This is an article I wrote for Food & Wine. If you’d told me 10 years ago that an American magazine would run an article on Peckham’s food scene, I’d have thought you were barking mad. It’s thrilling and a little terrifying how quickly London is changing.
For a long time, Peckham was notorious among Londoners for its gang violence, bad schools and decaying housing estates. Until recently, this unloved part of South East London didn’t even have the urban glamour of other rough neighborhoods like Brixton or Hackney; there was just no reason to go there. Then, about ten years ago, artists who had been pushed out of East London by rising rents began colonizing the neighborhood’s old industrial buildings, and soon people with money began moving in. The usual story really, but in Peckham it happened so fast. Seemingly overnight, SE15 went from being a postcode I wouldn’t even consider moving to, to one I couldn’t afford.
Peckham has certain advantages over other gentrifying suburbs. It was developed in the 19th century for the newly affluent middle classes and it still has lots of good quality (albeit increasingly expensive) Victorian houses. There’s large park in the form of Peckham Rye. And it’s well-connected: from the beautiful if dilapidated Italianate station at Peckham Rye, you can catch trains to all over London. The schools are improving with independently run state schools getting outstanding results.
The best thing about Peckham, though, is the food. I live in nearby Lewisham, which is still stubbornly resisting gentrification and some of its trappings, like good restaurants. So whenever we want to eat or drink well, we go to Peckham. Despite all the great restaurants, even on a Friday night, it’s not that busy. The bridge and tunnel crowd haven’t discovered the neighborhood yet—unless you count my wife and me. Here are a few places to try:
Il Giardino, 7 Blenheim Grove, London SE15 4QS
This Sardinian restaurant must have seemed like an emissary from another world when it opened in 1987. Now run by a Peruvian family*, it’s the sort of old-fashioned trattoria that you dream of but so rarely find. The food is basic but lovingly prepared, with particularly good pizzas, and the atmosphere is never less than joyful. (photo above courtesy of Il Giardino.)
*I heard an unsubstantiated story that the original owners did a runner for tax reasons and the only member of staff left was the Peruvian kitchen porter who arrived at work to find the place deserted. So with his family he took the place over.
Miss Tapas, 46 Choumert Rd., London SE15
When you leave the train station en route to Miss Tapas, you might be forgiven for wondering when exactly the gentrification is going to arrive. The streets around it are a riot of places offering hair weaves, halal meat, and exotic fruit and veg. Nestled amongst all this, though, is this tiny place. It offers excellent tapas and a good, all-Spanish wine list that includes some unusual sherries. The owners run a business importing Spanish produce, so you can be assured that everything—drinks and food—is of the highest quality.
The Nines, Unit 9A Copeland Park, 133 Copeland Road, London SE15 3SN
The Nines is a fun cocktail bar in the Bussey Building. This building is the epicenter of the new Peckham, an in fact it serves as a pretty good metaphor for the whole area. The former warehouse now houses a peculiar mixture of bars, studio spaces, and African evangelical churches. You access the Nines via an alley—it’s in a car park behind the building. The decor is basic in the extreme, but the drinks are good, strong and relatively inexpensive.
Brick Brewery, Blenheim Grove, London SE15 4QL
Just down the road from the station is this craft brewery. The taproom is open at night, so you can sample the beer alongside salty snacks, like the cured meats they offer—ingeniously designed to get you to drink more. What could be more Peckham than having cured meats at a micro brewery?
Peckham Bazaar,119 Consort Rd, London SE15 3RU
You’ll walk down Consort Road thinking, surely nothing could be down here, and then, just when you’re about to give up, there is Peckham Bazaar. The food is broadly Turkish and Georgian but anything at the intersection of Europe and Asia goes. Char-grilled meats are the thing, but what really lifts it above standard Levantine fare is the bold seasoning and the imaginative use of seasonal vegetables. The wine list, mainly Greek and Croat, is brilliantly chosen. Booking in advance is essential for what is in my opinion not just one of the best restaurants in Peckham but in all of London.
Peckham Refreshment Rooms,12-16 Blenheim Grove, London SE15 4QL
Located opposite a couple of Afro-Caribbean hairdressers, the street outside gets lively in the summer with Peckham, old and new, mingling together. Inside it can be very noisy, but it’s worth it for good simple food, steaks, terrines, and charcuterie, with a short, quality wine list and craft beers (everywhere in Peckham sells craft beers). Also handy for breakfasts and coffee, this is the perfect neighborhood stalwart.
The Begging Bowl,168 Bellenden Rd., London, Peckham SE15 4BW
Oddly for a city as diverse as London, it’s really hard to find good Thai food here. The Begging Bowl offers bold, fresh flavors, with unusual things such as a duck offal salad (much nicer than it sounds). Peckham these days can be a bit us and them, so it’s nice to see that the Begging Bowl is popular with a broad cross-section of the community. It’s been open since 2012 and already feels like an institution.
The Pedler, 8 Peckham Rye, Peckham, London SE15 4JR
Restaurant critics are now regularly making the journey down to SE15 to try the latest places. Pedler, which is right near Peckham Rye, is just the kind of place that I wish someone would open in Lewisham. The food is what used to be called eclectic—think British with Italian, Spanish, and French influences, and Eastern flourishes. Like lemon sole served with ginger and Sriracha butter. They also take their gin-based cocktails very seriously.
Ganapati, 38 Holly Grove, London SE15 5DF
Most Indian restaurants in Britain are run by Bangladeshis. Ganapati is a little different. It serves authentic Southern Indian food in a relaxed cafe atmosphere. Again unlike most British Indian restaurants, the owners change the menu regularly to reflect what is in season. Their dosas and parathas are particularly fine. It has a nice terrace for outside dining in the summer.
Artusi, 161 Bellenden Rd., London SE15 4DH
Bellenden Road is a hotbed of gentrification, bustling with with upmarket delicatessens, restaurants and an organic butcher, so it’s no surprise to find a voguish Italian place such as Artusi. They offer charcuterie, offal, cheeses and excellent homemade pasta. The menu changes daily but everything on it is always mouth-watering. The wine list can veer towards the funky end of ‘natural’ wines, so if you’re a wine conservative like me, ask before you order.
Rosie’s Deli, 28 Peckham Rye, London SE15 4JR
Rosie’s Deli in nearby Brixton has been offering excellent food to South Londoners since 2003. The owner, food writer Rosie Lovell, has just opened this much bigger branch near the Rye. It’s a great place to have breakfast, and it has very good coffee. While you’re there, you must try her signature dish of scrambled eggs with chilli jam.