"Upstairs lies pop-up restaurant 'Camberwell Love' - amazing value for money!"Review Rating: Reviewed by James Whiting
The top floor of an unassuming pub seemed an unlikely setting for a pop-up from a chef with a background that includes the Ledbury and Harwood Arms. Relying very much on word of mouth and social media for its name to be spread, the small team at Camberwell Love appear to have stirred up a strong faithful following already.
For the very reasonable price of £35 cash your table is treated to an 8 course surprise tasting menu. That is an offer difficult to argue with.
After a small delay, perhaps to ensure all the tea lights in their coffee bean-filled pots had created an ambience, all tables were seated and Camberwell Love kicked off. Thick slabs of warm fresh bread arrived with butter. This was devoured in no time and seconds were ordered! The first course emerged on a wooden block: a lightly marinated salmon tartare and tarragon served on toast, covered in egg shavings. The salmon was excellent, tasting incredibly fresh, but the grated egg seemed somewhat of a faddy unnecessary extra. While surprising, it didn't really add to the flavour profile.
Next up was a shot of what was billed as tomato tea. The juice was clear and topped with little pools of basil oil. This palette cleanser did its job and was very refreshing, however, you can't help but feel that this brilliant course would be elevated even higher if served in a glass teapot (a ready made comment for the cards handed out at the end of the night).
The carrot salad served with cow's curd and pine nuts was a brave and clever dish. There were all colours of carrot arranged in a multitude of ways, each cooked slightly differently to the next. The plate of food was both a talking point and one that delivered on flavour. The main success was the variety of textures, showing off what the humble carrot can do. The cow's curd added a great contrast to round the dish off.
The fish course was perhaps the least visual of the menu and was also slightly heavy on the salt. The bacon crumb would have provided sufficient seasoning without the need for extra salt on the chicken wing and roasted monkfish. There were a few splodges of a salsa verde, but not quite enough to cut through the rich saltiness. That being said the monkfish was very delicately cooked.
An eight course surprise tasting menu is an event in itself, however the team really pushed the boat out on the main. Each table was served up their own beef shin, slow cooked to the stage of falling apart at the prod of a knife. This came with all the trimmings: an exceptionally smooth and creamy mashed potato, roasted shallots, smoked bone marrow, an aerated horseradish mousse and gravy. The smoked bone marrow had an odd taste, even for a lover of the gooey stuff, but the horseradish served in that manner was inspired. However, to be part of an eight course menu this dish was far too big, even shared between four people (although complaining a chef is too generous is counter-intuitive...) We did also manage to get a take away bag with the leftovers of the shin, promising to return the Tupperware next time we attend!
Sixth up on the menu, a wooden slab covered with roasted peaches and honey granita, was both sharp and refreshing. Exactly what was needed after the rich beef.
Finally, pudding was a strawberry knickerbocker glory. The presentation was either simple or tired after a long evening, just served layered in a tumbler. This course did what it said on the tin, and was pleasant but not groundbreaking.
The kitchen weren't finished there, and a shot of salted caramel and peanut milkshake was delivered to round off the eight course extravaganza. This was more of a peanut milk, and a touch on the grainy side. The salted caramel element was disappointingly conspicuous in its absence.
The evening can be summed up as a success. A point beyond dispute is that Camberwell Love is amazing value for money. What the small team are trying to achieve is clear to see, and they are evidently keen to refine it. The menu was not perfect, but there were no disasters and many really impressive courses. The service fitted exactly with the youthful style of the entire pop-up. If this is a trial run in anticipation for opening up a restaurant of their own, then best of luck to them. We will be going back and you should try them out for yourselves, spread the love!
James Whiting reviewed The Recreation Ground on Tue 13 Aug 2013