New food ventures seem to be launched every week in Camden. The latest in its bid to become the Borough Market of the north is Italian Alley, a likeable concept which is all about “craft beer and culinary craftsmanship”.
At least that’s what the folk behind it say, who include Italian brewery Baladin, a Turin-based food collective called VNK, and a former bigwig at Elephant & Castle’s streetfood emporium Mercato Metropolitano.
Taking over five restored railway arches in a recently derelict stretch, the narrow pedestrianised thoroughfare (a little like SE1’s Maltby Street Market) contains five new food joints, ranging from charcoal BBQ specialists to an arch entirely dedicated to meatballs.
To wash it down, Baladin have of course curated the booze offering, pairing each arch with an in-house IPA, white beer, blond lager or pale ale. There are imaginative spritzes (using artisan variants on Campari or Aperol like Berto Bitter liquore), an aromatic Beermouth and tonic, and wine-by-the-glass from a reasonable £6.
Although limited indoor counter dining is available inside each arch, where you can also watch the chefs strut about, the outdoor seating along the whole stretch is best for people-watching. At the start of summer, it channels real holiday vibes – with no pesky delayed flight back home, either.
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Arch 1: Brace
The chefs in this BBQ kitchen use a Josper charcoal oven, basically the hottest indoor barbecue around, with appealingly smoky results. Most surprising was a vegetarian dish of slow-cooked egg with charred courgettes and brown-edged tomino: mix in the soft golden yolk and gooey cheese for an instant summer comfort food classic. Elsewhere on the menu, a beer-marinated pork skewer – called a spiedino – comprised a tasty trio of spicy sausage, tender pork loin and pillowy pork belly, while a scottadito (which means ‘burned fingers’) was a plate of juicy lamb chops, medium-rare and drizzled with a lemon-and-thyme salsa verde the right side of astringent. An essential companion to all this? A pot of cubed roast potatoes, or black-edged sweet aubergine with garlic olive oil and parsley, its innards soft as mush. To drink? Try the Rock ‘n’ Roll (7.5%) American pale ale: it’s hoppy, bitter – and very strong.
Arch 2: Focacceria Nazionale
In Ancient Rome ‘panis focacius’ was a flatbread baked in a wood-burning oven. Here they’ve re-created the same traditional textures and techniques, including mixing by hand and fermenting for three days. The focaccias are served by the slice with easygoing toppings like mozzarella, tomatoes and basil, or salami and ricotta. If we had to choose, it would be the creamy fior di latte and parma ham.
Arch 3: Ciambotta
Ciambotta’s ‘banquets in a bun’ are the least predictable of the dishes on offer down the Alley (and trickiest to eat), although the concept is simple: filled bread bowls. The dough recipe has been developed to create a crunchy, airy finish (lighter than you might think, in fact) to play host to the colourful caponatas and ragus. Ours was a slow-cooked Sicilian vegetarian stew of mixed onions, capers, celery and pine nuts, slathered with a big creamy dollop of ricotta. A post-prandial nap might be inevitable afterwards, however, especially if you pair it with a Wayan beer, a hefty 5.8% ABV, with its peppery, savoury notes.
Arch 4: Polpette
Reinventing the “humble” meatball, this stand boasts a couple of innovations: an oozing leek, cheese and potato offering that was quite irresistible, and a creamed cod ball which packed a stiffer umami hit. Both couldn’t quite compete, however, with ‘al sugo’, the classic beef version, slow-cooked in tomatoes, as meltingly soft as any we’ve eaten. Dunk each one in a pot of salsa rubra, an Italian twist on ketchup, or mustard mayo, or even a mint and yoghurt dip. To drink? A Nora beer is a good match, with its spicy, citrus notes.
Arch 5: Semola
Semola (durum wheat) is prepared using the latest technical equipment, say the chefs, and served authentically al dente: as it should be. Taglioni with asparagus, grated parmesan and liberal quantities of butter was pure devil-may-care indulgence, but our highlight? A gloriously sticky bowl of parmesan-topped spicy sausage ragu on lemon zest gnocchi. This dish is a real treat: and it’s here that you may wish to end your mini-break in Italian Alley.
Dishes £4-£12 approx, Italian Alley, Camden Market NW1, follow @italian_alley on Instagram. Every Fri and Sat is Apertivo Hour from 5-9pm