Imagine if a group of friends had an idea brewing over a few years to start a dining experience that wasn’t in a restaurant. Imagine if they wanted to offset the pop-up trend by not serving burgers, fried chicken or hotdogs, but take good food and modern cooking techniques into the upstairs of unassumming boozer in Camberwell, a stone’s throw from the road that conceived this very idea. Imagine if this group of men were headed up by a young aspiring chef who clocked up a few years at The Ledbury under the leadership of Brett Graham, and now at The Harwood Arms. Well that’s exactly what happened. The name you need to know is James Cochrane and the collective is called Camberwell Love. At the turn of May they took the leap and tested the waters. For two consecutive nights at The Recreation Ground, Camberwell Love held their interpretation of a pop-up dining event.
I was actually there on the second night. Upon arriving in the early evening, I had little to no expectation, I was simply there enjoying a cheeky Guinness. I had heard rumours that the previous night had faced teething problems. One of the team walked around the pub with a scrap of paper collecting £35 from each of the diners. I begrudgingly parted with the money, knowing there was no turning back and hoping it was going to be worth it, for I could have eaten like a king in Silk Road a few doors down. I was only there on an invite from my friend, who was connected to the group via a mutual friend. It turned out that most diners there were friends, family members, former housemates or a current manager…
When asked to take our seats upstairs, I walked past a crate emblazoned with their brand propped on a few kegs.
As soon as all the diners were seated, the show began. The breads arrived first, in the form of a caraway seed loaf, which was soft and pillowly with a perfect crisp crust.
Next the amuse-bouche of cured salmon, radish and cucumber, delicately served on a small bite-sized spoon, may have been small in size but powerful in flavour. This was served with fried pigs ears that added crunch to the fleshy soft salmon.
The salty flavours of the cured salmon were followed by smoked haddock, deliciously encased in breadcrumbs, served with morsels of Camberwell Love-cured bacon, all of which were tied together by a savoury cheese foam.
Baked Cheltenham beets were next. Sweet with a mellow earthiness. They were drizzled in smoked bone marrow and served with soft cheese for richness plus roasted hazelnuts for nuttiness and texture. It was a brilliant dish.
The Cornish sea bream followed. Cooked to perfection it was served with fennel cooked three ways; a grilled bulb, pickled fennel fronds and battered fried stalk. This was accompanied with a cooling yoghurt and curried oats.
Next, the Brogdale assiette of pork, which comprised brawn that had been braised for a long time and then tied together again. The ‘croquette’ sat on a silky mash, which was also served with carrots and cabbage. This was married altogether with a delicious jus. This was furthermore served with ribs.
Like any good chef, James sent out his palette clensing pre-dessert of apple and lemongrass sorbet, which not only was a marriage of flavours made in heaven, but was right on time following a gargantuan feast of indulgent pork. The lemongrass had a beautiful lingering aftertaste, subtly adding freshness to the apple.
The yoghurt pudding with pineapple, peanut brittle and olive oil was tart, crunchy and smooth all at the same time. A textural delight for my mouth!
The meal ended on a gastronomical note, taking a 180 degree turn from the theme of the previous dishes – Jimmy’s gin and blood orange. This invloved Hendricks gin infused with rosemary and spherified balls of blood-orange juice. The balls were served in a shot glass, topped with the infused gin and a little pure blood-orange juice. It was a wildly refreshing combination. James did admit that the spherification didn’t pan out as he liked, and I did think that the balls had solidified to much. However, I don’t think he lost the impact of the blood orange freshness. Perhaps this concept and new found texture could be used for an alternative flavour such as a refreshing gazpacho as a pre-starter?
I thoroughly enjoyed my dinner and was wowed by James’ talent. His friends gushed about his food, I can see why. Here is a dude who is clearly passionate about his food, and the hours he said he had to put in to prep everything beforehand, following his normal hours at work, was astounding. He is self critical, he is modest and he was open about his mistakes the evening before. James wants to cook honest good food and I think he is well on his way there. I will be keeping a close eye on him and Camberwell Love’s future endeavours.
Camberwell Love can be found on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/camberwelllove