Business

‘Why have so few, if any, done this before?’ — review


Sometimes, you visit a restaurant and think, “This is such a good idea, why has nobody done it before?” I felt this particularly when I met my daughter for lunch at Camille in Borough Market.

It is, I suppose, a “new” place, but it doesn’t feel new at all. It feels like it’s been there a hundred years already, which I can only put down to Clare Lattin and Tom Hill, the genii of the much-loved Duck Soup in Soho, Little Duck in Dalston and Emilia in Ashburton. Honestly, what they’ve done with 6mm birch-face ply and walnut stain is less makeover and more time travel. In a space that’s failed for an intimidating string of restaurants, they’ve created, in facsimile, a comfortable workers’ caff you might dream of finding on the edge of a Parisian fruit market. They’re buying all their produce right outside the front door and they’re using it to do honest and creative cooking, in a comforting idiom. You have to ask why so few, if any, restaurants have done this at Borough Market before.

It is, predictably, a “small-plate concept”. I know. It’s so ubiquitous now that I shouldn’t really bother warning people, but in this case, it felt different. There is so much good stuff that you want to try a lot, and the staff deliver it with expert timing. The table next to us got an efficiently abbreviated business lunch. We got ours spread over about three hours, which gave us time to talk and, we calculated, to actually eat more.

The staff are exceptional. Precisely the right combination of warmth and professionalism, tempered with an obvious enthusiasm for the food. (I’m putting this out as a PSA for chefs everywhere. Don’t make “staff meals”. Let them eat the same as the customers. Nothing sells as hard and as convincingly as someone who has just been thrilled by your cooking.)

We started with very good baguette, butter and some saucisson. We too often accept dry, leathery charcuterie, where the preserving salts pucker the tongue. Camille’s was fresh and soft, bright-flavoured and glistening with fats. The lactose, so important in the fermentation, outweighed the salt and created creaminess. This was definitely the best chunk I’ve had outside mainland Europe.

The chef here is Elliot Hashtroudi, who has the magic entry “ex-St John” on his CV. People always cite St John as archetypal British cuisine, but it’s not. It’s all about austere simplicity and the best ingredients, but it has the most outrageous French accent since ’Allo ’Allo! Camille is getting billed as “French” but, for me at least, that sells it short.

I swerved the smoked eel devilled eggs. I didn’t want to, but I needed to see what Hashtroudi was going to make of a trotter and parsley terrine. Trotter yields porky nuggets and abundant jelly, in which they’ve suspended a ridiculous superfluity of finely chopped green biomass. Yes, there was some very fresh parsley, but other tantalising soft herbs too. Could a slab of jellified pig detritus ever be sophisticated and “light”? In Hashtroudi’s hands, yes.


I usually need to be physically restrained when I see crab on toast on the menu, but here it’s rather different. The white meat, very fresh, slightly chilled and bound with a light mayo, is mounded on a slice of toast. So far, so classic, and, obviously, because the crab came from the fishmonger you can see from the front window, it’s exceptional. But what’s even better is that the whole thing is then set afloat in a fighting crab bisque. I want to stop using the word “funky” for anything food-based that isn’t wearing stack heels and slapping a bass on-the-one, but before I quit, let’s give it a valedictory outing. This bisque was four things I’ll never be; hot, rich, muscular and, yes, funky.

There was Hereford onglet, as one might expect when, yes, once again, you can see the butcher from the front door, and it was cooked, as one has the right to expect, perfectly rare. But the crowning delight was Café de Paris butter, a confection of Edwardian gentlemen’s clubs and the grand restaurants long dead. Butter compounded with mustard, curry powder, Worcestershire sauce, capers, anchovies and, I suspect, tomato purée. Usually, it sits atop the hot steak like a melting fatberg, but Hashtroudi’s got it to emulsify like a hollandaise. No. I’ve got no idea how, and neither has anyone else since about 1930. The steak lies prone on a great wet bed of this. I should also like to.

It is my duty as a parent to enforce greens on my daughter, so we ordered a salad of bitter leaves and Grand Jura Gruyère, which was borne in looking like mid-sized Alp.

“Why is this the best salad I’ve ever eaten?”

“Not sure, sweetheart. Bitter leaves, fresh from that stall just over there? A precisely judged vinaigrette? Or maybe a metric shit-tonne of fine-grated Grand Jura Gruyère.” God, if all salads were like that, I’d be happy. Dead, but happy.

Part of me wanted chips to fork about in all that CdeP butter, but my sage and modest child chose the potato pavé with “hay mayonnaise”. “Blimey, this is good.” She paused, rechecking the menu. You’re not going to write some lame-ass joke about hayonnaise are you?” No, sweetheart, that one’s all yours.

We sat the rest of the afternoon, chatting, gossiping, splitting a wedge of burnt cream tart that will live long in the memory. They looked after us beautifully and we agreed to add this to our list of “works canteens”. Places to which we return often, no excuse or occasion required. Relaxed, happy and easy.

Hospitable and utterly fulfilling. I hope we’ll see you there.

Follow Tim @TimHayward and email him at tim.hayward@ft.com

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