Roundhouse, Chalk Farm Road, London NW1 8EH www.madeincamden.com
We are a parochial lot, we Londoners. We live in one of the world’s greatest foodie cities but, when it comes to eating out, more often than not we fall into somewhere round the corner from the office or stroll round to one of our several favourites as close to home as possible.
Of course we travel to destination restaurants for special occasions (or treats to ourselves), and meet up somewhere between our offices or homes to suit each other (which often means heading for the same old places in the centre of town). But the vast amount of eating out the average Londoner does is at tried and tested places on well-trodden paths to and from our doorsteps.
Going beyond our safe boundaries happens less often – perhaps only if meeting for a gossip with a gaggle of girls (or for backslapping booze-ups with the boys) provides the motive for trying somewhere new or different. I caricature (possibly?) but the reality is that, on the whole, we need other people to jerk us out of our geographical comfort zones.
Made in Camden sits neatly between west London me and several north London friends and I will be steering them swiftly into it. A very short walk from Chalk Farm tube station, it’s the new bar and dining room at The Roundhouse. No, it doesn’t have that sterile, safe, tacked-on-to-something-corporate feel so typical of in-theatre restaurants and bars.
It has its own contemporary character, style and atmosphere that drags Camden out of its hippy cliché into the classy but classless sophistication we all expect nowadays. Without trying to be all things to all, it is carving a niche as the place to hang out after work and laze in at weekends, as well as for midweek lunching, weekend brunching, stylish drinking, and sneaking in for an afternoon coffee (with a freshly baked pastry when our conscience isn’t looking).
I didn’t try a pastry but I tasted my way through half the tapas-style dishes on the dinner menu. And sipped several of their cocktails and a few of their beers, had a healthy share of a bottle of red and a digestif. I do remember the evening. Clearly.
The phrase ‘fusion food” is technically accurate but, these days, has overtones of muddled thinking. Here, it hides the fact that the guys in the kitchen have a talent for mixing flavours and ingredients unexpectedly and successfully. Onglet, chimichurri, basque potatoes and braised red onion – one big, chewy French-Argentinian-Spanish muck up? No, satisfying small slabs of seared, rare, juicy beef (the cut that butcher’s prefer), known for its flavour and perfectly capable of standing up to a shot of chilli heat and spice.
A segment of pink grapefruit added a zing to lightly chargrilled scallops served not with the usual slice of black pudding but with morcilla, Spain’s smoother, richer but more delicately flavoured blood sausage. A smear of shallot purée added contrasting sweetness.
Pickled pear, toasted walnut, gorgonzola and mache was a perfect melding of sweet, sour, salt, smooth and crunch, rich and light – as was crisp pork belly, pickled cabbage, apple purée and poached quince.
Presentation is part of the theatre of dining and is a given here. Three slices of seared coriander tuna overlapped each other, heaped up to create one side of a mound; slow roasted tomatoes formed the other side. A green olive salsa and small slice of golden polenta gave contrasts of colour. Butternut squash risotto came decorated with the tiniest, prettiest strands of red amaranth and a sprinkling of toasted pumpkin seeds. Cameras snapped.
Looks aside, the sweet-sharpness of the tomato brought the tuna to life. The pumpkin seeds and a few dice of chorizo added texture and a hint of fire to a dreamily creamy mixture; this was very far from what so often ends up being an unremarkable sticky, gooey, bland splodge.
Puddings were even more beautiful and delicious. Peanut parfait, chocolate mousse and salted butter caramel was light and delicate, in weight and flavour. I couldn’t detect any hint of beetroot in the chocolate cake but the raspberry coulis added a citrus lift (someone else had grabbed the cool clotted cream that would have balanced the dish). Lemon and yoghurt pannacotta (with a honey financier and roasted fig) gave me the stomach lift I needed, refreshing and reviving my over-used palate.
Cocktails were adventurously interesting. My favourite was the Martini based Spanish Caravan, the tartness of lemon and lime waking me from a soporific end of day journey on the tube.
If Made in Camden were in central London it would be packed all day long. In Chalk Farm, it is packed before Roundhouse performances. To be sure you get a table, plan to go after the theatre crowd has taken to their tiered seats, or on a day when the theatre is dark – and definitely on your way back after flogging round Camden Market, to regain some 21st century style. Easy for Camden Towners. Worth the effort for anyone, from anywhere, with a discerning palate.