Zala, Camden Market: Lush market meze is a bargain to boot
- Credit: Zala
Emma Bartholomew tries out meze and kebabs at Zala, which happily survived the blaze in Camden Market
Zala in Camden Market was founded by Alon Shamir and his brother-in-law Tomer Niv, who is apparently one of Israel’s most innovative cooks.
He was former head chef at Jerusalem’s R’amas Kitchen – which was tragically destroyed in a fire last year.
I was alarmed Zala had suffered the same fate when a day after we dined there I heard the shocking news that the historic stables market nearby had been destroyed in a huge blaze.
Happily Zala is still standing.
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It’s styled like a grey wooden beach hut and sits alongside the canal with an alfresco take-away bar and open kitchen where they cook lahmacun “Levantine pizzas” in a wood-burning oven.
We began our feast with dips of a sweet caramelised onion hummus, a bitter tahini with herbs, slow cooked tomato matbucha, roasted peppers with garlic hot sauce and pita bread roasted with za’atar oil to mop them all up with.
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For such exquisite and fresh food it’s really a surprising bargain at £6 - just like the rest of the menu here. Alon told us they’re still keeping their profit margin but just not “going crazy like some others”, so as not to put some people off from coming in.
A big plate of crispy calamari with soft rosemary potatoes infused with a lemony tasting “amba” yogurt sauce made from mangoes is just £6.50. A summer salad with fennel, grapes and oranges is £5.50, and flame roasted aubergines sweetened with raspberries, pomegranate, parsley and tahini are £5. The “small plates” are actually quite big, and we didn’t have much room for main course, but Tomer insisted we try the kebabs.
Served on a bed of rosemary, they range from £2.50 for the vegetarian option, £5 for chicken breast softened in grape juice, and £6.50 for rib eye marinated in honey and dates.
My only disappointment was they’d run out of the levantine milk pudding infused with rose water. that I’d had my eye on for dessert.
In Israeli there’s a word “élan” which means “food you want to instantly devour”. I got that feeling from all the food at Zala, and was still dreaming of it in the days following our visit.