Camden High Street, the stretch between Camden and Mornington Crescent stations, suffers a dearth of decent places to eat.
Back in the late ‘90s – early ‘00s, I worked in the beautiful “Black Cat Cigarette Building” opposite Mornington Crescent station, more formally known as Greater London House. It was once a cigarette factory owned by Carreras and the two sleek bronze statues of black cats that flanked the entrance reflected the logo of their main brand, Craven A. The cats had disappeared by the time I started working there, but were re-possessed and returned to their original spots in a huge refurbishment that took place while I was there. That’s when they restored the pretty Art Deco paint colours too.
When looking for somewhere decent to eat out, my colleagues and I rotated between El Parador (still going strong), Café Delancey (long since closed), Pizza Punani (yes really, and no it didn’t last long), two rather excellent local sandwich caffs (both gone too) and a couple of pubs (which don’t even have the same names anymore). There were a few places that were so bad we avoided them altogether, even when we sometimes grew a little bored of the ones that were good enough.
I haven’t been back much since I left in 2002 and when I have it’s mostly been to El Parador, which is still a lovely tapas restaurant, run by the same team as it was back then.
Recently, I received an invitation to visit The Forge & Foundry in Camden. Strictly speaking, these are two distinct entities – The Forge being a music and performance venue and The Foundry being a restaurant and bar. As soon as I saw the address, I knew they were in the location of my old favourite, Café Delancey and was keen to see what had become of the place.
The Forge is a not-for-profit organisation opened in 2009 by musicians Adam and Charlotte Caird. They were keen to create an intimate venue specially designed with natural acoustics for live music. It hosts small concerts and other performances and is also available to book for rehearsals, recordings and other art-based activities.
Also in the same property is The Foundry, a restaurant and bar that is connected to the performance space by a an airy glazed courtyard. The courtyard boasts a beautiful living wall of plants, the first inside a UK restaurant. I think it would be a lovely space to book for a private function, as there’s plenty of light and space, and it would be perfect if you had a band or musical act booked to play for your guests.
The first time we visited was a special blogger event during which we learned about The Foundry’s Espresso Martini, made with coffee roasted by their neighbour, Camden Coffee Shop. A couple of weeks later, Pete and I went back to see the venue at its best – for dinner followed by the Friday night gig.
On Friday nights, you can either book a regular ticket to enjoy the performance, or one of the handful of dining tables that are set up within the performance space. Tickets for the performance cost £11 (in advance, online). A three course dinner during the performance is £25 and you need to book that via phone.
When we organised our visit, those tables were already taken, so we enjoyed our meal in The Foundry’s dining area. They have a £10 Lunch and Pre Concert menu available from 12-3 pm and 5-7 pm but we ordered from the à la carte menu.
It was refreshing to be able to choose from an appealing list of cocktails, all priced very reasonably at around £7.50-8. There were also several wines available by the glass, at very reasonable prices, and of course by the bottle.
Cocktails were served in enormous jam jars, jumping on a tired bandwagon trend, but they were very good and generous too. I loved the balance of flavours in the Cherry Drop cocktail of the month and Pete’s Virgin Apple Mojito was similarly very well judged. (The espresso martinis we had on our previous visit were also excellent).
Pete’s Burrata with Parma ham, cherry tomatoes, mixed leaves and a balsamic reduction (£9.50) was decent. The burrata was creamy with a rich lactic flavour and the other elements were as you’d expect. It was a touch pricy given that it’s a pretty pedestrian set of ingredients, but enjoyable.
I went for one of the “Gourmet ploughman’s platters”, all of which are served with homemade bread, pickles, onion marmalade, apple, grapes and salad. My Seafood platter (£9.50) came with a generous serving of hot smoked trout, smoked mackerel pate and smoked salmon, all of which were very tasty. However, whilst I must point out how very good the homemade onion marmalade is, I felt it and the pickled gherkins and fruit were far better suited to the Cheese & Meat and British Cheeses platters, and didn’t really work very well with the fish. Instead, for the Seafood platter, I’d rather have a good homemade mayonnaise or aioli, and some much lighter pickles such as soused cucumbers.
The platters also come in a larger size and make lovely shared nibbles if you’re just planning to pop in for drinks and music.
Pete’s Duck breast with orange cream, cocoa powder and plantain chips (£15) was mixed. He’d really enjoyed the same dish on our previous visit, when the quality and cooking of the duck was perfect. This time, while it was still cooked pleasantly pink the breast hadn’t been properly butchered and had a tough tendon running through every piece and the fat was chewy rather than crisp, as previously. The orange sauce was tasty, with a nice balance between sweet and sharp. The plantain crisps were as strange as the first time though – sandwiched together with an intensely sweet banana cream, they were much more of a dessert pastry than a savoury side.
My Fillet of beef with foie gras, crostini and madeira sauce (£19.50) was also mixed, though I thought the steak itself was excellent for the price. My beef was correctly cooked, tender and full of flavour. The foie gras on top was decent, though should have been warmer. The sauce was tasty, though again, not hot enough when served, resulting in an almost solid gelatinous texture. The crostini underneath was so butter-soaked it was actually sickly and I couldn’t eat it. And this from someone who often smears an outrageously thick layer of butter onto bread or fruit cake!
Overall I enjoyed the dish, but it needs a few tweaks to shine.
My side of french fries were anaemic and needed longer in the fryer. The green beans were better.
Pete chose Homemade ice cream or sorbet (£6), and opted for three scoops of sorbet – lemon, orange and pear. These were very good, with a noticeably smoother texture than many we’ve been served elsewhere and rich, intense and fruity flavours.
I was pretty full but so glad I let manager Samuele tempt me with the Tocino del Cielo (£6), described as an “authentic Spanish crème caramel served with vanilla cream”. The cubes of rich crème caramel were so good, definitely the dish of the day for me. Rich, sweet, and – like the sorbet – incredibly smooth; and they looked so pretty with the gold leaf on top. The vanilla cream was not too sweet, which worked well against the cloying crème caramel. The blitzed caramelised sugar looked pretty, but as it had been left on the slate for too long before serving, it had solidified and become a bit chewy.
This dessert also made me realise why the Spanish like their coffee so dark and strong – the bitterness is needed to cut through all that sugar, but the match is very good. This was a superb finish.
Service was patchy though I wouldn’t describe it as poor. Manager Samuele was excellent, both in knowledge and enthusiasm about the food and drinks menus and in anticipating diners’ needs. The rest of the staff were certainly friendly, but we found them lacking in training and not at all attentive, even when the restaurant was virtually empty during the earlier part of the evening. Smiles made up for some of that, but service did let the experience down somewhat.
After our meal, we moved into The Forge for the performance. It was fully booked and there was a great buzz to the space.
As Pete was feeling ill, we weren’t able to stay for the whole of Ayanna Witter-Johnson’s performance but we saw enough to appreciate the beauty of her voice and her unique style. Some of her material we enjoyed more, and some less, but appreciated being able to see her perform live in such a small and well-designed space.
Within a short walk of both Mornington Crescent and Camden tube stations, The Forge and The Foundry are really easy for us to get to, so I’m planning to keep an eye on the Events list. A few cocktails, a shared platter or two, some fine music and that crème caramel would make for a fine evening!
Kavey Eats was a guest of The Forge and The Foundry.