An absence of buzzworthy openings has made Camden, in the eyes of many, a restaurant desert; it’s a phenomenon that’s doubly puzzling when accounting for the area’s deserved reputation on London’s nightlife scene. Dig a little, however, and find a range of good places to eat, from a collection of noteworthy, family-run Japanese places to the city’s sole Cambodian restaurant, and one of London’s best burgers.Read More
The Best Restaurants in Camden
Where to find the beefiest burgers, quality siu mei, proper Japanese izakaya, molten, oozing cheese, and more
1. Marine Ices
The current iteration of Marine Ices on Chalk Farm Road still invokes its original ‘Britalian’ leanings, albeit with a knowingly retro twist. This is a true parlour, no restaurant trappings here, and putting nostalgia aside, its ice creams are the antidote to a scorchingly hot summer day. Raspberry ripple, malted milk and cookie cream are all fantastic, and their take on a knickerbocker glory — all sticky raspberry sauce, glazed peaches, and obscene measures of whipped cream — might not have anything on South Shields, but is a delicious treat nonetheless.
2. Lemongrass Restaurant
Each of London’s diaspora cling to the traditions of “home” far more than the original population, and Lemongrass provides an anthropological case study. London’s only Khmer restaurant, chef-owner Thomas Tan arrived in the UK in 1969, bringing a handful of recipes predating the Khmer Rouge’s 1975 invasion. Tender lok-luk fillet steak is pan-fried in lashings of butter (echoing the region’s French colonisation), while mild amok fish curry — infused with fresh lemongrass, kaffir lime, and traditionally steamed in a banana leaf — needs only a bowl of rice. The dining room has dated, but affords a rare opportunity to sample dishes from one of the world’s least-appreciated cuisines.
3. The Cheese Bar
London NW1 8AP, UK
There’s good reason for the phrase “too much of a good thing,” and anywhere with an entire menu revolving around cheese teeters dangerously close. Matthew Carver’s counter-only space is absolutely worth busting out a few warm-up lunges for, showcasing British and London cheeses through well-considered dishes. The standard toastie (Ogleshield, Keens cheddar and grilled onions) rivals Borough Market’s Kappacasein, while the four-cheese fondue and Devon blue cheese ice cream (with honeycomb and poached pear) are unrepentantly decadent ways to eat oneself into a lactose-induced stupor.
London NW1 8AH, UK
The Camden branch of Stolle is the sole UK outpost of a popular Moscow-based bakery with branches across Russia and New York. Specialising in traditional “pirogi” — not pierogi, but pies by their Russian name — each one is notable for its intricately decorated crust and rich pastry that yields to reveal comforting, savoury fillings: salmon and spinach, or classic beef. Of the sweet pies, cherry and blueberry are the best and, at £2.20 for a small portion, they make an excellent snack to go. If sitting in, definitely order tea, which comes served in traditional crystal drinking glasses.
5. Cafe Loren
London NW1 8AH, UK
Is there anything worth the aggro of plunging into Stables Market? Fans of Cafe Loren, an Israeli-style shakshuka specialist, would say so. Devotees of the dish will lap up the countless variations here; everything from a version lined with creamy hummus (the Homeshuka) to a ballsy Balkan variant that benefits from the brightness of fresh parsley and a liberal hand with salty feta — there’s even a shakshuka sandwich for the time-poor. It’s cosy inside, and diners sit at wooden tables that spill out onto the cobblestones as trains rumble overhead. Order a side of hummus with a soft challah roll or fluffy pita, and dig in.
6. Chin Chin Labs
If there’s a food equivalent to feeling really, really old, it’s the realisation that Chin Chin Labs has been around for eight years. That remarkable longevity is in part due to innovation (their custard bases are churned with the aid of clouds of liquid nitrogen), and in part due to the inexorable rise of Instagram, but it’s also because their rich, dense ice creams are fantastic. Offerings are short, sweet and always tasty, with tonka bean and valrhona chocolate permanent fixtures; nods to gourmet leanings abound in toppings like fleur de sel caramel and bee pollen honeycomb.
7. Burger and Beyond
London NW1 8AF, UK
One of London’s best burgers is just a quick schlep over the canal at KERB, and it’s well worth the effort of battling crowds to get there. Every step in creating a perfect burger is nailed, from provenance to execution — aged beef comes from the stall’s own farm (Herons Farm in Colchester), and is dry-aged 90 days to ensure maximum bovine heft. Patties are seasoned and hand-pressed before being sandwiched between soft demi-brioche in creations like the B.B.B (Bacon Butter Burger), along with crisp bacon, burnt butter mayo and onion.
8. Hook Camden
Look past Hook’s “new-school fish and chips” tagline and find a capable kitchen specialising in high quality seafood, simply prepared. Crunchy calamari is tossed with a moreish combo of squid ink and hot sauce; fish tacos are loaded with panko-battered white fish and crisp red cabbage slaw. Fish — bought daily from small fisheries and dayboats — is virtually greaseless and entirely superb. The practice of replacing proper chips with wedges is a harder sell, but makes for an acceptable compromise.
Descend a staircase on Delancey Street to enter one of London’s only proper izakayas, an atmospheric basement bar with perfunctory wooden booths, plenty of bar stools and a largely Japanese staff and clientele. As with any izakaya worth its salt, the focus is on booze, with the holy trinity of shochu, sake, and beer flowing freely (with a decent selection of Japanese single malts for good measure). The simple but delicious food is a perfect accompaniment: start with small plates like silky mackerel and seabass sashimi — otoro is also available — before moving to more robust dishes like husky nuggets of chicken karaage, à la mode katsu sandos, or grilled onglet with sweet yakiniku sauce.
10. O Tino
Sit near the entrance of O Tino, and hear the audible sighs of relieved local Portuguese as they step through the door. Here, home cooking and hospitality are the name of the game, and the welcome that both regulars and newcomers receive is a credit to owners and Lisboetas Florentino and Elisabete. Crisp rissois de camarao (prawn pancakes with a creamy seafood filling), soothing sopa de mariscos, and excellent clams and prawns with a rich, vibrant garlic sauce point to Elisabete’s pride in her seafood cookery. Group dinners are a pleasure, and lunchtimes are good value — eight quid will bag you a huge plate of grilled chicken or pork fillet with a slick of piri-piri.
London NW1 0JN, UK
Edging towards Mornington Crescent, this friendly neighbourhood Japanese spot gets packed with office workers who come for fantastic, inexpensive set lunches. For a first visit, gravitate towards expertly made gyoza and ramen; the former arrive stuffed with pork or salmon, with slippery, soft skins and crisped undersides. Steaming bowls of ramen demonstrate the kitchen’s soft-spoken aptitude for coaxing maximum flavour from ingredients — the miso ramen, in particular, is a quiet riot of simmered chicken and pork bones, umami-packed miso, flavoursome chashu and tender bamboo shoots.
12. Philippe Conticini Camden Market
London NW1 8AH, UK
Revered Parisian pâtissier Phillipe Conticini’s first stint in London ended abruptly, when his “Pastries of Dreams” closed in 2016. Judging by today’s Instagram lexicon, they were simply three years ahead of their time. If his return to the capital was a surprise, its location, in Camden’s main market, was a genuine shock. What’s not a surprise is how his sense of theatre has crossed the channel with aplomb, and the execution on the patisserie is top-class.
13. Malay Fellas
London NW1 7HJ, UK
In a different London, Malay Fellas would be a roti John stand. The other cooking is good to great, but the roti John is the crown jewel. The etymology and origin of roti John as with any modern dish is hotly contested, but the most popular theory is that John was the generic name for a white male customer and roti meant bread, so his order was a roti John. Here, the sandwich itself goes beyond a simple omelette between bread thanks to all the little touches Malaysians love in their street food: the egg mix is enlivened with chopped meat and onions; there are minimal but important herbs and salad; the fluffy but substantial white sub roll is toasted in just enough fat; there are multiple textures of onion; and most importantly the slightly sweet but piquant sauce that makes you finish the sandwich in seconds. It’s billed as a sloppy joe, but that’s underselling it massively. Worth the visit for one dish alone.
14. Jinli Chinese Restaurant Mornington Crescent
The latest in the group’s expansion out of Chinatown, Jinli isn’t changing anything about a formula that has taken it to five well-regarded restaurants in the capital. Owner Yi Fei hails from Chengdu, in Sichuan, and continues the focus on typical dishes of the province. A very reliable option, good for groups, and good quality: exactly what diners need close to home.
15. Three Uncles Camden
Probably the best of the bunch at this flashy new mall, the second site for the siu mei specialist of Liverpool Street brings its outstanding pork belly, duck, and char siu to Camden, served simply over rice with an array of sauces, from rock sugar and soy to spring onion and ginger. The house chilli oil is needed, too.