High on my list of boozes to learn about at the moment is the oft-maligned ‘granny’ drink that is sherry. I’m a bit of a fan, knocking back at least one bottle of amontillado at Christmas and having grown up in a household where abstinence was enforced before 6pm with the understanding that sherry didn’t count as drinking. I heard rumours earlier this year of a sherry bar near Kings Cross and eventually discovered the location of Pepito and Camino, the restaurant that it’s attached to. I’ve still not made it over to visit and was rather pleased to be contacted by their PR people and offered a chance to be taught about sherry with an intake of new staff. Unfortunately this didn’t line-up with the world of the corporate wage slave (my world) and I resigned myself to not seeing behind the scenes. However, the staff training wasn’t just for a regular intake but for a new restaurant and shortly after opening I was invited along with the regular crew of London food and drink bloggers to have a wander round the new location – Puerto del Canario…or Canary Wharf as you may know it.
Situated right by Westferry pier on the former site of a Jamie’s bar it’s a restaurant of two halves – eating and drinking. Half of the restaurant is set up for sit down dining, the other with tall tables for more casual drinking with food. I think the same menu is served in both halves of the restaurant and it’s all spanish food, with a variety of sizes from small tapas dishes to main meals. I got to try some at the end of the evening and was very impressed – I’ll be coming back for certain, especially as it gives me an excuse to get the boat from London Bridge. I like boats. However, I was there to find out about the drinks.
While they aren’t Pepito, they do still have range of sherries with at least one entry in each of the major categories. We started the evening with some Tio Pepe Fino Palomino. Camino work closely with Gonzalez Byass and this is one of their key sherry brands. Served chilled it was light on the nose, but there was a hint of grass with some honey hiding behind it. To taste it was much dryer than the nose suggested, with green grass, yeast and dry grapes. Those flavours ended suddenly with a hint of sweetness and the whole lot was capped with a woody finish. I’m not a fan of dryer sherries, but this was quite nice, if not really my kind of thing.
To stick with the sherries for now, at the end of our meal we were presented with a choice of digestif. After a small amount of sweet talking I got to try both. I started with a Solera 1847 Oloroso Dulce. On the nose it had the pressed raisin sweetness of a darker sweet sherry as well a whiff of vanilla sponge cake. To taste it had cinnamon in with the raisins and a hint of apple, all sitting on top of a light yeastiness. I quite like sweeter sherry and this has definitely added oloroso to my ‘investigate’ list. The other dessert choice was a Moscatel (that I know nothing more about other than that). It was floral on the nose with light honey and a cloying perfumed floor cleaner astrigency. To taste the honey was dominant with the floral note hanging around and making the whole lot a bit intense and cloying. Not really one for me – a bit too much and more overpowering than the moscatel I have tried in the past.
The bar does of course have much more than just sherry. Along with the food we were served a selection of spanish wine, starting with a 2007 Val de Sil Godello – a wine made in Galicia in north-western spain. My notes are annoyingly light now that I’ve looked into the grape a bit more (as I’d not heard of or tried it before) and read simply ‘Sweet sugariness. Hint of lemon’. I’ve only more recently started getting into white wine and this is on the list of things to try again. From there we quickly moved on to reds, with a Viñas del Vero Pinot Noir 2008 as the first. On the nose it had a underlying bloody meatiness with a hint of salt and sour cherry. To taste it was piney to start with strawberries in the middle and a lightly sour finish with sweetness down the side of the tongue. We then moved on to a Cillar de Silos Torre Isilo, made with Ribera del Duero grapes. It had pine, almonds, redcurrants, dry card and sour cherry on the nose. To taste it had both sweet and sour cherries, a clove spiciness, some vanilla and a tannic woody finish. Rather pleasant.
Before I got to the eating stage of the evening I had a chat with a lady at the bar. She poured me a glass of 2009 Verd Albera (a rather nice peachy and lemony white wine) and after I did my normal waxing lyrical about spirits and cocktails she revealed that she was in charge of training the bar staff in the restaurant group and helped design the bars. The main design work is done by Interbar and currently (as of October 2010) the Camino Puerto del Canario bar is their flagship production – lots of fridges keeping wine at the right temperature (16°C for red, 6-7°C for white according to our tour), ice wells for chilling bottles and putting in drinks, and a general air of sensible lay out. After some further chatting about the wonders of whisky and cocktails (not what I expected in a Spanish bar and restaurant) I was presented with a whiskey sour. It was made with Four Roses small batch bourbon (which is a nice bourbon that I still need to grab a bottle of) and had a splash of Angostura bitters added for some spiciness, a twist I may have to try in the ones I make at home from now on.
The last beverage type to taste was their beer. They have the regular range of cold fizzy yellow Spanish beer (as well as, according to the menu, at least one Spanish dark beer), but one in particular caught my eye – Inedit, a beer designed in collaboration between Estrella and Feran Adrià. Adrià is the owner and genius/madman behind El Bulli, a 3 star Michelin restaurant that often tops World’s Best Restaurant lists (and that I very much want to go to, but with only 8000 diners per year and over 2 million booking requests [places issued via a lottery] I doubt I will any time soon, especially as next year looks to be the last season that it will be around) and along with St Heston of Bray one of my food heroes. Estrella approached him asking for helping in designing a beer to go with food and Inedit is the result of their work. On the nose it has wheaty coriander and a light sweetness. To taste it has a burst of malty sweetness, with flowers and a hint of citrus that stops dead and is followed by dryness. It’s quite strange how quickly the flavour stops, but it seems almost perfect for food and claims to be ‘the first beer to be designed to accompany food’ (a lofty claim that I can’t deny with evidence but am sure others can) – a burst of beer flavour followed by a hole that is almost marked ‘insert food here’. Tastewise it’s quite similar to Hoegaarden, but slightly lighter and much clearer in appearance. It’s not that available in the UK, appearing in Utobeer and other specialist beer shops but Camino is the only restaurant I know serving it.
Camino is most definitely on my list of places to visit again. I’m not a big fan of the layout bar side, with no general seating and the potential to become a noisy echo chamber as soon as it starts to fill, but their drinks menu is good and while similar it’s nicer than the other Canary Wharf drinking dens I’ve visited – it’ll be full of suits in no time… The restaurant was really good, an excellent addition to the crowded Canary Wharf scene and the easy access from the river (along with the accompanying view) is rather nice. To complete my need for sherry knowledge I still need to visit Pepito (and Camino: Cruz del Rey – they love the spanish names), but Camino: Puerto del Canario has filled the gap for now.
Tio Pepe Fino Palomino
Fino sherry. £3.50 for 100ml from Camino. £9.99 per bottle from Majestic.
Solera 1847 Oloroso Dulce
Oloroso sherry. £10.99 per bottle from Ocado.
Val de Sil 2007
Godello white wine. £32 per bottle from Camino
Viñas del Vero Pinot Noir 2008
Pinot noirred wine. £24.50 per bottle from Camino.
Cillar de Silo Torre Isilo 2006
Ribera del Duero red wine. £59 per bottle from Camino.
Celler Marti Fabra Verd Albera 2009
Mocatel, Garnacha, Empordà white wine. £20 per bottle from Camino
Spanish lager by Estrella and Feran Adrià. 4.8%.
Many thanks to Krista Booker from Neon for finally finding an event I could come along to (and trying to push as many new boozes my way as she could through the evening), Andrew Sinclair from Gonzalez Byass for listening to me witter about how little I knew about sherry and cava, Richard Bigg, former wandering barman, now Camino boss and all round nice chap, and to the staff at Camino, who were smiley and helpful all night despite being confronted by 30+ freeloading bloggers.
I was wined and dined for the evening at Camino’s expense and they gave us all a rather nice goody bag (I ate the cheese from it on the way home). They even put me on a boat for a bit, which was nice. I will be happily paying my own money to go again though and I wouldn’t do that if they weren’t actually good.