Tennis club eatery serves volley of flavour
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.
Crispy beer-battered haddock and chips served with mushy peas, house-made tartar sauce and fries.