Camden Exchange Is The Newest Kid In The Class – So What's It Like?
People are just obsessed with new things.
It's why we spend the first years of our lives with a permanent look of wide-eyed wonder on our little faces, as we witness everything for the first time, then grow into adults who spend hundreds of thousands of hours per year watching videos of gadgets being unboxed on YouTube.
It's why we flock around the new kid in the class on his first day and, while we're not always necessarily very nice to him, we certainly want to hear his story and see what he's got to offer.
And it's why on Friday night, barely a week after opening with minimal fuss and zero fanfare, Camden Exchange is packed. For all our talk of economic prosperity, new venues are still relatively rare in this city – and so when a new kid does join the class, we tend to gather around for a good gawk.
I didn't know a great deal about the venue before heading along, other than the fact it's located in the building once used to film exterior shots for Raw, and that the owner agreed to run it purely as a restaurant as opposed to a bar following objections to his licence application.
And while there's no doubt that the Camden Exchange certainly stays on the right side of that pledge, by providing a cracking food menu that's served until all hours and restaurant-style seating out the back, it manages to simultaneously create an atmosphere that allows you to feel like you're right at the heart of the action on this Friday night.
We're seated in the front area, which certainly bears more of a resemblance to a trendy city pub – orange lighting, latticed metal work and exposed concrete conjure up images of Xico and Opium (hence the reddish hue you see on some of the photos below!), while the stylish and well equipped bar is kept busy by layers of standing punters.
One or two items from the cocktail menu aren't yet available – an understandable impediment given the restaurant's tender age, but particularly disappointing to my friend who had become quite besotted with the idea of the bacon cocktails on offer – and so we settle on a whiskey sour and a Kinnegar IPA.
The menu, we realise as we sip into these delicious drinks, is laid out with brilliant simplicity; there's just the one option for each meat, interestingly represented as 'cow' and 'pig', as well as fish, chicken, lamb and two vegetable options. I go for the cow while my friend opts for the pig, and we order cheese and chive croquettes to share – though whether as a starter or a side, it's not entirely clear.
The pig option – a rolled pork belly with chorizo jam – is actually a sandwich; an odd thing for a restaurant to be serving at 9pm on a Friday night, but one that works nicely with the sourdough bread and smoked cheese. The cow, meanwhile, is divine; a six-hour brisket that's utterly teeming with flavour, served with onion rings.
We don't go for the fries (which are €2 extra on top of the super-cheap €8 mains), and we don't need to; while both meals burst with taste, they're on the heavy side, and the cheese croquettes end up as a sampled but unfinished side order. They're good, but not worth feeling ill for; the chicken liver pate on sourdough may be a better starter/side option next time.
When dessert rolls around, another cocktail is called for – the Zacapa Flip consists of rum shaken with dark chocolate liqueur, vanilla syrup, orange juice and an egg, so it sates the sweet tooth perfectly. Who needs ice cream, eh?
As we finish our mains, a group of three girls ask if they can share our booth – we accede, naturally, but it's a strange thing to experience as you wipe your face clean with a napkin and sit back into your dessert course. Nonetheless, a quick look around the venue creates a picture of a place that's now buzzing even more than it was when we first arrived.
The music volume is just right, the crowd is polite, well behaved and respectful and the drinks menu is begging to be explored. Nice meal, now time to settle in for the evening without the bother of asking 'where next?'.
Welcome to the class, new kid. We have a feeling you're going to fit in just fine.