The Camden Eye sits in a stressful spot. Occupying the fork between Kentish Town Road and Camden Road, it’s at the tip of NW1’s busiest junction. Traffic roars, pedestrians dart and dive, sirens screech. Yet the pub is a peaceful haven, cosy and compact, and now home to a new venture: its own pizzeria.
Sneak upstairs and you’ll find a dining room furnished with heavy oak tables, old school chairs and Venetian blinds that filter the chaos of outside. The silver wallpaper – a Mulberry design dotted with Victorian-inspired shells and crockery – is like shiny tin foil, reflecting the flickering candles (and sometimes the blue lights of the emergency services). Although the acoustics can be challenging, you could easily while away the time up there gossiping over dinner. A fellow guest at the launch pointed out it would be a good date spot, and if conversation wasn’t flowing, you could have a lively enough time looking out the craziness below.
And what of the food then? The menu informed us that the chefs manning the wood-fired oven had been trained by 2008 world champion pizza-maker Francesco Santocono. It seemed plausible. The pizzas had a satisfyingly crunchy, floury base with ample, but not overwhelming, topping. The mozzarella had an elasticity to it that ensured just the right length of bungee cord between bite and base. And the passata was smooth and well seasoned.
There is a choice of ten pizzas or Pizza Al Taglio, which is a sharing selection, on the menu, and they have a selection of amusingly unconventional names. The Say Aloha to My Hawaiian Friend (tomato, mozzarella, ham and pineapple) and the How to Impress Angelina Jolie (tomato, mozzarella, black olives, goats cheese, walnuts and caramelized onions) – her favourite when made by Santocono apparently – are more enticing on the face of it than perhaps the Morrissey (tomato, mozzarella, zucchini and parmigano) or the Spaniard (tomato, mozzarella, Serrano ham, chorizo, salami and chillies). Names aside, however, the pizzas were consistently tasty, apart from the Hoisin Duck (tomato, roasted duck, spring onions, mozzarella, Hoisin sauce). Why? Because, let’s face it, hoisin sauce should never be applied to a pizza, but my companion thought differently and rated it rather highly.
At £10-a-pop, you might feel a bit short-changed by the Little Italy (tomato, mozzarella, basil), but the pizzas are a fair size. There’s a good selection of wines too, starting at £18 a bottle, and served in superior, solid wine glasses. (The prices, you hope, might deter the teens and the tourists).
Mahdis Neghabian, the manager of the Eye since 2006 and the winner of various pub awards, has made this place so much more than the hellish tourist bear pit it might be. She’s introduced poetry nights, life-drawing classes, DJs and now a Twitter campaign. #MyCamden is all about people posting pictures and thoughts of what Camden means to them. She’s also commissioned a short film, ‘The Alternative Guide to Camden’, presented by Marek Larwood, a TV funny man, about some of Camden’s better-known landmarks (so not that alternative).
The Camden Eye has all the hallmarks of decent local pub and is well worth dodging the traffic and tourists to get in to, particularly if you leave with advice on, um, How To Impress Ange. So if you’re bored of seasonal fare by now and desperate to try somewhere new, wander downtown.
Words: Georgia Grimond @flyingflute