Café Loren review
~ a guest review by Susy Brett
Nestled inside Camden Market is a vegetarian gem. Café Loren is a cute hipster-chic restaurant specialising in shakshuka, an egg dish poached in a tomato-based stew popular in the Middle East.
The first thing I notice at Café Loren, where I have been invited to try the food, is its prime location. There’s no shortage of delicious food at Camden Market, but Café Loren is something special. It has seating space both inside and outside, which on a very hot summer’s day like the Tuesday I visited, was greatly appreciated.We decided to escape the sun and cool down inside, where we were greeted by pleasant music and the standard hipster fare: exposed brick walls, tiny potted plants and interesting art. Although a few people were sitting outside, enjoying the Monmouth coffee that Café Loren offers (though I did not try it on this occasion, I am aware how much of a treat that is), it was quieter on the inside. The vibe was hip but not unfriendly.
The service was top-notch from the off. I started my evening with one of Café Loren’s specialty smoothies – the Peachy Greens – after asking advice on which to have. I prefer my drinks on the slightly less sweet side and I’m particularly fond of green smoothies, and this concoction of kiwi, peach, kale and broccoli really hit the mark. It had great balance, being both light and sweet but also fresh and filling. My companion tried the Tropical Crush, which is passion fruit, mango, pineapple and papaya, and was equally enamored.
Next we were given an explanation of what shakshuka, Café Loren’s main speciality, actually is. Neither my friend nor I had ever tried shakshuka and we were in for a treat. Café Loren has a large offering of different shakshuka dishes, including seasonal specials. Scanning the menu there is almost too much choice, and every dish sounds delicious. Immediately catching my eye was a spicy shakshuka, including chilli, paprika, harissa and hummus and the polar opposite – a white shakshuka with a cream-cheese base with feta and nutmeg.
With too many delicious-sounding options, we sought advice, where I learnt any shakshuka dish can be customised to make spicy. As someone who loves spicy food, this was a real plus. I decided to go for the Homeshuka, also advertised as ‘Granny’s recipe’, after learning it was one of the most popular dishes on the menu (and the fact that one can always trust a grandmother’s recipe!). This comprised two organic poached eggs, roasted bell peppers, onions, garlic and tomatoes; and was served on a bed of hummus with pita bread and tahini on top.
When my Homeshuka arrived, the stylish dish and board it was served on looked normal-sized. This is a complete deception as by the time I finished my meal, I was very full. The shakshukas come with varying sides depending on the dish. My shakshuka came with sliced cucumber and pita bread, perfect for spooning tomatoes and hummus into my mouth, while my friend, who ordered the Balkan shakshuka (eggs, feta, basil, parsley, onions, garlic, roasted bell peppers and hummus) received cucumber, a seeded bread roll and an eggcup filled with hummus.
The food itself was very different to what I am used to. It was extremely flavoursome. Mine was spicy (as I asked for) and there was a strong tahini flavor from the bread and hummus which blended perfectly with the fresh tomato-based stew. It was perfect for dipping the pita bread, and the addition of the egg as the main protein meant it was very satisfying. I am someone who usually avoids vegetarian options in restaurants for fear they will be overpriced and unsatisfying, but on the contrary, Café Loren’s offerings kept me happy and comfortably full for hours. My friend, who is a vegetarian, was also impressed – telling me enthusiastically that this was unlike anything she had ever tried before, and the assortment of flavours was fantastic.
After our shakshuka, we shared the gluten-free brownie as dessert. This was cut in the shape of a star (very cute), lightly dusted with icing sugar and every bit as crumbly and gooey as a chocolate brownie should be. This is another one of ‘granny’s recipes’, so granny must be commended for predicting the rise in gluten-free eating. There are plenty of other delicious-looking bakes on offer for dessert, all of which sit waiting for customers to pick out at the bar at the front. I can imagine that paired with a Monmouth coffee these would be a fantastic morning or afternoon pick-me-up.
Dinner at Cafe Loren was a very different experience to my standard fare, and one I would happily repeat. The food is something different, delicious and satisfying (and good value for money, with no single shakshuka costing more than £9.20). The service goes above and beyond to please customers and the setting is comfortable, stylish and quiet despite being located inside a busy market. Cafe Loren would be an ideal place to take vegetarian (and non-vegetarian) friends on a brunch date before a day out exploring Camden, and I would highly recommend it.
~ a guest review by Susy Brett