KERB Camden: Before I moved to London, I once heard about a fabled street food market in the city where everyone from receptionists to up-and-coming singers would head for a quick bite. Housed where Victorian London’s thousands of workhorses once lived in underground stables (back when cars were still the stuff of dreams) Camden was a quick and dirty delight for foodies looking for something cheap and cheerful to gnaw on. It was the bee’s knees back then, and something not to be missed by any tourist visiting the big smoke for a few days.
Many moons later, Camden market and I have become rather well-acquainted with each other. Pretty much every time I visited the city as a tourist throughout my teens and twenties I had to go to Camden, I had to try all the Chinese food, and I had to stop and devour my chosen selections in the courtyard. Man, those were the days.
Fast forward to today, and the rise of street food in London in markets such as KERB Camden has flown off the charts. Everyone seems to be getting in on the act, with street carts and food vans popping up all over the city, offering everything from burritos and churros to lasagne and arancini. But street food itself has changed. Have you noticed? It’s not just quick and easy greasy pizza, dirty Chinese noodles or hot and spicy Indian food cooked and served on polystyrene plates with a half-broken spork. Now, it’s fresh, quality gourmet dishes made with the finest of ingredients served in everything from mason jars to vintage-style American retro boxes.
And that, dear readers, is exactly what KERB Camden is. It’s street food, but with a focus on quality rather than bulk food production. A dining experience rather than a van to grab a quick bite. So what makes this so special? It’s not the 35 different traders. It’s not the 364 days it is open. It’s not even because it’s in Camden market and clearly I love the place. It is because it’s bloomin’ lovely.
Traipsing across London after work I met a foodie friend at Euston, a friend known for being a rather harsh critic of anything edible (and anything at all actually). Ian, owner of Fox Hill Farm B&B had travelled down from the Midlands especially to see what all the fuss was about and we knew if he was impressed, everyone else would be. He knows good food, and he’s happy to point out less-than-impressive dishes too. With my vocal friend excited about the prospect of so many traders in one location, it was going to be awkward if it didn’t live up to the street food hype.
KERB Camden comes under fire…
We grabbed a few drinks and walked from Euston to Camden – a really nice stroll for a summer’s evening – talking about Ascot, football, and his impending wedding day. As we got near the West Yard entrance we could hear the sizzling of fryers and the smell of food wafting through the air. It was mouth-watering, and we were starving. After encountering a terribly rude ‘security guard’ (perhaps he was annoyed he wasn’t allowed to eat the treats), we finally found ourselves at the foot of food mountain.
Laura has always suffered with what she calls the paradox of choice. It’s the idea that too much choice leads to indecision. You literally become paralysed by the number options available, and end up choosing nothing. Well, with SO MANY stalls to choose from, we decided we couldn’t take that chance. We would dive right in.
Sonita’s Kitchen and her secret…
Heading through the stalls, We started with a beautiful lamb and red onion curry from Sonita’s Kitchen and The Cliff burger from Burger and Beyond. Having grabbed our plates, we settled down on one of the pink tables to give it a sniff and a taste. Both dishes looked quality, that’s for sure. In fact, our street food meals were of a quality you’d expect in a restaurant. With baited breath, Ian dug in. Would he like the concept of KERB? Would the curry rival those he’s enjoyed in Birmingham – curry capital of the UK? After wiping away the remnants from his mouth, he said it. It was ‘the best he’d ever had’, and trust me folks, that’s high praise indeed.
Lazily finishing up our starters and drinks – we were in NO rush today – we chatted with Sonita’s Kitchen. They told us a secret: the best food in India isn’t at a hotel restaurant or a cafe. It’s not the gloopy, greasy food you get from a takeaway. It’s the aromatic, light food your friend’s mum makes you after school while you do your homework. It’s the food you learn to perfect using recipes your dad’s dad’s dad tweaked and changed decades ago. It’s traditional recipes made from scratch with ingredients you’d get from a street market in India. This is why Ian was so impressed. It was Indian food cooked in the houses of friends and family over generations and sold in a little market. Not the typical BritIndian food we’re used to chowing down on a Friday night with a warm pint.
We also stopped back at Burger and Beyond to complement the chef. It was there we were told that the cow we’d eaten was raised and slaughtered on the farm the owners ran. No wonder it was incredible quality.
Once we’d recovered from our starters, it was time for KERB Camden meal number two. A humongous chicken tandoori wrap, and a buttermilk fried chicken burger from Other Side Fried. Again they were delish. So delish, in fact, I gave my shirt a taste. Share the wealth I say. Ian was again impressed, but in his words, nothing would beat the curry. Nothing in the world, ever, would beat that curry.
After much debate we decided to plump for one more dish. For science. A really messy chicken katsu burger from Katsu House and the BIGGEST hotdog ever from OMD. After we decided this was turning a bit into Man v Food, we were done and some post-food relaxation was needed. The desserts (salted caramel fudge, crazy ice cream concoctions, cupcakes that would make your mother blush) had all sold out at this point – it goes to show how busy the night was.
The great thing about KERB Camden is it felt local. Camden is one of the biggest tourist hotspots in London but the mix of small little stalls made it seem, well, homey. Camden Brewery sorted us out with refreshments (shout out to the Strawberry beer) which we needed thanks to the summer heat, and we even bumped into a band later performing at KOKO who were interested to see what their local market had to offer. Rather like our hazy night in Brixton, it was great to see locals supporting locals. They knew they could take their fans and groupies for a bite and some drinks after.
The difference between KERB and, say Borough Market, is the high-end quality of the food at really quite reasonable prices. If you’re from out of town you might baulk at paying £8 for a hotdog (from a van, no less). But see past the method of delivery. It’s restaurant quality food in exchange for a really casual, fun setting.
After having a chat with a few more traders, it was time for Ian and me to part ways. He’s promised to be back, bringing his fiancee and daughter back to try it out. And we’ll definitely head over knowing the food and drink are first class. Give it a go for your next date night. At least there’s a cuisine for even the fussiest of eaters.