Camden is a one-off: proudly grungy and down-at-heel, its famous Stables Market and nexus of canals attract curious tourists, goth teens and drainpipe-trousered artists-in-the-making, while its musical history makes it a must-visit for musos. It’s at its most charming in summer, when the waterside pubs heave with trendy young things and events such as The Camden Fringe (31 July-27 August) add to its quirky vibe. Budget-friendly independent restaurants are part and parcel of the Camden scene, but don’t miss the handful of high-end hidden gems, either. Read on to see our eating and drinking guide to the area.
Words: Nicky Evans
The Blues Kitchen Camden 111-113 Camden High Street, NW1 7JN
Specialising in the cuisine of the Deep South served with a super-sized side of fun, this all-day, all-night hotspot is a full-on affair – leave your diet and good intentions at the door. Brunch encompasses ice cream-topped stacks of blueberry-studded buttermilk pancakes, Creole-style crabcakes with poached eggs and hollandaise sauce, and burgers with all the trimmings – all usually accompanied by rocking live blues. In short, business as usual (minus the bourbon).
El Parador 245 Eversholt Street, NW1 1BA
This friendly family-run restaurant is a Camden old-timer that’s been serving simple but properly done Spanish tapas since 1988. Stick to the classics via crisp-fried calamares, richly flavoured albondigas, gooey tortilla and wafer-thin slices of jamón, or sample restaurant signatures such as pan-baked salt cod with creamy butter beans and tomato sauce, and garlic-marinated pork belly braised in cider. Seek a spot on the garden terrace on summery days.
Landsdowne 90 Gloucester Avenue, NW1 8HX
Can a gastropub ever be cool? The Landsdowne gives it a pretty good shot. The food mixes Mediterranean flavour-bombs, such as lamb kofte with harissa yoghurt or chargrilled swordfish topped with gremolata, with bar snacks such as homemade pizzas and casually fabulous charcuterie platters; drinks include excellent wines and cracking G&Ts. Punters, meanwhile, just happen to be the trendiest bunch of drinkers you’ve ever seen – and usually feature off-duty local celebs.
Namaasté Kitchen 64 Parkway, NW1 7AH
This award-winning Indian-Pakistani offering is not your average curry house: its design is a smooth-talking blend of bare brick, plush leather and contemporary chrome, with a centrepiece open kitchen providing theatre and buzz; its dishes are beautifully spiced and artistically presented. From a sea bass stack in a vibrant Goan-style sauce of coconut, mustard seed and curry leaf, to oxtail rogan josh reimagined, you can’t really go wrong.
Daphne 83 Bayham Street, NW1 0AG
Few diners are immune to Daphne’s allure: this old-school Greek-Cypriot taverna has been a Camden landmark for decades, and trades on the jovial charm of its tight-knit team and the nostalgia of its holiday-style dishes. Share ample portions of fluffy taramasalata, cheese-stuffed spanakopita and Greek sausage, then enjoy tender oven-baked lamb, charcoal-grilled seabass or juicy, smoke-scented souvlaki. When the British weather gets properly Greek, dine on the dinky roof terrace.
The Cheese Bar Unit 93/94 Camden Stables, NW1 8AH
From one-trick food truck to slick, stylish restaurant, The Cheese Bar gives top-drawer dairy the three-course treatment alongside craft beers and wines. Sit at the U-shaped counter and feast on the likes of truffled Baron Bigod or down ‘n’ dirty poutine, or the signature grilled cheese sandwiches. This is the place for a superior sarnie rather than a slap-up dinner – think little and often rather than the full cheese sweats.
Hook Camden 65 Parkway Road, NW1 7PP
This thoroughly modern chippie with its scrubbed, shack-style dining room is hard to beat in terms of flavour and value for money. Sustainable daily catches can be coated in three flavours of panko breadcrumbs or cooked in flavoured batters that range from lemon and basil to Guinness and squid ink; the chips are flavoured with seaweed salt; and everything from soft drinks to sauces is homemade. Even the craft beers are local.
Worth paying a bit more for
York & Albany 127-129 Parkway, NW1 7PS
Gordon Ramsay’s parkside gastropub may be smart and food-focused, but a meal here doesn’t have to be overly expensive. Yes, if you’re out to impress, you can mine the à la carte for Champagne cocktails, T-Bone steaks and dessert platters; however, at the other end of the scale, stone-baked pizzas, weekday set menus and a kids-eat-free policy keep York & Albany unpretentiously accessible to the many, not the few.
Restaurant Michael Nadra 42 Gloucester Avenue, NW1 8JD
Right on the border between Camden and Primrose Hill (but more than worth the walk), Michael Nadra’s under-the-radar stunner has it all: an urban-chic dining room worthy of his creative Modern European plates; tasting menus and a serious wine list for special occasions; gourmet Sunday lunches for more casual get-togethers; a standalone Martini bar; and a canalside terrace for warm days. Little wonder it’s usually packed with the area’s moneyed locals.
Gilgamesh Stables Market, Chalk Farm Road,Camden, NW1 8AH
This indescribably OTT, pan-Asian behemoth is not to everyone’s taste, but its soaring glass dome boasts a neat trick: the roof retracts on sunny days to allow diners to catch some rays. Mix and match from a menu of all things eastern – perhaps barbecued kimchee chicken, prawn har gau and signature beef tataki – accompanied by fun, fruity cocktails that Gilgamesh’s stag and hen parties can’t get enough of.
BYOC Camden 11-13 Basement, Camden High Street, NW1 7JE
There’s never a dull moment at this licence-less cocktail bar where, in exchange for a £30 entry fee, brilliant bar staff mix you a bespoke cocktail using the booze you’ve brought along and their cabinet of non-alcoholic potions. This is as close as you can get to a true speakeasy in modern-day London – its casino-themed décor and vintage vibe make for a fun night out with a difference.
Cottons Rumshack 55 Chalk Farm Road, NW1 8AN
At the colourful bar of this Caribbean restaurant, you’ll find the UK’s largest collection of rum, with more than 300 varieties to choose from. They’re put to good use in the bright and breezy cocktails on the menu: try the ‘bounty hunter’ made with coconut rum and chocolate, Champagne spiked with Gosling dark rum and tequila, a no-holds-barred ‘reggae rum punch’ made with overproof Wray & Nephew, and (gulp) more...
Live music pubs
The Hawley Arms 2 Castlehaven Road, NW1 8QU
Camden’s most iconic pub needs no introduction: it was once a Hell’s Angels drinking HQ, it was ravaged by fire a decade ago, and its starry clientele has included Pete Doherty and, of course, the late Amy Winehouse. Signed shots of the pub’s numerous rock-star regulars grace its walls – Monday night is live-music night, but secret gigs for those in-the-know are the ones you’ll be telling your grandkids about.
The Lock Tavern 35 Chalk Farm Road, NW1 8AJ
Like your favourite childhood teddy, Lock Tavern is careworn and raggedy at the edges, but very much still loved on the Camden circuit. Food doesn’t stretch much further than pies to go with your pint, but there are barbecues on the terrace in summer, and most nights feature some sort of live music from an eclectic line-up – anything from disco soul beats to pure indie revival for Camden’s hipster army.
Get the inside track on Camden dining with our pick of the best restaurants in Camden.
This article was published 2 August 2017