclectic verduras a la parrilla (£5.75) demonstrated. Expecting the more traditional plate of grilled peppers, courgette and aubergine, I was a bit nonplussed by the dish of greenery placed in front of me with a flourish: atop a bed of frilly lettuce - which was serving as a hiding place for a few grains of bulgur wheat - perched a pile of unlikely suspects. In addition to the anticipated peppers were an artichoke heart, a lone grilled tomato and a whole heap of mange tout and runner beans. J decided it was designed with all those waistline-conscious ladies in mind; I decided I need to pay menus more attention when ordering.

This was the only dud dish however: J's pinchitos de pollo (£5.00) were 'tender and just on the right side of spicy' (sounding a bit like a personal ad...); the chipirones a la andaluza (£5.75) came in a generous portion and were pleasantly chewy rather than the texture of a bicycle inner tube like the squid rings at a certain UK tapas chain. The batter was light and crispy, and the baby squid were complemented by a dish of ali-oli and a wedge of lemon. The aforementioned pricey prawns were perhaps not quite worth the financial outlay, but were tasty nonetheless, submerged in a pool of chilli and garlic laden olive oil.

All this was washed down with a carafe of white 2009 Vinhoz, amusingly described as 'ample and peachy, soft and fresh', which put me in mind of deodorant, but thankfully tasted significantly better than Right Guard. The page-long wine list required quite some perusing, much to the chagrin of our smiling waiter, who seemed to be on some kind of cava commission given how keen he was for us to order a glass of the sparkly stuff as an aperitif. We saved ourselves until after dinner for digestifs instead, skipping the tempting-sounding Galician almond cake with warm cream (£5.50) and the crema catalana (£4.50), which Camino veteran J tells me is better than your average creme brulee, and opting for a red Mistala dessert wine (£3.50) and an Araku (£3.70), a rich, firey Venezuelan coffee liqueur. Should diners wish to indulge, each sweet offering on the menu is paired with a complementary dessert wine.

The view from the terrace
Once our waiter was convinced that we actually didn't want anything else, we were presented with 'Las malas noticias' (the bad news): the bill neatly folded into a cute mini envelope stamped with this Spanish saying. Given that 50% was slashed from the total it was an absolute bargain for decent tapas in London, but at full-price it was just a touch expensive. However, I have no doubt it will be a welcome addition to the Canary Wharf dining scene, overpopulated as the area is by chains. And although this branch follows the camino of its older brother's branding, the restaurant has fortunately yet to acquire a 'chain' feeling. Parrilla de verduras aside, the many dishes on offer are largely authentic and served in big portions, and backed by a strong wine and cocktail list and a great location, Camino Puerto de Canario is sure to succeed.

  • Camino Puerto de Canario is at 28 Westferry Circus, E14 8RR. Tube: Canary Wharf. Details of the 'soft opening' offer can be found here.

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