Has Kerb’s new Camden market got what it takes to serve North London street food?
Camden’s a funny old place isn’t it? I both love it – I often wind up there for gigs of some description – and I can’t bear it – all those slow-moving throngs of tourists – but mostly I’m confused by it. I often wonder why its tat-filled tourist shops attract anyone at all.
As an irregular incoming visitor, it is not difficult to spot Camden’s various hubs, from the street food market to the throngs of people hanging around the canal to the numerous pubs and bars, and yet there is no one obvious communal centre to which people are drawn. So perhaps this is unfair but Camden has become a place that I head to for a particular purpose, before wanting to get swiftly out again.
As it happens, earlier this autumn I ended up in the area as part of a London food trail led by a friend who runs the widely followed food-filled Instagram account @ClerkenwellBoyEC1, and together we explored Kerb Camden, a new part of this well-known London street food market.
The reason we were there is because a huge group of about 20 of us had been invited* by him, by Dave Burt (who runs both the @DoSomethingForNothing the @London Instagram feeds) and by an app called Velocity, to drop into various London food outlets and document our adventures.
Now followers of this blog will know my fondness for the innovative street food collective Kerb (of which I’ve written many times, including here and here). Over seven years (it started out as eat.st before becoming Kerb in 2012) its inspirational founder Petra Barran has been so committed to growing what started out as a small handful of traders feeding people in a few locations in London, that there is now an opportunity for a variety of street food makers, both old and new, to trade in spaces city-wide. And in doing all this, Petra has widened not only Kerb’s reach and popularity but also its influence, creating a happy hub and community along the way. I should add, too, that some of London’s best street food can be found at Kerb’s markets.
Meanwhile Camden Market has existed for years. Physically it is an excellent space that has seen so many incarnations, and there are many good bits about it… But I think we can all agree that cracks were beginning to show, and it has slightly lost its edge. Certainly it wasn’t easy to wander in and find food of particularly high quality.
So hearing that Kerb had launched in the West Yard suggested that someone somewhere wanted to breathe some fresh life into this little courtyard overlooking the canal.
There are 34 stalls including Vietnamese noodles and rolls from Hanoi Kitchen and Venezuelan arepas from Arapaho Bros plus reliably good things from some LSF favourites: Korean burritos and normal burritos from Kimchinary and Luardos respectively, deep dark Malaysian rendang from Makatcha Eats, some Indian wraps from Baba G’s, feta and oregano fries from The Grilling Greek and…ta daaa… ice cream and ice cream cookie sandwiches from Blu Top Ice Cream which I first tried out at the YBF shortlister day 2015.
Conclusion? Hectic trying to move through the tourist weekender crowds to access food. But given the huge span of traders, none of the queues are very long – and there’s some good grub to eat.
Here’s what we tried:
Manchego and red pepper quesadilla from Killa Dilla
An awesome crispy, melted construction of oozy mozzarella, morcilla, manchego cheese, charred red peppers, pink pickled onions, and a soy egg. Oof.
Say what? This relatively new London street food operation is a Mexican mash-up of the quesadilla with basically anything the founders enjoy cooking. In their own words, that could be anything from shredded smoked beef short rib, blue cheese, crispy pork belly, or hot pickled red onions. They are regulars at Kerb Camden, and do various Street Feast and private catering events too.
Who’s behind it? Industry experts Josh Whiting, who ran Meateasy for many years and his best mate William Leigh, whose done all sorts, from inventing sweets to setting up what is now ChickenLiquor but used to be Wishbone restaurant in Brixton.
Chicken wings from BBQ Dreamz
Spicy Adobo glazed chicken wings – chicken braised in a traditional Filipino mix of soy sauce, garlic, pepper, bay leaves, and vinegar, then fried. Sticky and completely addictive.
Say what? This is what Kerb calls a “Filipino backyard bbq on the streets,” meaning there’s a lot of spiced marinaded meat going the grills here, and lots of vinegars, soy, and garlic around. In other words: delicious. These London street food founders believe in using up as many parts of the animal as is possible, so sometimes you’ll find surprising cuts of meat. That said, one of their most popular dishes is the wonderful crispy fragrant pork belly, served with sesame green bean salad and pickled cucumber and chicharron.
Who’s behind it? Filipino-born Lee Johnson and his partner Sinead Campbell, who respectively managed restaurants – including St John and Mayfields – and studied fine art.
Ginger beer from Square Root Soda
Ginger beer – the original flavour.
Say what? A range of handmade sodas created in small batches near New Spitalfields Market. The founders Ed Taylor and Robyn Simms started this in 2012 and have been flying ever since – they have collaborated with alcohol brands, served their drinks at events, been given awards, and more. But their products are particularly great because they are all made from freshly juiced seasonal fruit, and they’re much less sweet than all the ones you buy in the supermarkets.
Who’s behind it? Ed and Robyn previously worked in Redemption Brewery and in a bar respectively.
Veggie box from Kothu Kothu
Shredded Sri Lankan Godhamba roti (a crispy flat bread) mixed up with a meat (chicken or mutton) or veggie curry (egg and veg), spices and coconut. Looks unappealing, tastes amazing.
Say what? This is a selection of Sri Lankan street food that gets chucked on a flat grill plate, cooked hard, and then scraped into a cardboard box. It’s hugely popular in Sri Lanka, presumably partly because it’s fun to watch, as well as tasting good. Oh, and kothu kothu means chop chop.
Who’s behind it? Nelson Barath Sivalingam, who is also the founder of Wanderush, which encourages people to book classes and activities online, and chef Dhariny Sivajee.
Kerb Camden is open 7 days as week Mon-Fri 12pm-5pm; Sat-Sun 11am-6pm.
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*We were guests of @London and Velocity