Camden is blowing up with cuisine, you need only look at the KERB food market and acquisition of retail space by pretty much any and all of London's vegan restaurants to know it, but what of some of the names that have been tucked there for a while? Perched right next to Camden Lock, with a prime view of the canal, and the Wetherspoons at that, we headed down to see if Cafe Chula can stand out in a scene that's making quite a name for itself.
The Venue and Atmosphere
I'll be perfectly honest, while Cafe Chula instantly had me at Frida Kahlo cushions, they're so much more than just soft furnishings. A sweet little spot in a cobbled corner of Camden, both terrace dining and restaurant interior couldn't have boasted more than 40 seats in total, making for quite the chummy spot. And while small, it's everything from the raw wooden tables, brushed metal mirrors, chandeliers and contemporary/North American artwork that give it something to say for itself.
One of my only qualms with Cafe Chula is that it kind of hasn't been able to shake Camden's party scene, or at least the wandering revellers from Wetherspoons. For such a pretty spot, the atmosphere was sometimes marred by lads boasting about beer and babes, rather than admiring the impressive menu, that really does boast loyalty to Mexican cuisine. In a swift turnaround however, an American couple, almost fresh from their flight, tucked in between us and the rattle of some unwanted guests. After a charming chat, an exchange of pet pictures and the hope of meeting up again, the louts had left, leaving us to enjoy the more than comely location.
The Food and Drink
When I eat in a Mexican restaurant, I don't want fancy. I don't want pico de gallo foam, I don't want guacamole tapestry and I don't want burrito artistry. And guess what? Cafe Chula don't want that either. While their menu is a back to the basics, Mexican meal, they won on flavour throughout.
Starting with nachos under a welcomed mound of melted chihuahua cheese, pinto beans, pickled jalapenos and pico de gallo, Cafe Chula don't scrimp on size, giving you sauces that have been brandished with lime juice and subtle hints of jalapenos that put any and all microwaved corn chips to shame. But the fun didn't stop there. While I ordered pescado tacos at £10.50 with white grilled fish with chipotle lime mayo and guacamole, my boyfriend took on the mammoth wild mushroom tacos with jalapeno cream, pink onion, crispy onion and micro herb at £9.50. Cafe Chula once again showed that size matters, as our heaped tacos were almost a knife and fork job, but it's the flavour that shone. My white fish tacos were pimped with a lime mayo that cut through the fish perfectly, while Ed's wild mushroom tacos were boosted with a jalapeno cream that paired perfectly with the earthy tact of the mushrooms.
So I guess you're wondering if I was thirsty during all that? No, I cry, as Cafe Chula didn't just dominate in the taco department, they're a whizz with mezcal and mixology alike. While my stand out cocktail of the night was a Hibiscus Margarita with El Jimador Blanco tequila, triple sec and hibiscus syrup at £8, it was a closing mezcal with dark chocolate and biscuit that showcased Cafe Chula's ability to close a meal with the strongest of bevvies, while still retaining a level of class.
A couple of unwanted guests aside, there's a lure to Cafe Chula that extends well beyond mere pillows (thought i'll be scouring the internet for those). Not only are the staff more than souped up in the art of tequila and mezcal, their tacos are incredible, their humble Mexican dishes an ode to North American dining, and their chill spot perfect for an afternoon or evening spent teasing the streets of Camden.