‘You’ll have to roll me home!’

14th Sep

During August, Eat Out to Help Out offered diners at thousands of pubs and restaurants across the UK up to 50% off their meal, with the Government footing the bill for the other half.
As Phil Ascough writes elsewhere in this issue, it remains to be seen whether the scheme, which ran Mondays to Wednesdays, will prove a long-term lifeline for a hospitality industry devastated by Covid-19 – but with many establishments reporting full houses it can’t have done them any more harm. The hope is that it’s encouraged visitors to come back during the darker days of autumn and winter.
Ben, the new manager of the Camerton – which isn’t actually in Camerton, but Thorngumbald, while Thorngumbald Village Hall is technically in Camerton (do keep up) – was understandably a bit nervous when I booked for a Wednesday in mid-August and told him I wanted to write a review for BW. The place had so far been packed on the Eat Out nights and I think he felt I might not have the best experience, and therefore not the best write-up. But I wanted to visit precisely for that reason, as I’m fairly local to the Camerton and have dined there quite a few times – I know what it’s like when it’s quiet, or even reasonably busy, but I’d never seen it rammed to the rafters before.
The first indication was arriving in the car park – we found a space, but only just. I’d never seen it so full. And when we went inside it was clear this was after the peak time had passed. Apart from a lick of paint since I was last in there, the other changes were the obligatory one-way systems, signage and Perspex screens between booths, while the usual substantial leather-backed menu book had been replaced by a single sheet of paper. The added benefit of the latter, Ben told me, was that apart from being obviously disposable, it gave them the chance to switch dishes in and out based on customer feedback. Ben couldn’t stress enough how keen they were to listen and respond to comments.
Now, I haven’t exactly been to eat out at many places since the lockdown eased. (At the time of writing, I still hadn’t filled up my car since March, which must be a rate of roughly two weeks to the gallon.) But I have to commend the Camerton for clearly investing a fair bit of time and money in keeping customers safe. Even things like all the doors being propped open showed they’d given it a lot of thought, but at the same time it wasn’t over the top; you felt comfortable and safe without feeling like you were on a hospital ward.
The service was smooth and swift, which was impressive given the necessary social distancing regulations that also apply in the kitchen. I went for the garlic mushrooms, which came nicely presented on a wedge of garlic bread in a beautiful creamy sauce, while my other half, Martin, had the halloumi fries with side salad, a drizzle of tzatziki and a chilli mayo dip. Halloumi has a reputation for being a bit squeaky, but these fries were fluffy, light and soft and the sauces delicious.
After we dispatched those, our mains arrived pretty quickly – not something that remotely bothers me on a school night. Martin had agonised over whether to have the mixed grill (£22.95), but despite my assurances that tonight was on me and Rishi Sunak, perhaps rather sensibly he felt that climbing a massive pile of meat just a few hours before bedtime wasn’t such a great idea – so he went for one single, yet still rather ample, hunk of meat, the 10oz sirloin (accompanied by some mahoosive onion rings, an even bigger pile of chips and a gorgeous blue cheese sauce). Regular readers will know I love a good steak – and as Martin generously spared me a few bits, I can confirm it was a very good steak – but the lure of the Hull Fish Shop Special proved too much for me. Beer-battered fish, two well-flavoured patties, chips, mushy peas, tartare sauce and buttered bread is great value for £12.95 regardless of whether the Chancellor’s subsidising it. The menu that night also included steak and ale pie, wholetail Yorkshire scampi, sticky BBQ ribs, tandoori chicken, spicy gyros, and a range of burgers.
At this point we were both struggling to finish off our pints, as the food was taking up all the room. You won’t ever leave the Camerton hungry – I can pretty much guarantee that. It’s hearty stuff, but the quality of the ingredients as well as the presentation put it a few notches above your usual gastropub fare. On any other day, there’s no way I’d have gone for a dessert, but I’d have been failing in my duty if I hadn’t got stuck into the berry cheesecake. And berry nice it was too, ho ho! Homemade, not bought in, it was a hefty pink slab, smothered in strawberries and topped with a melted dark chocolate decoration. As I somehow managed to polish it all off (it was too good to leave any), I heartily agreed with a lady who, on leaving, laughed, “You’ll have to roll me home!”
I really do worry for a lot of food and drink businesses in our region – the coming months are going to be perhaps even more challenging than the lockdown was. The Camerton navigated that well, using social media to get the word out about its takeaway service, and its post-lockdown emphasis on safety should encourage nervous diners to venture out. It has a lot more going for it – firstly, space – it’s big, with a good-sized play area outside; secondly, its focus on quality, locally sourced ingredients; and thirdly, a team who have adapted hugely well to these strange times we find ourselves in. Like swans, they must all be furiously paddling under the water, but you wouldn’t know it. That’s always the key to a great restaurant experience – that the Camerton has mastered it during a pandemic is to be applauded.

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