A short walk past the Jazz Café in Camden, you’ll find one of its newest restaurant arrivals: 40 Zero. The name’s not a Bret Easton Ellis reference, but a naming convention from the Above & Below restaurant group who aim to create ‘locals for the twenty first century’, and, despite having very recently been a squat, this local has been expertly renovated by big-shot designers Russell Sage Studios. The resulting dining room is an interesting mix of 90s nostalgia (I’m looking at you, bar made of cassette tapes) and nods to Camden’s urban landscape, with its graffiti scrawled concrete, UV loos and hanging greenery peppering the otherwise cosy room.
It’s the kind of place you could imagine the staff of ‘Empire Records’ hanging out after a shift, and funnily enough 40 Zero do a much-lauded 90s-themed brunch with bottomless bubbles and cocktails. The menu is, like Camden, a fusion of different cultures and cuisines, with dishes to suit all manner of diners from omnivores to vegans and everyone in between. So, after making our choices we settled into our booth and enjoyed some thoroughly original cocktails.
On the left is the ‘Smoked Oaxacan Apple’; a long drink made with sage-infused mezcal alongside pineapple, apple and lime juice, cinnamon syrup and bitters. But on the right is Camden’s first cannabis cocktail called ‘Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds’ complete with sparkling edible glitter on the rim. This seemingly innocuous pink cocktail packs a punch with CBD oil, gin and aperol with flavours of tangerine, marmalade and Himalayan salt.
For starters we went for a sharing platter called the ‘Plancha sharer’ consisting of fritto misto (i.e. deep-fried seafood) served with aioli, griddled padrón peppers, 70s throwback devilled eggs and a decent portion of buttermilk fried chicken served with a wedge of lime and chilli mayonnaise.
Despite some initial reservations, our Italian waiter, who we thought would be the first person to be disparaging of a spiced lamb pizza, enthusiastically recommended it and even asked if we would like to ‘go saucy’ (add a drizzle of sauce over the top), ‘go filthy’ (add pulled pork) or ‘go balls deep’ (add beef n’duja meatballs). We obliged and went for the extra meatballs. The resulting pizza was an unexpectedly pleasant surprise, with a crispy base and generous toppings it soon became a collection of crumbs.
After the indulgent four cheese and hari lamb pizza, we decided that balance is everything and went for a virtuous market salad. A mix of leaves, avocado, egg, farro, tomato, piquillo peppers, carrots, almonds, toasted seeds, lemon and rapeseed oil dressing; it’s a far cry from the usual iceberg and cherry tomato pub basic and has enough interest that the extra halloumi was probably an extravagance (but one worth going for).
40 Zero has some decent sides to augment your meal. We went for the cauliflower cheese, which had a good ratio of creamy melted cheese and crispy toasted cheese topping, and some piping hot skinny rosemary fries.
After mains, the barman emerged from the cassette tape bar and whipped up a couple of classic cocktails to help our food go down: an Old Fashioned and an Espresso Martini.
Our first dessert was a rough and ready remix of the classic Eton mess; the Camden mess. The Camden revision replaces the typical strawberries and cream with figs, berries, cream and chocolate drizzles on shards of meringue.
To finish we had the Catalan cream, which is no ordinary crème brûlée, although it still retained the satisfying crack when breaking through the caramelised sugar top. Nevertheless, underneath the Catalan cream is incredibly light, almost like a panna cotta, and flavoured with refreshing blood orange.
On paper I was dubious about 40 Zero, but I’m happy to eat my words and admit that I was impressed by the place. The interior is pitched just right. There’s a nod to the nineties without it feeling like you’re with Andi Peters and Edd the duck in the broom cupboard. Similarly, it’s hard to find somewhere that caters for so many dietary requirements without the choices being uninteresting or compromising on food quality. So with it ticking all the boxes for a nice leisurely lunch, brunch or dinner, I have a feeling 40 Zero will become my go-to choice for meeting my argumentative group of vegan, vegetarian and carnivorous friends.
40-42 Parkway, London, NW1 7AH