Growing up in the capital of Spain’s gastronomic Basque region – a place called Vitoria – Nacho del Campo was exposed to tantalising eats from a young age. Later, he found employment as a chef in both Catalonia and Madrid, working in what he describes as the three best areas for food in Spain.
Bringing that Hispanic flavour to Britain, del Campo is now the executive chef at Camino, a group of tapas restaurants located in King’s Cross, Shoreditch, Monument and Bankside. He plans all the food for the group, visiting the four sites each week to ensure consistency is maintained, where meals are prepared that allow ingredients to shine.
“I’ve been living in the UK for 14 years now and I think Spanish cuisine in London and many other places in England is improving in terms of quality and in terms of originality. Before, every restaurant used to do the same dishes, and now there is a wider variety of different brands and places,” he says.
“I think the new modern Spanish restaurants are pushing for the quality of ingredients, rather than putting up dishes that use a lot of sauce and hide the quality. At the moment, in general I can see the quality of Spanish food is quite high and there are a lot chefs that are getting recognised – and that’s good news.”
Del Campo is adamant that kitchens have their part to play in ensuring the world’s finite resources aren’t overused and he wants to see more seasonal cooking. “As chefs, we need to use seasonal items even though you might think the sales will be slower,” he says.
He talks to Food Spark about the Spanish meals and ingredients that excite his interest, how hospitality isn’t just about the food and why simple dishes are sometimes the best.
I think the idea of Camino is great because Camino means path in Spanish. The idea for what we do is to have items or products from all around Spain, and what we do is give our own interpretation of everything.
I think we do food that is based on high quality ingredients and we cook to order. We don’t prepare butters or sauces beforehand – we prepare it all individually. The same idea is to have very good quality ingredients and don’t overuse them. We can say that we do the food in a simple way, but it’s very good.
Items that we have put on the menu recently include fideua – it’s a similar dish to paella. In our restaurants, the customers are always asking us why we don’t do paella,and I think there are so many dishes in Spanish culture that you can use that take inspiration from paella. So we did the fideua, which is classically the same thing as paella, but it is made out of noodles. The dish is very traditional in the Valencia area. We only fry the noodles in a bit of garlic and chilli, and add prawns, calamari and chicken, but I think the result is nice.
We started to do a lamb that is an Iberico lamb from Aragon. It’s very high quality lamb. We just braise it with Amontillado wine and it gives the lamb a very good taste.
I think sometimes at Camino we are a bit shy to shout about the provenance of a product and sometimes we should be a bit more open about the fact we use free range.
We have the same menu across all the sites and ensure the kitchens work in the same way – so, have the same sections in the kitchens. Every month, we change the specials, but the idea is if you like the business, the sites are quite far from each other, so the customers can eat something in one place and find more or less the same in the other one.
We don’t have a central kitchen as I don’t believe in them. I think the chefs doesn’t put as much care in if they aren’t making everything from scratch and I think the chefs will feel more proud to do the full process themselves.
I think we always try to have ingredients that you can’t find in supermarkets easily, so people can enjoy something a bit more special. For example, we aim to have cheese made with traditional methods.
We have manchego because everyone knows it and it’s one of our main sellers, but we also have pena pelada, a semi-cured cow’s cheese, or payoyo, which is cured goat’s cheese. Both are from traditional artisan suppliers. You can’t really go to a shop to find them.
We look into every region and try and source ingredients from there. In Spain, the food is very regional. Here in London, the advantage is you can find everything from Spain!
You always have dishes that people really like and you can’t move them, so we aim to change at least 15% to 20% of the menu, but we still keep our core menu.
As a Spanish restaurant, we have to provide food in a certain style that is always Spanish, but we have twists. For example, octopus is very popular in Spain. We have Galician octopus that is usually cooked with potatoes and olive oil, and what we did was a little twist. So we used beetroot instead of potatoes and used paprika and did a little hummus to put on the base.
Last month, we did a veal belly marinated in sherry and we put it with lentils. When you try it, it’s very tasty, but for some reasons the sales weren’t amazing. I don’t know if it’s because we were using veal belly, but the sales weren’t as I expected.
A dish I love is the morcilla de Burgos, which is a Spanish black pudding. We started making it with algerias which are spicy peppers. We don’t tend to eat spicy food but this dish is really spicy and I haven’t seen this anywhere else. The black pudding in Spain is quite tasty; many people who say they don’t like black pudding, they try it and they like it. It’s a very good product and it’s very difficult to find in the UK, even in restaurants, as it’s a product many people are afraid of.
I also love artichokes, but sometimes when we do dishes with artichokes they sell very slowly. It’s sad as it’s a great product. Artichokes aren’t that easy to find in the supermarkets and they require a little bit more attention. You need to cook them slowly.
We sell a lot of steaks and meat, but when we choose a garnish that isn’t potatoes, it sells a lot slower.
We can see that there are more people asking for vegan products and we do have vegan-friendly products. Putting more vegetables on the menu is a great thing.
One thing that I am gladly surprised about is butter beans. We put them on the menu and it sells really well. My suppliers say this year they have been super popular. There is more need on the market for vegetarian items and the beans are a great item as they have a high amount of protein and they are really delicious.
In London, the amount of diversity that is here is unbelievable. In some ways, there is a certain fusion of food, and we might see interesting things in other cuisines and implement them into ours. The white sweet potato is more an Asian food and I tried it and loved it, so this kind of influence we use. Asian has also had a heavy influence over in Spain, and now in pretty much any restaurant you can find tataki and other methods .On the current specials, we use tapioca to do a savoury, creamy dish with trout that we roast.
The healthy style of eating and trying to move away from heavily industrialised products is something that is starting to peak.
I think it is important for restaurants who have many places to put a menu out with balanced options, where you can not only have protein, but vegetables and pulses or pasta or more carbohydrates.
If you are constantly purchasing a lot of products that are out of season, then they need to come a long way and fly to you, and we already have too many restaurants, so we need to care for these things, otherwise we will run out of them in the world.
I know the importance of Instagram, but sometimes you go to restaurants and you find food that is very pretty and colourful, and then you try it and you don’t see the purpose of why ingredients are together. There needs to be things that are done with certain thought, they need to taste good.
In the way we prepare things, we try and be honest with our ingredients. There may be dishes that photograph better than others, but I don’t really focus on that as much. It’s not that I don’t care as much, but sometimes simple dishes that are made in a simple way taste great and we shouldn’t stop making them just because they don’t look great on Instagram.
I hope that people will start eating cuts of meat that are less common. Not because they are cheap, but we should eat the whole animal.
I think people will start buying more locally and it would be nice to be more season orientated. It’s sometimes difficult as customers like to have consistency and prices locked in.
I think Indian food is growing – but not curry. You can see that people from The Cinnamon Club, their style of food is more modern, clean and tasty, and it moves away from the general perception.
Chinese food is so much more than the typical takeaways. I think it will start growing into the more traditional food.
Hospitality is not only what you put on the plate, it’s about the experience. I think customers not only look at what’s on the menu, but how its presented, what’s the atmosphere in the restaurant and how everything is set up and this is important – what you offer to your customers as a whole.
One thing I love is fish. A struggle in the UK is it’s hard to find a good variety of fish in the supermarket. It’s always cod or haddock or monkfish. I miss it in Spain, where you go the market and you see all the variety of fish available.