Weird, isn’t it, that the foodier bit of Camden Lock (yes, there is one!) has only just realised it should be capitalizing on the night-time success of Red Market, StreetFeast, Brixton Village et al. Well, thank God for that. Because it really is quite good.
And yet because we’re so used to seeing a market in the West Yard, our initial impression was that the lack of surprise definitely works against it. Food stalls in a disused East London carpark or cobbled mews in industrial West Kentish Town have more of a wow factor than the blindly familiar – though much more picturesque – Lock. Perhaps the key to success is juxtaposition.
As during daytime, stalls are mainly dotted around the canalside, where a stage promises live music to accompany crepuscular chomping. By the entrance to Gilgamesh are a few outlets too, including the excellent Bhangra Burger, such a hit at Camden Brewery (and Eat St in King’s Cross too).
From the dozen or so on offer (Peruvian to Polish to Turkish), we decided to share food from three. First up? Whitebait and romesco sauce (£5) from Sol y Sombra Tapas. As we waited a few minutes (all fried fish are cooked fresh to order), we swapped tips on romesco recipes (and whether to use almonds or not). Safe to say, the little fishies were cooked perfectly, and the sauce, which originates from Tarragona (north Eastern Spain) very moreish.
Next up was an Argentinian burger (main pic) from Lomito – perfectly sliced in half by our smiling chef – juicily rare, served with cheese, roasted red peppers and a spicy garlic sauce in a foccacia (£5). In fact, it was one of the tastiest burgers we’ve had on streetfood stalls recently (last one was the truly great Kim Chi Cult) – and no queue as a reggae act was drawing crowds in the adjacent yard.
So far so good. We headed up for a glass of red at the Lockside Lounge, from whose terrace you can survey the entire goings-on; if you blinked, it could almost be the Djemma El Fna with all that smoke coiling out from the awnings (seriously!) There, we spotted the cute Frenchie Fromagerie & Charcuterie who, back downstairs, explained how they’d just set up shop, a snaking queue already hinting at early success.
Raclette has a deeply unctuous umami flavour (it also lends its name to that sticky Swiss dish); with a simple Tempranillo it ended our rather classical combination of fish/meat/cheese perfectly.
A final surprise: who knew that a hip Mexican cantina (above) had opened on the edge of the canal? Cafe Chula’s interior does that 50s Americana rough luxe thing, and we promised ourselves we’d check out its quesadillas and cocktails next time. So we sat on its terrace, another glass of red in hand, watching the progressively lively scene in front of the stage, as a succession of singer songwriters got a loose crowd of funkateers and oldies alike boogie-ing. The sun was setting now and the fairy lights sprang on, ushering that carnivalesque outdoor combination of music, booze, food and darkness.
Camden Market will never be as zeitgeisty as its younger counterparts, but in the cool night air, and without the press of tourists or hordes of out-of-towners, it felt more special, more London. It was a chance to see the neighbourhood with fresh eyes. Throw in the canalside location, well-sourced streetfood and the fact that all the vintage stalls are open too – and this is well worth checking out on a balmy summer Thursday.
If we ever get one of those again. Ahem.
Words & Pics: Stephen Emms
The Night Market runs every Thursday, 6-10pm.