Camden Spit & Larder
New eatery brings a taste of London to downtown sacramento
By Greg Sabin
To call Camden Spit & Larder fancy wouldn’t quite capture it. To call it sophisticated wouldn’t sum it up either. Ironically cosmopolitan hits the nail right on the head.
The new London-inspired restaurant by London-born chef Oliver Ridgeway brings a welcome dose of urban class with a California twist to its arena-adjacent neighborhood. Whether it’s the straightforward menu, the throwback-modern (some might even say ironic) décor or the overall cheeky vibe, Camden strikes just the right tone for this Sacramento restaurant.
This is a setting in which you would be equally likely to sit next to a table of pinstriped business types, well-coiffed evening diners or jerseyed sports fans on their way to nearby Golden 1 Center. Ridgeway and his team seem perfectly comfortable living in the liminal space between upscale dining and California casual.
The idea behind Camden Spit & Larder has been knocking around Ridgeway’s brain for years. He and wife Tia, along with their team, have taken what was a nondescript Downtown corner and turned it into a dining destination, a convivial meeting hub and a generally wonderful place.
Of course, a stunning environment isn’t the only thing one needs to have a successful restaurant. If the food doesn’t match the singularity of the space, all is for naught. Thankfully, under the steady hand and confident vision of Ridgeway, the menu more than keeps pace.
One might refer to the menu as sparse, but I contend that it is decidedly well-focused. With a small selection of dishes that come off the spit—rack of pork, prime rib, roasted chicken—and a handful of other options—risotto, salmon, polenta—the entrée lineup is reserved. But add to those dishes a decent selection of caviar and cheese, and dinner options start to fill out.
Choices also abound on the small, sharable side of the menu. Common upmarket dishes such as steak tartar, seared ahi, and pickles and mushroom “pate” are lovely and handled deftly with just a hint of panache. But the more unexpected items, for example sausage rolls, show the cheeky side of the enterprise.
For those of us Yanks who are unfamiliar with the sausage roll, it’s a downmarket staple in the UK. At Camden, the common sausage roll is elevated, not by deconstructing or reinventing it, but simply by going premium on the ingredients. The pastry-wrapped proprietary sausage sits next to pools of curried ketchup and hot English mustard. The whole thing is ironic, delicious, upscale and downscale at the same time. It’s right up my alley.
Also of the small plates, the house-made farmer’s cheese is an absolute delight. A heavy mound of creamy spreadable cheese topped with seasonal treats such as diced butternut squash, candied garlic, chili and burnt sage make for a decadent starter or a perfect accompaniment to a couple of cocktails. Similarly, the Capitol Caesar is well made and topped with just a few out-of-the-way touches, including bacon and a 6-minute egg, that really set it apart.
Being at the center of Downtown, Camden also does a brisk lunch trade. Its burger holds up, as does the fish sandwich. A host of other sandwiches, from gyros to Cubanos, also are available. The house-made potato chips hit the spot. My good friend Rick described them as “almost barbecue flavored, not quite, but almost, and I love them.”
The cocktail and wine menu is a study in that same reserved irony that permeates the rest of the enterprise. You’re just as likely to find a wine from Italy or Portugal as from California. But the tone of the whole thing is summed up by the fact that there are four recipes for a gin and tonic.
I’ll wrap this up with a personal note. I have loved prime rib since I was a boy and my parents would take me to eat a petite cut at the Palomino Room on El Camino. The Palomino Room is gone, but my love of prime rib remains, and Camden Spit & Larder has one of the best I’ve ever had. Spend the extra dough and order the “Winston cut.” You’ll love having the leftovers for breakfast in the morning.
Greg Sabin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org