First Look: Camden Spit & Larder

The hot cookbook and Netflix show of the year is Salt Fat Acid Heat in which Samin Nosrat explains the importance of these four things to cooking and flavor. Last night I ate a meal by a chef that has these down pat. 

Disclaimer: This is not meant as a review as I know the chef and my meal was comped.

Oliver Ridgeway, formerly at Grange, has just opened Camden Spit & Larder last week. Last night I went to have a birthday dinner there and was blown away by my meal. Obviously chefs know the importance of salt, fat, acid, heat, but Oliver demonstrated it the best I've had in quite some time. Each dish was not only expertly executed, but often had an element of surprise.

Camden Spit & Larder is Oliver's homage to his English roots. If CalItalian describes Italian mixed with California, then this would be CalBrit. He's taking dishes anchored in his background and using the best of California ingredients and modern techniques to bring together great tasting English food. After all, UK food has had a notorious bad reputation over the centuries. 

We began with a non-typical bread service in that you receive a popover. They are very light and airy. I wish it had been served fresh out of the oven hot, but understand the difficulty of timing in a busy restaurant. I also would have liked more salt in the dough, but we were able to use the nice, salty butter to take care of that.

We ordered two of the small plates. The Raw Marinated Yellow Tail was popping with flavors from the EVOO, preserved lemon, pepper yogurt, and mint. The Wagyu Steak Tartar had fermented horseradish, cured egg yolk, and oyster aioli. I appreciated the fine grind of the meat and we loved the oyster aioli with it, as well as the oozing yolk. It came with Worchesteshire potato chips (or 'crisps' in England) which were quite salty, but I actually preferred to eat the tartar with my popover. 

Camden S&L is featuring a Caviar & Roe section on its menu, with the supplier being our local producer, Passmore Ranch. Here we have a smashed fingerling with some creme fraiche topped with caviar.

I ordered the salmon with spinach, cauliflower, raisins, almonds, and pears. The salmon was succulent - perfectly cooked. I especially enjoyed the textural elements with the sides with chewy raisins and crunchy nuts. The combination of sweet raisins and pears with the salt and fat from the salmon and spinach worked well. Everything on this plate was perfect.

My friend was curious to try the Chicken Fat Rice with chicken cracklins, black garlic, and green onion. Oliver came over to discuss the dish and said that they wanted to use the fat drippings from their rotisserie as well as some of the trim bits of chicken. The fat is tossed with the rice and some mirepoix and then topped with the chicken bits that have been deep fried to crispy.

My friend's entree was the half chicken with olive oil whipped potatoes, rapini, green sauce, and charred lemon. The olive oil potatoes won her over, especially with that hit of acid, in the form of some lemon juice, to cut the fat. 

We had two desserts. First was this vegan, gluten-free chocolate cake with coconut cream. It was almost like eating a chocolate bar. But our favorite was the lemon posset with ginger cookies (top of page). Lemon posset is a dessert I've made a few times to make use of my lemon tree. It's basically heavy cream, lemon juice, and sugar. I loved it with the chewy ginger cookies.

I'm looking forward to seeing what other British dishes will come on the menu in the future as I plan to bring my British dad here on his next visit. I'm hoping we might see some steamed puddings, both savory and sweet, some day. I have to imagine that trifle and bangers and mash will show up in some way too. Oh, and let's not forget about some offal, Oliver!