Ten­nis club eatery serves vol­ley of flavour

Ottawa Citizen - - FRONT PAGE - PETER HUM phum@post­media.com Twit­ter.com/pe­ter­hum

If you’re feel­ing that sum­mer va­ca­tion can’t come soon enough, I sug­gest you get your­self down to the Cameron in Old Ot­tawa South for din­ner on a warm, sunny night.

The sea­sonal restau­rant opened a month ago at the Ot­tawa Ten­nis and Lawn Bowling Club, nes­tled up­stairs in the 95-year-old build­ing be­side Brewer Park. Open to the public and not just to mem­bers, the Cameron, which seats about 120, feels like an in­stant get­away, per­haps to a quaint old re­sort in New Eng­land. At the very least, a meal here, at a ta­ble on the long pa­tio that over­looks the clay courts and nearby beach vol­ley­ball games, is a break from ur­ban Ot­tawa and the rat race.

Af­ter two din­ners at the Cameron in the past week, here’s my ab­bre­vi­ated re­view: grab a cock­tail (maybe a Pimm’s Cup, as vin­tage as the wooden rack­ets on the Cameron’s back wall), munch on some com­pli­men­tary pop­corn, tuck into some well-made fish and chips or the win­ning “Ser­ena” burger, and be glad that for not too much money you spared your­self the ex­er­tions of cook­ing at home.

My ex­tended re­view, though, has to list some gripes about other dishes that were a lit­tle too sim­ple or short on flavour.

Best to know that while the Cameron’s kitchen is a sis­ter op­er­a­tion of the Bel­mont, less than a kilo­me­tre away on Bank Street, the Cameron’s fare is gen­er­ally more con­ser­va­tive and less glob­ally in­flu­enced than what’s of­fered at the Bel­mont,

which re­cently cracked a highly re­garded list of the Top 50 best bars in Canada. (It came in 48th.)

From chef Phil Denny, who told me he splits his time be­tween the Bel­mont and the Cameron, comes a two-page menu that of­fers starters, sal­ads, sand­wiches, burg­ers, en­trees, a few choices for chil­dren and two desserts.

We be­gan by checking out four items that were marked with chilies, be­cause they looked to be not just spicy, but a lit­tle less clas­sic, too. The ad­ver­tised heat, we dis­cov­ered, was noth­ing to be fright­ened of, and some dishes were bet­ter than oth­ers.

Four lightly cur­ried zuc­chini frit­ters ($12), seem­ingly more of a riff on pako­ras than fried zuc­chini, were served with mango chut­ney and a dol­lop of raita. They could have been a lit­tle more crisp and pun­chily flavoured, but they were en­joy­able. A co­conut curry with some sup­ple­men­tary roast chicken ($19) was com­pa­ra­ble to the frit­ters — fine, if tepid in terms of curry flavour.

Beef tataki — very cu­ri­ously a two-chilli item — made with seared striploin ($18) came with a pleas­ing av­o­cado mayo and a mound of slaw with some char­ac­ter to it. But for a min­i­mally cooked dish that should stress ten­der­ness, the meat was thick­cut and chewy.

The “McEn­roe” sand­wich ($17) built around a chunk of “Korean” fried chicken was nei­ther twochilli spicy nor that sat­is­fy­ing in terms of tex­ture or ro­bust flavour.

We liked bet­ter the tostadas ($14), a na­chos-like starter whose jalapenos, crispy gar­lic and sup­ple­men­tary pork ($4) made for more flavour­ful eat­ing.

The “Ser­ena” burger ($16), gar­nished with smoked Gouda, ba­con, mush­rooms and horse­rad­ish mayo, was a well-made high­light dish. So too was a plate of crisply beer-bat­tered had­dock and chips ($18), served with mushy peas, house-made tar­tar sauce and fries. With all of our dishes, the fries were re­spectably fresh and crisp.

The grilled Cubano sand­wich ($17) had a good bal­ance of the right in­gre­di­ents (ham, pork shoul­der, swiss cheese, mus­tard, dill pickle), but would have been bet­ter had it come from the kitchen more quickly, pip­ing hot off the grill. Plus, there was a thumb­nail-sized frag­ment of pork bone within the sand­wich. The Reuben sand­wich ($17), made with pas­trami from the es­teemed Shar­bot Lake pro­ducer Seed to Sausage, had great flavour and suc­cu­lence, but the meat could also have been bet­ter trimmed — its meat-to-fat-and­gris­tle ra­tio seemed a lit­tle off.

The big prob­lem with a smoked salmon Niçoise salad ($16) was that there wasn’t enough of it. With just a halved small potato and a few green beans, and much empty space on the plate, it seemed quite skimpy. The side or­der of Cae­sar salad that came with one of our burg­ers had a lot of ba­con go­ing for it, but was let down by a bland vinai­grette.

The two $10 desserts — a brownie sun­dae and New York cheese­cake — were made else­where, we were told, but felt very much like store-bought, noth­ingspe­cial, least-pos­si­ble-ef­fort items.

So, some of the dishes needed ex­tra ex­cite­ment or more care­ful treat­ment in the kitchen. If the cooks can keep their eyes on the ball a bit more, I’d root for the Cameron’s food as much as for its sur­round­ings.

PETER HUM

Crispy beer-bat­tered had­dock and chips served with mushy peas, house-made tar­tar sauce and fries.

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