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Apulia Café: The heel of Italy dips its toes into Camden

09 June, 2017 — By Tom Moggach

‘Masterful’ – the tuna lasagne hits the spot at Apulia Café

THIS side of Camden is treated as the Cinderella of the area,” grumbles Gaetano Antonacci, co-owner of Apulia Café. And it’s true that trade can be tough. Bisected by the railway bridge, this northern stretch of Camden Road struggles to tempt the crowds from the nearby market.

Apulia Café opened in December. Opposite, a newer place called Kick and Munch promises “the latest food revolution”, selling burgers, wings and fried chicken. Otherwise, little else has changed here in recent years.

We visited Apulia Café for dinner. It’s a cosy, small space done up with homespun flair: rough-hewn wooden stools and tables; pot plants growing in tomato tins; a black guitar hung with a sign asking: “Would you play with me?”

On the right hand wall, shelves are stuffed with high quality ingredients from Puglia, the now-fashionable heel of Italy.

You can take home bottles of fragrant olive oil, balsamic vinegar, pickled artichokes, pastas, pulses or frisella, the twice-baked rustic bread that inspires many of the café’s most inventive dishes.

Wines are a definite highlight. Valentina Candela, the other owner, is a trained sommelier. Her selection includes a dazzling organic rosé and a Nero di Troia, an underrated red from the region.

Her short menu is focused mainly on breakfast, brunch or lunch.

There are coffees, teas, cakes, panini (made with focaccia or sourdough) and their signature frisella-based dishes, which make no claim to be traditionally Italian.

The “Sophisticado” (£9), for example, offers avocado, salmon, poached egg and spinach on a base of this traditional bread.

“Parallel-eb”(£10.50) is scrambled eggs with pancetta, roasted mushrooms, asparagus, cherry tomatoes and peas.

We tried a riff with ricotta, ribbons of courgette, mint and walnuts caramelised in honey – a blast of fresh flavours and contrasting textures.

Best by far was Valentina’s special of a masterful tuna lasagna (£8) made with a tomato and pepper sauce, fresh basil and a béchamel subtly flavoured with caciocavallo cheese.

Last up was a slab of moist chocolate cake, made with a splash of Primitivo wine.

After dinner we discovered a tiny secret garden out back, open only at weekends.

The courtyard is splashed in bold blue paints, with the silver head of the Buddha perched high on one wall.

The landlord works in the music industry, so the hallway is decorated with framed platinum and gold discs.

All in all, Apulia Café is full of surprises and well worth a detour.

The menu needs a few tweaks here and there. More choice would be welcome, especially in the evening, with perhaps a salad or two for good measure. But this is a warm, welcoming place that makes you want to return.

Strangely enough, there’s another Puglian café and restaurant just around the corner.

Casa Tua, a bustling little place in Royal College Street, proves that a small independent business can succeed in a lower-rent Camden location.

Hopefully Apulia Café will hold its nerve and build up its own band of loyal clientele.

Apulia Café
126 Camden Road, NW1 9EE
07910 949625
www.apuliacafe.com

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