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admin 21.02.2014

Camden Town is London’s (arguably Europe’s, and maybe the world’s) epicenter of counterculture influences. I’ve lived and worked in Camden on and off since the 80s, and my memories stretch as far back as seeing an early Smiths show at the now-defunct Camden Palais music venue (London’s very own version of CBGB back then), and flash as far forward as a few weeks ago when I was treated to one of the best vegan meals I’d ever eaten, in an environment that kicks big vegan ass. The Inspiral Lounge occupies a superb location in Camden Town, a few steps away from the tube station, with a commanding view of the canal and on the southern edge of Camden Market.
The entire menu is vegan, with the odd exception of something called a “Pizza Bagel” which I think was a special offering when we went there, as it’s not on the current menu, and they have cow’s milk for adding to your coffee or tea.
One thing that’s immediately striking is what good value everything is, especially when you consider the quality and quantity of what you get. First, the Organic Tofu and Tarragon Puff Pastry Parcel was absolutely divine, with a crispy, rich pastry shell containing a tofu and herb medley that was pungently spicy while battling for richness with the pastry. Next up was the Mediterranean Vegetable Lasagna, a cornucopia of crispy, cheesy topping with a creamy vegetable base, topped with layers of spelt pasta and bechamel sauce.
We nabbed a seat right by the window and had one of the best views of Regent’s Canal looking east towards King’s Cross and chowed down on our tasty food.
On the subject of vegan desserts, we’d had a few hints about the vegan Tiramisu, but alas they were out of them when we were there, which of course provides the perfect excuse to go back again on our next visit. If you’re ever in my home town, take a trip up the Northern Line to Camden Town, walk up Camden High Street and pop into Inspiral Lounge for some awesome vegan food, great service and a great view.
Oh, and after about 8pm Inspiral Lounge turns into one of Camden Town’s hottest clubs, hosting acclaimed DJs and heavy nu-jazz and trip hop sets with (as you’d expect!) organic vegan cocktails and munchies late into the night.
I just got back yesterday from London and was going to comment on the message board asking why you haven’t yet reviewed this place. LOVE the Inspiral Lounge, I always go there when I’m in London – their dandilion coffee amerretto ice-cream is heaven!
You need to head north though, we have some excellent vegan places up here like El Piano in York, The Waiting Room in Egglescliffe and Jack Spratts in Newcastle.
Sigh…this review and your description of Camden itself makes me want to hop a plane there ASAP! Vegan wholemeal: vegetables, pulses and lentils in a mild tomato and herb sauce, in a wholemeal vegan pastry. Not very far from where he met her in a club down in old Soho, I used to hang out at one of London’s most famous music venues – The Marquee Club on Wardour Street. We ordered hummus with mushrooms (sauteed with onions and herbs, sprinkled with paprika), and a side of falafel balls with pita.

Those prophets of popular culture, Bananarama, said “It ain’t what you do it’s the way that you do it…” and that applies so well to Hummus Bros.
Recently, we skewered an otherwise excellent food stand in London’s Camden Market due to its terrible customer service. Steps away from the Hawley Arms is the northern part of the market which is built under old railway arches and a train repair shop right by the canal.
We showed up mid-morning just as the market was getting going for the day and were greeted in a somewhat sullen manner by the lady serving at the counter. If you take six of Haight Ashbury, half a dozen of Carnaby street then cook at 500 degrees for 30 years, Camden is pretty much the result you would expect.
Inspiral is, er, inspired by the founders’ experience as architects of IDSpiral’s “chill out zones” at UK music festivals. Inspiral has a deli-style counter where you choose from either a main course and any three sides or as many sides as you like, a la carte-style.
We gorged on steamed mixed greens with coconut and flax seed, roasted sweet potatoes with garlic, basmati rice, lentil dal, purple cabbage and roasted potatoes and they were all amazing.
Hard working staff rush around to get your food for you, never skimping on the amount they serve (the nice man that served me even asked if I’d like any more of anything as he was spooning stuff onto my plate).
With two large main dishes and six hearty sides, we opted out of the Vegan Ice Cream dessert, but as we left there was a line of people getting a scoop or two, and I bet few of them knew or cared that what they were eating was vegan. Back in the 80s this part of London was teeming with the post-punk and new wave music scene and was rapidly becoming a center for obscure indie acts – many of whom, by the end of the decade, would be mainstream pop idols. All the best restaurants are within a very short walk of where the Marquee was – Maoz, Beetroot, Mildreds, Itsu (for example).
Hummus Bros does an AMAZING job at making a boring, middle eastern garnish (hummus, of course) come alive with flavor and texture. We could have gone nuts ordering tabouleh, aubergine, pine nuts and various salads and salsas, but we were a little full on arrival after a HUGE lunch of chips and mushy peas, so opted instead for some of the lighter menu choices.
I mean, hummus, pita and sauteed mushrooms are pretty freakin’ easy to make at home, but you can never get the experience of such good food, a super atmosphere and great location, adding immensely to the experience.
The whole experience reminded me of fine dining – extremely attentive and competent servers (though you order at a counter), shiny silverware, impeccably clean tables with nice lighting, decor and ambience, only without the high prices. Gladly, though, there are several wonderful food choices in the market that serve some pretty damn good Indian food. Unless you were visiting specifically for the market it was best to avoid the whole area, as thousands of Londoners and tourists would descend, rendering it impassable for everybody else.

One of our favorite places to chill is in the Hawley Arms, the world-famous watering hole oft-frequented by Amy Winehouse, Blur, Oasis (of course, never at the same time) and Alice Cooper, to name but a few. After establishing that nearly everything was vegan (other than the real cheese option), we ordered the Garlic Home Made Veggie Burger, which she prepared on a hot grill inside the stand right in front of us using fresh ingredients. If you’ve ever been to a music festival, you’ll know all about those places and what goes down there. The counter is cleverly positioned on the left immediately as you enter the restaurant, so if more than a few people are waiting, the line will stretch out into the street (and often does).
Perhaps the highlights of the sides were the lentil dal (every bit as spicy as a real Indian dish) and the roasted potatoes which were perfectly crispy on the outside and soft n creamy on the inside.
I saw bands like Guns N Roses, Thomas Dolby, Thompson Twins, The Clash and Marillion, to name but the ones I recall.
It’s right up there with Maoz, serving top-notch and fresh hummus with delectable trimmings and the warmest, softest pita bread on the planet.
Inside the restaurant there are long tables, so dining is “family style” (meaning you could be sitting next to some asshole NOT in your family who is on a cell ‘phone talking loudly), although when we were there late at night, the place was pretty empty so we had a 16-top table to ourselves.
Nowadays, the laws of supply and demand have prevailed and Camden Market has expanded to about two square miles with hundreds of stalls and FIVE dedicated food areas. We visited a few vegan places there last autumn, but none was more memorable (in the worst way possible) than Ha Ha Veggie Bar. After a wait of about 10 minutes we were handed a plump, juicy burger with grilled onions, crunchy lettuce and wonderful vegan garlic mayo. While not vegetarian, it is vegan friendly with all but two things on the menu being veganizable. While Maoz is almost entirely self-service, Hummus Bros take each order and individually prepare it to your liking, served right to your table in moments. The market is also open seven days a week, and now sells everything from boots to boiled bagels. I’m glad we ordered only one to share, because it was way too big for one person to eat alone. So, it was with a certain sense of nostalgia that I walked into the restaurant that I used to line up outside, inebriated and smoking cigarettes, so long ago.

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  • Lewis, 21.02.2014 at 13:22:41
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