Published 3 June 2021
Credit: Theo Randall for The Camden Beer Hall
Chef Theo Randall is better known for his traditional Italian dishes at the upscale InterContinental hotel in Mayfair than slices of pizza and baked pretzels at a beer hall in Camden. But while it is somewhat of a departure as far as his culinary environs go, it isn’t really for his cooking style per se, which has always paid much closer attention to ingredients than it has opulence. Indeed, the luxury is found in the sourcing and the attention to detail, not the fact he has long had his name in lights on Park Lane where he serves rich pastas in a plush dining room.
Randall spent some of his lockdown teaching people how to cook Italian food on Zoom. Much was about writing a new cookbook. His remaining hours were used up planning the menu at the newly refurbished Camden Beer Hall, which has moved on from pop-ups and residencies to a full concept devised by the chef and his team.
Naturally, it is Italian food and designed to be simple and fun. There is also a requirement that it should marry well with beer, so inspiration has been sought from the boisterous beer halls of Bavaria, and dishes pay homage to German simplicity by way of meats, cheeses, and breads.
Alongside Camden’s 24 taps – Hells lager, pale ale, and ink stout come to mind – in a big space with high ceilings, will be pizzas made with rosemary focaccia. They might come with grilled aubergine, datterini tomatoes, porchetta, and roasted fennel, but any number of seasonal combinations will do: bread for soaking up lager; Italian classics to urge another round.
The ever-present ‘nduja sausage will sit with tomato, meanwhile, with slices festooned this time with scarmorza cheese. Randall also told CODE about small plates and sharing dishes – burrata, roasted asparagus with burnt butter, sage and parmesan, and pappardelle with slow cooked beef shoulder in a Chianti and tomato sauce will feature. These might pair better with a full-bodied red but will instead be encouraged with beer.
The Bavarian theme is more closely observed with platters of vegetables, mixed olives, salami, prosciutto di Parma, bresaola and pecorino and the pretzels that come on the side. Grilled Hereford beef sirloin served with fresh borlotti beans, beets and salsa verde perhaps doesn’t need any proposition of heritage – it will probably just be good to eat over a boozy lunch.
Randall told CODE: “It is quite a different thing to do for me, but I went to the brewery and loved it. There’s energy behind it so it was an easy decision for me.
“I love beer, and I love beer halls. The project sparked something and the concept works. The amazing beer halls of Bavaria have good food, but it isn’t always more than okay. It’s the beer that has the real quality. So we’ve matched that idea with the best ingredients.
“There will be real quality in the dishes, but while Italian, the dishes will have that saltiness and extravagance to work with pints. I’ll be doing big panzanella salads, using anchovies, salumi, artisan pickles, and bread. It was quite nice to do something a bit more free and easy.”
Jasper Cuppaidge, the founder of Camden Town Brewery, said he’s been working on the idea for about ten years: “I want this to deliver for the community. I want it to be a destination – more so than it already is – and a permanent restaurant feature with a strong food feature seemed like a good idea.
“Italian food, which is ingredients-based and talks about quality, falls into shape. To get this right took a lot of planning but I think we’ve got it.”
Cuppaidge told CODE he has been a fan of Randall’s cooking for years and pursued his services long before lockdown. In his success at bringing the chef on board, he has, it might be fair to say, carved out a degree of approachability not seen before at the likes of the InterContinental. Such is the demand for seats on Park Lane that prices reflect popularity. That’s not to say people won’t be clambering into Camden’s beer hall this summer, but pizzas and sharing dishes might allow a new wave of fans.
Both told CODE: “Prices will be approachable, yes. We want people to come and eat and be merry. That’s the whole idea.”