Proud Camden, Camden Town, home turf of Amy Winehouse and Charles Dickens
The Stables Market Chalk Farm Road
Camden Town, London, England
London, England is full of eclectic little neighbourhoods to explore, each one more unique than the next, in architecture, vibe and most of all in cuisine. London has earned the reputation of being a foodie capital, along with fashion, film and music. And it’s not just traditional British fare that has put London on the foodie map. London has become a hub for global cuisine. You can find any type of food here from curry on Brick lane, to Moroccan food in Soho or even Italian in Covent Gardens. The night that we visited Camden Town, Amy Winehouse’s regular hangout and former home turf, we were in the mood for fusion food and live music.
Camden Town is the former home of not just Amy Winehouse but also Dylan Thomas and before him, Charles Dickens. Camden Town is now a cool hipster area full of funky shops, food vendors and adjoining public markets collectively called Camden Markets. There are six markets within Camden Markets, each one selling fresh fruits, vegetables, arts and crafts and antiques or what the Brits call ‘bric-a-brac’ (it sounds cooler with a British accent) as well as alternative clothing. We visited the historic Stables Market, the largest of the six markets and a popular shopping spot for the goth subculture. Horse sculptures are found throughout Stables Market to commemorate the buildings’ original purpose as horse stables in 1791.
We headed to Proud Camden inside the Stables Market for dinner. Proud Camden is housed inside a converted horse hospital and the dining room is set up in a large barn. Long picnic tables are lined up and a stage is at the centre of the barn. There was three of us so we got a picnic table to ourselves. The dim lighting from the disco balls hanging from the ceiling, the hardwood floors and the candlelit tables gave the big open space a more intimate feel.
We bought Groupons for the Proud Camden so we attempted to try almost everything on the menu. First up was the soup of the day, and that day it was a curried squash. I liked it even though it wasn’t very creamy. It wasn’t very spicy either which was nice. I enjoy the sweet notes in curries which were evident in this soup.
Next up was the Serrano ham with truffle mayonnaise and garlic breadcrumbs. Just reading the menu made me drool, and when the dish finally came, it did not disappoint. I am partial to cured meats so the Serrano ham was right up my alley; the Spanish version of Italian prosciutto, the Serrano ham was not as salty and chewy as prosciutto. Although, I realize the saltiness could have been thrown off by the pungent hits of truffle in the mayonnaise drizzled on the dish. The garlic breadcrumbs, even though there wasn’t much on the plate were also very strong in flavour so this might not be the dish to order if you’re on a first date.
Our third starter was the spiced couscous and pumpkin salad with wood roasted peppers, caper and raisin dressing. I am not the biggest fan of couscous but it was cooked just right at Proud Camden, al dente and also full of flavour, having soaked up a lot of the caper and raisin dressing. The dressing tasted both sweet and salty. Buried underneath the couscous was a few tender chunks of pumpkin. I love that this dish incorporated a North American vegetable of pumpkin in with more tropical foods such as bell peppers and couscous.
For drinks we decided to order a Chilean Sauvignon Blanc (Tempus) to go with the chicken, seafood and pasta we were going to order for entrees. The wine was light enough to sip throughout the meal with each one of our dishes, but it was also full bodied enough to stand up to some of the spices in each dish.
Our first entree was the whole roast herb sea bream, garlic and chili spinach saute. I have to admit that this was the first time I’ve ever had sea bream, a white fish with delicate, moist flesh. The fish was tasty. I didn’t like that some of the bones were left in though. I only nibbled at the spinach since I am not the biggest fan of spinach in general, but from what I tasted, it was packed with flavour, both salty from the juices leaked down from the fish, and also flecked with spice from the chili that it was sauteed in.
Next was the fried garlic and herb chicken with roasted spring onion and creamed corn mash. In case you haven’t noticed, Proud Camden really uses garlic proudly (no pun intended), it’s almost in every dish. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The garlic really worked in the chicken, adding new dimensions of flavour to the fried chicken. I may be biased because I absolutely adore fried chicken so needless to say that I loved the chicken at Proud Camden. It was crispy on the outside and heavenly moist on the inside. It was comforting to eat it, it cured my homesickness and the creamed corn mash underneath the chicken was the perfect sweet and creamy side to such a classic comfort food dish. I felt like eating this dish in my pajamas on the couch watching reruns of Seinfeld. I am a terrible victim to homesickness.
Our last entree was by far my favourite, but it wasn’t the main course that I loved, it was the interesting side: roast squash with stuffed wood roasted peppers and fregola pasta and pesto salad. The stuffed pepper was so gorgeous in colour and texture with its vibrate orange stuffed in a blood red and endearingly wrinkly pepper that I didn’t even want to eat it. I’m glad I did though because it was the perfect combo of caramelized sweetness and creamy texture. The pasta was what intrigued me though. I was expecting it to taste and feel like little hard beans on my tongue but it was quite the opposite. Those little pearls known as fregola pasta were like little sponges of flavour absorbing the sweetness from the peppers and also the saltiness from the pesto salad dressing. I also loved that they were chewy. I ate every single last little pearl of the fregola before dessert.
As per my earlier observation, the dessert course here in England is known as the pudding course. After days here, this still amuses me; I love noticing nuances that make each place just a little bit different from the next.
So for ‘pudding’ we ordered the fudge brownie and ice cream, the champagne rhubarb and star anise creme brulee and the bergamot posset, honeycomb and lemon sherbet.
I have to mention that I am in love with the plates and bowls here at Proud Camden, they’re stylish and contemporary even if they are not always the most practical. Look at the ice cream boat dish above. It wasn’t easy to scrape for the last pieces of ice cream and brownie at the bottom of the dish but it looks pretty cool on the table. The ice cream and brownie were delicious. The brownie was rich and dense and topped with chocolate whipped cream, this dessert is a chocolate lover’s dream.
Back to the impractical dishes, the lemon sherbet came to us in a svelte glass that looked beautiful but the skinniest dessert spoon had troubles getting to the bottom of the glass. This was the most British of all the dishes we ordered as posset is traditionally an English dessert of boiled cream, sugar and lemon and our sherbet version was an amazingly updated rendition of a classic dessert. The sherbet tasted like a delicate, silky cold custard, smooth and light.
From a british dessert we moved to a classic French dessert, the creme brulee. I love creme brulee, everything about it from the cracking of the topping, the rich and creamy custard underneath and crunch of bits of carmelized sugar mixed in with the smooth and creamy custard in each spoonful. I do not, however like the strong, dominating smells and flavours of star anise which is also featured in Proud Camden’s creme brulee. I was intrigued though when the creme brulee came to our table and instead of a bubbled, carmelized hard top, the custard seemed to be sealed with a hard candy shell top. Proud Camden’s creme brulee passed my teaspoon cracking test though, and the top was reminiscent of hard candy which I also love. There was a few sharp notes of star anise, but other than that, I didn’t notice the spice much and was able to focus on the earthy sweetness of rhubarb and clean sweetness of the champagne in the creme brulee custard. The madeleines that came with the creme brulee were like little pillows: soft and light as air. A great end to a very satisfying meal.
A cover band started playing when we were finishing up dessert. We stayed for a little bit but quickly wandered off to explore the other stables. Proud Camden is composed of seven stables, each one decorated in a different theme and featuring a different theme or activity. Each stable is outfitted with a big screen TV, lush seating with plenty of pillows. Proud Camden is a pretty awesome place to hang out, eat and even dance and enjoy live music. I will definitely be back.