In the heart of Camden lies a culinary treasure, tucked away in The Stables Market in an unassuming spot. But despite its ‘secretive location’ Cafe Loren is a gastronomic delight worth exploring, with its tribute to the Middle Eastern cult classic ‘The Shakshuka’ , a baked egg dish, lovingly crafted in a kitchen blessed by the ‘Food God’s ‘ themselves. But with ‘Shakshuka’ becoming a buzz word in London’s growing gastronomical scene, what is it about Cafe Loren, that makes their ‘baked egg creations’ a cut above the rest? Well it’s simple, like the name ‘Cafe’ suggests, ‘Cafe Loren’ is a relaxed ‘food hub’ where you can relax away from the chaotic crowds that chatter excitingly among themselves in the ‘Stable Markets’, with simple homemade delicious food and drink that is as ‘healthy’ as it is delicious. Described as the ‘vegan and vegetarian’ cafe with the ‘coffee under the bridge’ as well as delicious Middle Eastern specialties, Cafe Loren is also proud of its freshly crafted coffee such as ‘Brownie Frappicino’s’ which Carolina had the pleasure of trying. Alongside rustic Middle Eastern ‘breakfast dishes’ which can be enjoyed at any time of the day, Cafe Loren also make delicious 100 % fruit and vegetable infused smoothies, which taste so fresh that they have to be seen to be believed.
Because Middle Eastern cuisine is synonymous with bearing parallels to ‘Mediterranean food’ for its emphasis on healthy fats,whole grains, fruits and vegetables, it can be all too easy to overlook the culinary delights of Middle Eastern fare. But while Mediterranean food might be more popular in the UK, the rise of Shakshuka spots like Cafe Loren mean that London is slowly being introduced to traditional Middle Eastern delights like Shakshuka, falafel and Tabouleh a salad made with bulgur wheat, mint, parsley, and vegetables. Despite Cafe Loren embracing the ‘healthy eating’ aspect of modern Middle Eastern Living, there are still delicious ‘sweet treats’ such as the star brownie laced in white icing powder, fresh cupcakes and frappucinos for that indulgent drink on the go. And while the smoothies like the ‘Merry Berry’ ( a delectable infusion of banana, blueberry, strawberry and raspberry) and Strawberry Sunshine (strawberry, mango and banana) tickle our sweet spot, it is the variety of Shakshuka’s that truly make Cafe Loren a food hub to remember. From the ‘Vegan Shakshuka’ with grated tofu, roasted bell peppers, ‘Granny’s Harissa’ and tomatoes, served with tahini and a vegan bun, to the provocative ‘Red Shakshuka’ served with tahini and olives, when it comes to Shakshuka, you truly are spoiled for choice.
If spice is not your thing, the Balkan Shakshuka with two organic poached eggs, feta cheese, basil, garlic and roasted bell peppers is great for ‘milder palettes’ while those who like ‘rich, creamy meals’ packed with flavour might consider the Green Shakshuka served with spinach, leeks, green peppers, avocado, pesto and white cream, topped with a garlic sauce. For those who like to ‘personalize’ their Middle Eastern meals, the staff are more than happy to combine your favourite elements of other shakshuka dishes, which is what I did when I combined the Homeshuka (Granny’s recipe) which contained organic poached eggs, roasted bell peppers, garlic and tomatoes on a bed of hummus with ‘The Spicy One’ which added fresh chilli, paprika, harissa, garlic and ginger to the ‘Shakshuka’ mix. While the ability to ‘personalize’ your meal is an added bonus, the true delight in sampling Cafe Loren’s beautiful range of Middle Eastern specialties is opening your mind and taste buds to a new culinary experience, where you sample new flavours, new textures and broaden your gastronomic horizons. The Shakshuka was some of the most flavoursome, quality led portions that I had the fortune to try, while the blend of flavours, despite the quantity of the ingredients was masterfully curated with the fresh chilli adding a kick but not overpowering the flavours of the poached eggs, which were bathed in a red pepper sauce.
The freshness of the ingredients is something that I know to be indicative of authentic Middle Eastern Cuisine, but nevertheless we were both still blown away by how fresh the shakshuka was to taste. It was almost as though the peppers had been freshly picked and the garlic still in its mother’s womb, while Carolina affirmed that the ‘Red Shakshuka’ was just as aesthetically pleasing, tasting as wonderful on the tip of her tongue as it did to look at. Although the Shakshuka was of course the main selling point of Cafe Loren, it is important to point out how wonderful their starter plates and drinks are too. Not just an ordinary ‘hum-drum’ salad, the ‘Jerusalem’ salad is packed full of flavour, with red bell peppers, cucumbers, olives , tomatoes and parsley drizzled with tahini sauce, a colourful contrast to the monochromatic surroundings while the Mediterranean Plate is a wonderful accentuation of the Middle Eastern fare with challah bread (a Jewish Sabbath and Holiday bread loaded with symbolism and surrounded by folklore and tradition) , homemade hummus, vegetable crudites, cheese bourekas (heavenly little parcels of dough crisped with hot oil or melted butter and stuffed with cheese, with Antolian origin) and of course the pinnacle of Mediterranean and Middle Eastern Cuisine, the humble olive.
It’s just as well that Cafe Loren offers guilt free alternatives to ‘cheese led dishes’ with the hummus plate and Jerusalem salad, still infused with plenty of flavour. And while the gluttons among us will go gooey eyed over the lavish creamy coffee concoctions such as the aforementioned brownie frappucino, it is the freshly made smoothies that provide a refreshing accompaniment to the very filling and satisfying poached egg Shakshuka’s . The ‘Merry Berry’ is my personal favourite with bananas, blueberries, strawberries and raspberries, full of anti-oxidants and vitamins such as potassium, a valuable micro-nutrient that helps to regulate heart function as well as fluid balance (bananas), Vitamin C (blueberries and raspberries) while strawberries fiber and fructose content may help regulate blood sugar levels by slowing digestion and the fiber is thought to have a satiating effect. Despite how ‘healthy’ the smoothies are, they are nevertheless an easy drink to have with your meal, making you look and feel good on the inside and the outside, with its mood boosting properties.
A trip to Cafe Loren is also worth it from an artistic point of view; With its graphic monochromatic wall prints, juxtaposed with a charming array of mini plants and a bookshelf, it is the food that injects colour into their black and white themed eatery, with vivid colours like red, green and pink taking centre stage. The wallpaper might be monochromatic but it is nevertheless lively with its whimsical sketches of flowers, cakes and teapots, often images associated with a ‘cafe lifestyle’, bringing that relaxed atmosphere to the hustle and bustle of Camden Town. And it’s not the graphic prints and cozy plants that make Cafe Loren the place to eat and drink in North London, oh no. As well as its unique artistic aesthetic and range of deliciously authentic food and drink, this charming cafe is also reasonably priced with Shakshuka’s ranging from £5- 9.20 (with a £16.50 option to try three of their Shakshuka’s served with salad and bread) while the starter plates range from £4.90- £5.50, reasonably priced considering the location. Drinks vary from £2- 3.80, the most expensive option being the fresh smoothies, while desserts are equally pocket friendly with brownies at £2 and Poffertjies at £6.40 ( a Danish treat of light and spongy pancakes served with sugar or maple syrup).
Have You Ever Tried Middle Eastern Cuisine Before? What Is Your Favourite Dish?