Market an excellent addition to Parkway's culinary renaissance
BY VICTORIA PREVER Searching for a restaurant name is no easy business. Either play it safe if egotistical with your own name –Gordon Ramsay, Morgan M – your street name – Great Queen Street – or should you slip in a pun or a cheeky play on words a la Menage a Trois? Most i
Searching for a restaurant name is no easy business. Either play it safe if egotistical with your own name -Gordon Ramsay, Morgan M - your street name - Great Queen Street - or should you slip in a pun or a cheeky play on words a la Menage a Trois? Most importantly, you probably want to make sure that you'll be memorable and easily found by potential punters.
This week's restaurateurs have played it safe - if unimaginatively. What would be the first thing you'd answer if I were to say "Camden?" The only problem is, they've not made themselves easily found on the Google machine which brings up several thousand other entries when you key in "Camden" and "Market".
The restaurant doesn't seem to have struggled so far, and has received early praise from critics and from local foodies. So much so, I expected a struggle to book a table. Telephoning at (midweek) lunchtime for a table that evening proved a breeze. Table for two? No problem. Maybe because we were eating so early - at 6.30pm - but there was no irritating condition that we vacate our seats within the hour or even six hours.
Not all of Camden has burnt to the ground. It seems that Parkway is undergoing a mini culinary renaissance. A few of the better quality chains (Strada and Masala Zone) have moved in, as well as some interesting independents. Angela Hartnett is rumoured to be on her way to the York and Albany, at the Regents Park end.
Market's owners Denise Tang (front of house) and Dan Spence (chef, previously at Metcalfe Restaurant at Exmouth Market) must have great vision, as they've have had their eyes on the street for some time. Tang - like me, a graduate of Leith's School of Food and Wine - told me it had taken them two years to find and develop the site, previously New Culture Revolution noodle bar.
They've done a good job. It's all very utilitarian. One wall is sandblasted brick and the back wall, around the kitchen hatch, painted blackboard. The floors are wooden and tables zinc topped. Chairs are simple-shaped plywood and the bar/till area, simply clad. The lack of soft furnishings, any visible heating and any other diners, meant it was freezing cold when we arrived, despite a heavy curtain between door and street. Grumpy and I sat shivering in anoraks reading the menu. Heat generated from chewing sourdough delivered with the menus warmed us up sufficiently to disrobe.
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The no nonsense menu, which changes daily, reflects the functional decor. There are no vanishing species and plenty of seasonal picks. It is the sort of food I'd have expected on the menu at Gordon Ramsay's Warrington. There's also no smug, self-edifying sermon wittering about how they knit their own recycled toilet paper or reuse their bath water to boil the veg.
Choices are interesting and in places unusual. Pig cheeks, devilled kidneys and skate knuckles may demonstrate good use of "bits" but may not please everyone. I was mildly concerned about the skate knuckles. These are, apparently, a choice piece of fishy flesh from what would be its shoulder blade - if a skate had shoulders, that is. What happens to the rest of the fish?
Grumpy's beetroot soup (a root at the heart of many Jewish food memories) was judged delicious and as good as his mum used to make. It was steaming hot, rich and pepped up by the dish of horseradish on the side. My beef short ribs with soy and ginger were sweet, glossy, melting and could have launched a thousand finger lickin' catchphrases. They weren't hot enough though and the raw chilli and spring onion scattered over the top was a bit of a harsh contrast.
Our friendly waitress and equally friendly Tang were quick to check we were happy while entertaining several tables of a very mixed crowd. Several disappointed diners without reservations were turned away at the door. Two suited men who I'd have judged to be estate agents were clearly already regulars. A table of six plummy voiced teenaged scruffs were celebrating something. Apparently, and not surprisingly, the review in the Times has recently brought in a mostly older crowd.
A whole seabass was cooked with rosemary and fennel and delivered head and tail on for us to disembowel. It was nicely cooked and the braised fennel and new potatoes accompanying were also packed with flavour. A side order of red cabbage (in a kitsch mini Le Creuset pot) was also excellent. Perhaps it was because we were left to dissect our own fish with only a cutlery knife and fork instead of watching a waiter perform expert surgery, but the dish lacked a professional edge.
Despite being packed with protein, I forced the Grumpster to choose a pud from the comfort-food packed list. His warm chocolate cake, which was deep, rich and melting, was a step too far and so (inspired by my American dining partner of a few weeks ago) we had them wrap it up to go. My apple and ginger crumble with thin custard was similarly rewarding although the topping could've done with more crunch.
Tang and Spence have done a good job at Market. It does what it says on the tin, though at £61.31 for three courses and no booze, it's not bargain basement pricing. The food is good (perhaps not excellent) and the service friendly and accommodating. I'll definitely go back - perhaps when the weather has warmed up a bit.
Market, 43 Parkway, NW1.
Telephone: 020-7267 9700.
Food: four star rating
Service: four star rating
Opening hours: Lunch: Mondays to Saturdays noon to 2.30, Sundays 1pm to 4pm.
Dinner: Mondays to Saturdays 6pm to 10.30pm.
Cost: £61.31 for three courses including 12.5 per cent service (without wine).