Casa Tua, NW1
AN unlikely corner of Camden is now hosting the most civilised of evening rituals– the Italian aperitif.
Picture the scene: a glass of vino, free nibbles, and a view not of the Tuscan hills but of Royal College Street, a minute’s walk from Camden Road Station.
This bold idea comes from Giuseppe Miggiano, 28, the owner of a new Italian café called Casa Tua, which translates as “Your House”.
It’s a modest place, which he has refitted himself: 20 or so seats in a freshly painted room, with two smaller, cosy spaces for events in the basement.
At the moment, his main trade is at lunch: freshly made soups and grilled panini sandwiches; foamy cappuccinos and slices of squidgy cake. Cheap, cheerful and tasty.
But Giuseppe, a trained cocktail barman, also plans a wine list and to start mixing his trademark Smokey Cosmopolitans at weekends, fragrant with fumes from smouldering tea leaves.
Aside from the all-day café, Casa Tua is transformed into a teaching space on certain evenings.
A Danish baker called Jo Jo Coleman has started running workshops in the art of making macaroons, chocolate, pasta or baking bread. She walked in off the street one day and hasn’t looked back. “So much love has been put into this place,” she says.
It’s a verdict that seems to be shared by many, as this small business is already a firm favourite with locals. Outside, two large wooden barrels serve as makeshift tables. Olive plants guard the door. Salamis and coffee pots hang in the large window, on which the daily specials are written in lipstick red.
Inside, sepia photos of Italy decorate the walls, each clipped to a string washing line: the owner’s mother and sister making pasta; women picking olives in the countryside.
The shelves are stacked with baked specialities from Puglia, Giuseppe’s home region. Try the friselline: traditional bread biscuits that are excellent topped with a swish of extra virgin olive oil, chopped tomato and basil.
On the short menu, the fresh pastas are the thing to try, made up the road by Chef Ercule Cappai, master chef at a company called Pasta & Pasta. Prices start at £5.50 for dishes such as ricotta and spinach ravioli or chicken and pancetta tortellini, all served with a top-notch homemade pesto.
A chicken escalope was the daily special on my visit, £6.50 or £7.50 with any coffee. This was a bread crumbed chicken fillet served with tomato, a light mayonnaise and a winter salad of radicchio, frisée and lambs lettuce, all tucked into a grilled panini.
Other options include smoked salmon or mozzarella salads or a regional array of other panini sandwiches. The £3.90 Emilia-Romagna, for example, includes mortadella ham, parmesan and rocket.
All hit the spot – simple, reasonably priced food served with a smile. Giuseppe clearly loves serving his customers.
“I get back at 1am, wake up at 6am and say ‘let’s make people happy’.” With many, this statement might feel insincere but here I get the sense that it’s heart felt.
Giuseppe launched this café, his first cafe, with business partner ‘Big John’, an Irish builder he met by chance five years ago while working at the upstairs VIP room at Little Italy, an iconic restaurant on Frith Street in Soho.
The team also includes his cousin Ernesto and two chefs Simona and Nicoletta.
The evening aperitif will start this Friday, from 5-9pm. Next step, he says, is the wine list and cocktails: “Why do you have to go to Mayfair or an expensive place when you can have it in Camden – and feel at home.”
176 Royal College Street, NW1
07748 522 865