The Clapham High Street establishment was (and probably still is) a more traditional-styled restaurant, where frowning waiters in white jackets and black bow ties introduced me to the exotic delights of chorizo, patatas bravas, and cold tomato soup. The stuffy service gave way at a later point in the evening, when the punters changed from canoodling Latinos to party-bound Brits intent on reliving their summer holiday with sangria, cheesy Spanish anthems, and Abba songs.
However, it is with great pleasure that I can say that in the last 20 years, Spanish cuisine in the capital has come a long way since those tackier days. And one of the best exponents is Richard Biggs, founder of the Camino restaurants. The original in Kings Cross is famous amongst foodies, local hipsters, and homesick Iberians, who flock to it for its superb food and buzzy atmosphere. Their third venture, Monumento, is based in the heart of the City, down the cutely-named Mincing Lane.
Housed in a refurbished office block, Camino Monumento has floor to ceiling windows, a large front bar and private hire space, with some Spanish trimmings pictures and accessories to give it some semblance of authenticity. These trimmings include wire bottle cages and Andalucian floor tiles similar to those at Pepito, their King’s Cross sherry bar. The counter, which is topped with a little ridge acting as a dam against spillages, is made of rusted then lacquered steel panels. The dining room’s curved wooden ceiling is meant to give the effect of being inside a barrel, although that does take a stretch of the imagination. Thirty-two of Spain’s wine areas are depicted in stencils on the back wall of the bar, and rare vintage posters adorn some of the walls, which looks better than it sounds.
But Camino Monumento is fundamentally about the dining, and I would go as far to say that Northerner and I enjoyed the best Spanish food we had tried outside of Spain for a very long time. Possibly ever. Over 2 ½ wine and sherry fuelled hours, in which Richard proved a great host, and superb company, we were spoilt with such treats as Black Calasparra rice made with cuttlefish, squid ink and aioli (divine); boniato (crisp-fried sweet potatoes with ginger, fennel and yoghurt sauce); grilled asparagus with romesco sauce; sautéed little green pepper with sea salt; Cabrales blue cheese and walnut croquettes; pan-fried black pudding from Burgos with spicy alegria peppers; sautéed tiger prawns with chilli, garlic and white wine; Riojan chorizo with roasted piquillo peppers; crisp-fried baby squid with aioli and lemon; and last, but by no means least, a beautiful cut of Iberian steak, eaten tapas-style.
If had to pick a favourite, it would probably be the black rice. Or the steak. Or the morcilla. The service is smart, professional, and very friendly. In all respects, it’s a long way from that tapas bar in Clapham. And for that, you should be grateful.