Dining: Cameron’s Chinese seafood restaurant is a Kitchener staple
It’s a good thing the pandemic has made us kinder and kinder, or I might have started by ranting about how restaurants interact with their customers online. Instead, I’ll start with the dish that prompted my return visit to a worthy Kitchener institution, the Cameron Chinese Seafood Restaurant.
Although it is a dish served at Chinese banquets, I had never come across prawns with walnuts before. Online, diners have rated it as a “must try”.
Three brothers – all cooks – have been running Cameron continuously since 1996, including one entirely dedicated to producing Dim Sum. I included them in a January 2020 roundup of the best Dim Sum spots in town: the new mission was to sample the shrimp dish among other menu items.
Arrived ready for dinner, I was disappointed to find that Cameron currently only offers takeout. Phlegmatically accepting this as part of pandemic life, my companion and I made hasty choices, waiting about a quarter of an hour until a securely packed and heavily marked holdall was brought to our vehicle. Word to would-be dinner thieves had been sent to my mate’s house, and puppy eyes led to the boys being admitted to the adult table. There our loot turned out to be enough to feed everyone.
The spring rolls were as expected. Slightly greasy, and possibly too full compared to the crispy exterior.
The long-awaited Sesame Walnut Shrimp ($17.95) was an odd dish. The plump prawns came in a white sauce which may have contained mayonnaise and condensed milk, but which we found mostly tasteless. Small chunks of nuts provided texture. The surprise, although it shouldn’t have been had I studied the recipe before, was the inclusion of broccoli which I have a hateful relationship with. Mustering the requisite courage from the critics, I found it firm rather than the lunch ladies’ favorite porridge that soured my schoolboy palate.
On the other hand, the spicy eggplant with pork ($15.50) turned out to be very tasty, with ground pork complementing the vegetable, in a sauce that kept us guessing. Cameron’s chefs have made up their house sauces over the years: this dish featured a house-made chili sauce that we think included chili flakes, but no Sichuan pepper, and an elusive, tangy note.
The protein in our Beef with Ginger and Scallions ($21.95) was nicely smooth and included whole cloves of garlic, sweet lengths of scallions, and slices of fresh ginger. Cream soup is the term for a Chinese cooking technique that tenderizes meat by marinating it in a slurry of cornstarch or baking soda before cooking. The starch provides a protective layer that helps prevent the protein from hardening during cooking. Since beef is increasingly appearing on menus as “market priced”, the portion was generous.
The Singapore noodles ($15.95) were exactly what one would expect, with a light curry smoke, tiny tender prawns and a nice ratio of bean sprouts to noodles.
The special fried rice ($16.50) didn’t seem like it had a lot of frying time, but it was invigorated with the addition of soy sauce.
Unfortunately, a growing number of restaurants seem unable to keep their websites up to date, accusing the people who set them up of being unresponsive or unavailable. While friendly, restaurateurs should do more to use channels like Facebook to reliably inform customers of opening hours and what’s on offer. Cameron seems to have let things slide to the point where it’s very difficult to communicate with them other than by showing up at their doorstep.
Effective communication is often the first casualty when resources, including time, are limited. Surely in a technology community like the Region of Waterloo there is a business opportunity for someone to reliably help such establishments at a modest cost?
It was a good dinner to share. Cameron maintains its position as one of the area’s top options, though I’ve often wished there was a finer Chinese dining alternative available to local diners.
Cameron’s prices are said to be higher than average, but there is a cost to quality. In the future, I would love to enjoy a mix of Dim Sum and other off-the-card dishes, in their cozy dining room. And someone answer the phone.
Cameron Chinese Seafood Restaurant
19 Cameron Street, Kitchener
cameronrestaurant.ca (see Notes)
Hours: Open six days a week (closed on Tuesdays) from 3:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. Dim sum is currently only available for takeout on weekends, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Get your food: Take-out, and possibly delivery — inquire directly. (I was informed that Cameron was not yet ready to open indoor dining, but intended to do so in the future.)
The law project: $94.43 (taxes included but no tip) for a selection of dishes.
Payment: Cash, debit or all major credit cards
Remarks: In addition to a la carte dishes, fixed dinners with no substitutions start at $34.95 for two diners, with more interesting variations – including prawns with walnuts – serving up to 10 ($152.95) also available. The staff member who took our order kindly advised that by ordering only two spring rolls ($5), our total bill would be over $90, qualifying us for a 10% discount. Access to the restaurant for motorists is a bit complicated: the Ion goes up rue Charles Est, which is one-way in front of the restaurant, taking a little precaution to enter the car park. The phone does not seem to be regularly busy. Google may be your best bet when it comes to inquiries. Website issues related to the article mean that the site may not be reliable and some information may not be up to date.
Ordering food in the time of coronavirus: As restaurants make day-to-day decisions, please check their social media or call them for updates. Lists of restaurants open during dining room closures are available at https://bit.ly/3d2JV74 and wilmotstrongertogether.ca; a crowdsourced list can be found on Facebook Food In The Waterloo Region at bit.ly/3d1cKAX.