Caponata, 3-7 Delancey Street, London NW1

The Caponata opened in April on the site of the old Café Delancey, in the heart of trendy Camden. I remember the Café from years ago, mainly for the crepuscular gloom of its candlelit dining areas, regularly filled with whispering couples planning some act of colossal infidelity. At lunchtime, light would pour in like a blessing on to the heads of more innocent eaters, but the evenings were mostly devoted to spicy romance and low, urgent voices.

A major transformation has been wrought since I was here last. There are now two eating areas on two levels, and the architects have re-made the place like a Scandinavian glasshouse, a shrine to light, airiness and greenery. Over our heads a glass roof let in a dazzling late-November sun. Behind our table, a picture window allowed intimate views of neighbouring gardens and a workman painting someone's kitchen. Over the balcony we could inspect a wall of greenery in which dazzlingly colourful rows of ferns and Virginia creepers are arrayed like a Babylonian hanging garden.

The ground floor "Osteria" is laid out in minimalist-chic style, with grey plastic chairs and antiseptic décor, and offers wine and aperitivi snacks. It spills into a courtyard that it shares with the next-door arts venue The Forge, where live music plays every night. To my surprise, there was hardly a soul to be seen that lunchtime on either level, despite the offer of a three-course meal for a very reasonable £16. Where do all the Camden dwellers go for lunch, if not here?

The menu is heftily and authentically Sicilian, full of gutsy flavours, rootsy vegetables, robust sauces, mashes and creams. The antipasti feature rabbit terrine with carrots and courgettes, scamorza (smoked cheese) and spring onion in pastry, and tuna tartare with aubergine caviar and caper berries. You can practically taste Mount Etna rumbling away in the background. You half expect Caroline, the waitress, to make you an offer you can't refuse (but she is Polish, not Sicilian, and far too classy to deal in crap Mafia jokes).

My friend Amy's perfectly seared scallops sat on cushions of turnip mousse that were unexpectedly, and subtly, delicious (subtle turnip?) and given a kick by watercress pesto. My fettuccine with hare and fennel ragout didn't exactly assault the senses with gamey flavours, but slid down as top-quality comfort food. The presence of raw fennel slices gave the dish some crunch – and ushered in a brief anthropological discussion of The Raw and the Cooked, in homage to the late Claude Lévi-Strauss, that you probably don't often get in Italian restaurants.

Our attentive waitress shimmered back and forth to top up an excellent 2007 Nero D'Avola, brought fresh ice cubes for the water glasses (a thoughtful touch) and dished up the mains with a flourish. Amy pronounced her chargrilled calves' liver "perfectly soft and perfectly sliced – the secret is in the slicing". With its accompanying grape sauce (with sliced grapes) and cooked chestnuts (above a chestnut mash) this was a serious assault on the tastebuds. It was, she said, "imaginatively earthy". I would have loved to be able to corroborate her view, but I've had a childish and ungovernable hatred of liver since I was four, and still refuse to eat it under any circumstances.

My rack of lamb was a thing of gothic beauty, the nine-inch ribs sticking out like Wolverine's knuckle-daggers in X-Men. The lamb was pink but properly cooked and looked cute under a pecorino crust, as if it was wearing a new bonnet. Sadly, its bed of aubergine and tomato compote had collapsed some time before into a featureless and inedibly tepid mush and a fair percentage of the roasted rosemary potatoes were burnt, but a side-order of spinach saved the day.

Puddings were also a bit curate's egg. Amy had a sfogliata of ricotta and citrus cream with pistachio ice cream, in which the latter was wonderfully mint-and-chocolatey, and the former was a trial: cream cheese with marmalade-y bits, it was cloying and unpleasant, like eating citric putty. It didn't help that it came on thick, curly home-made biscuits. My intriguingly described "mango ravioli filled with saffron and orange, served with chocolate gelato" was visually gorgeous but a slight con: the ravioli were simply soft mango slices wrapped round orange jelly with a garnish of strawberry. The gelato was lovely, though, and the burst of nursery colours very pleasing (especially with a cold slug of Moscato pudding wine, apricot-coloured and honey-scented). It was a perfectly fine lunch with some moments of carelessness and I admired the chef's willingness to take bold risks with flavour combinations and visual display. It's time Camden Town woke up to this temple of sunlight and adventurous cooking in its midst.

Caponata, 3-7 Delancey Street, London NW1 (020-7387 5959)

Food 3 stars
Ambience 4 stars
Service 4 stars

About £100 for two, with wine

Tipping policy: "Service charge is 12.5 per cent discretionary, of which 100 per cent goes to the staff; all tips go to the staff"

Side Orders: Camden classics

York & Albany

127-129 Parkway, NW1 (020-7388 3344)

Angela Hartnett's bar, restaurant and hotel brings glamour to this Camden corner – try the halibut with cauliflower, caper and raisin purée.

Masala Zone

25 Parkway, NW1 (020-7267 4422 )

A retro Bollywood interior is the ideal backdrop for the street snacks and fragrant curries at this new addition to Masala Zone.


83 Bayham Street, NW1 (020-7267 7322)

The classic Greek food at this local favourite is fresh and well-executed – but it's the charming service that keeps the locals coming back.

newsVideo targets undecided voters
Arts and Entertainment
Singer Pixie Lott will take part in Strictly Come Dancing 2014, the BBC has confirmed
Life and Style
Cooked up: reducing dietary animal fat might not be as healthy as government advice has led millions of people to believe
healthA look at how governments started advising incorrectly on diets
Evan Spiegel, the founder of Snapchat, dropped out of Stanford University just before graduation to develop his app
techAnd yes, it is quite a lot
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    Business Development Manager / Sales Pro

    £30 - 35k + Uncapped Comission (£70k Y1 OTE): Guru Careers: A Business Develop...

    Graduate Sales Executive / Junior Sales Exec

    £18k + Uncapped Commission (£60k Y1 OTE): Guru Careers: A Graduate Sales Exe...

    Web Developer / Software Developer

    £25 - 60k (DOE): Guru Careers: A Web Developer / Software Developer is needed ...

    Oracle 11g SQL 2008 DBA (Unix, Oracle RAC, Mirroring, Replicati

    £6000 - £50000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: Oracle 11...

    Day In a Page

    Kate Bush, Hammersmith Apollo music review: A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it

    Kate Bush shows a voice untroubled by time

    A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it
    Robot sheepdog technology could be used to save people from burning buildings

    The science of herding is cracked

    Mathematical model would allow robots to be programmed to control crowds and save people from burning buildings
    Tyrant: Is the world ready for a Middle Eastern 'Dallas'?

    This tyrant doesn’t rule

    It’s billed as a Middle Eastern ‘Dallas’, so why does Fox’s new drama have a white British star?
    Rachael Lander interview: From strung out to playing strings

    From strung out to playing strings

    Award-winning cellist Rachael Lander’s career was almost destroyed by the alcohol she drank to fight stage fright. Now she’s playing with Elbow and Ellie Goulding
    The science of saturated fat: A big fat surprise about nutrition?

    A big fat surprise about nutrition?

    The science linking saturated fats to heart disease and other health issues has never been sound. Nina Teicholz looks at how governments started advising incorrectly on diets
    Emmys 2014 review: Can they genuinely compete with the Oscars

    Can they genuinely compete with the Oscars?

    The recent Emmy Awards are certainly glamorous, but they can't beat their movie cousins
    On the road to nowhere: A Routemaster trip to remember

    On the road to nowhere

    A Routemaster trip to remember
    Hotel India: Mumbai's Taj Mahal Palace leaves its darker days behind

    Hotel India

    Mumbai's Taj Mahal Palace leaves its darker days behind
    10 best pencil cases

    Back to school: 10 best pencil cases

    Whether it’s their first day at school, uni or a new project, treat the student in your life to some smart stationery
    Arsenal vs Besiktas Champions League qualifier: Gunners know battle with Turks is a season-defining fixture

    Arsenal know battle with Besiktas is a season-defining fixture

    Arsene Wenger admits his below-strength side will have to improve on last week’s show to pass tough test
    Pete Jenson: Athletic Bilbao’s locals-only transfer policy shows success does not need to be bought

    Pete Jenson: A Different League

    Athletic Bilbao’s locals-only transfer policy shows success does not need to be bought
    This guitar riff has been voted greatest of all time

    The Greatest Guitar Riff of all time

    Whole Lotta Votes from Radio 2 listeners
    Britain’s superstar ballerina

    Britain’s superstar ballerina

    Alicia Markova danced... every night of the week and twice on Saturdays
    Berlin's Furrie invasion

    Berlin's Furrie invasion

    2000 fans attended Eurofeurence
    ‘It was a tidal wave of terror’

    ‘It was a tidal wave of terror’

    Driven to the edge by postpartum psychosis