Categories
Restaurants

11 places to go out in Peckham

Il Giardino

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 Giardino7 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 Tapas46 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 NinesUnit 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 Pedler8 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 Deli28 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.

 

 

 

 

Categories
Wine articles

An unusually bad wine

Wine writers very rarely write about horrible wines. Their columns are full of exciting recommendations for readers to buy. There are two reasons for this. Firstly wine writers feel it is important to support wine as an industry. They think it is important that more people start drinking wine and then perhaps they will develop an interest and maybe even start reading wine columns. In this way they function like a provincial newspaper anxious not to be too negative about, say, the restaurant scene in Bolton in case readers decide they don’t want to eat out anymore let alone read a column about it. The second reason is that most wines these days are fine. Even the worst wine at Tesco’s will be merely dull. It’s easy to write about bad but it’s very hard to make a dull wine interesting.

Therefore, I was surprised this weekend when I tried a wine that made me gag. It was the Chocoholic Pinotage 2013. Now of course the name does make it sound nasty and it is made from Pinotage – the grape whose signature flavours are acetone and burnt coffee – but recently I’d had a bit of a Pinotage epiphany so was eager to try it. According to the bumf I was sent it is made from partially dried grapes like an Amarone. I’m a sucker for anything made from dried or partially dried grapes so I actually opened the bottle with something bordering on excitement. I took a sniff, it smelt of instant coffee and chocolate (note there is no actual chocolate in this wine), not a nice smell but a thing of delicate beauty compared with the taste. It’s quite hard to describe the flavour because I had such a visceral reaction to it, there was more coffee and chocolate and then POW!, it was as if someone had grabbed my throat and was trying to throttle me. I took another sip, and BANG!, a wall of acidity and raw tannin made me grimace involuntarily. I stopped sipping at this point. When that had gone, there’s a cloying finish like cheap coffee ice cream. Yes this wine is actually sweet.

DarlingI would say avoid at all costs but it’s so unusually bad, that’s it’s worth trying. It’s probably not, however, worth spending the £11 it costs just to experience its awfulness. It’s available at Harvey Nichols who normally stock such good wines. Perhaps they just saw the label and thought it looked nice. It is a pretty label. The producers say that it goes well with chocolate. You’d be better off with a budget port or just eating the chocolate on its own. 

Categories
Wine articles

Death of the Wine Snob

This is something I wrote earlier in the year for Spectator Life magazine but it has taken so long to appear that one of the shops I mention has since closed. Tant pis, as they say in East London.

Red-faced, plummy-voiced, with a big nose, the wine snob is a familiar social stereotype. He might laugh at you at a dinner party for mispronouncing Montrachet or be the face sneering at you from behind the counter of a stuffy wine merchant when you ask for a bottle of cava. Oddly enough, in all my years of buying wine and working in the wine trade, I very rarely came across this figure. People like this may have once been ubiquitous but nowadays the legend of the wine snob is kept alive by the wine trade as a way of proclaiming their egalitarian principles: haven’t we come far, they say, we’re not like those terrible blazer-wearing toffs.

Click here to read the rest. 

After writing this article, I had an experience in a trendy wine shop which suggested the wine snob is actually alive and well. He’s just changed a bit.

Categories
Wine articles

Christmas Wine Fair – special offer for readers

If you want to learn about wine or you just fancy a bit of variety in your drinking, then nothing beats a good wine fair. I remember the first one I attended, it was run by Oddbins in Edinburgh in 1999. Actually I don’t remember that much about it apart from a man lying on the stairs saying ‘I’m so drunk, I’m so drunk.’ Since then I’ve been to a lot of fairs both as a paying customer and as a journalist. They are a mixed bag: some have great stuff on tasting but they’re very expensive and others seem to offer great value for money but most of the wines on offer are quite dull (I’m thinking of a particularly well-known wine fair affiliated with a  Sunday newspaper here.)

The Wine Gang – a group made up of some of the country’s most prestigious and best-looking wine writers – are putting on their own Christmas wine fair in Bath, 2nd November, London, 9th November, and Edinburgh, 30th November. They’ve got some pretty impressive exhibitors lined up including Berry Bros, Gonzalez-Byass sherry and Charles Heidsieck champagne. Tickets are only £20 but readers of World of Booze can go for £12 if they quote ‘Blog 40’ when buying online tickets. For this you get to try hundreds of wines. It also gives you 10% of the masterclasses. It seems like extraordinary value for money; I reckon I could drink £12 worth of wine within about ten minutes of arrival. There must be some sort of catch, I thought, perhaps the whole thing is actually a recruiting drive for a new religion loosely based on the teachings of Rudolf Steiner. Joanna Simon, wine writer for House & Garden, assures me that this is not the case.  If readers can think of any better-value wine tastings, I’d love to hear about them.

 

Categories
Wine articles Wine of the week

Wine of the week: Tesco Finest Cotes Catalanes Grenache 2012

I’ve realised that my biggest weakness as a wine writer is that I’m a bit slow (that and not knowing very much about Burgundy). I’ll try a wine at a tasting, forget all about it, and then months later, think how it would fit very well into one of my tenuously-themed Lady columns. Sadly by the time I remember it, it’s gone. That’s the thing about wine, there’s only a finite amount of it and when it’s gone, it’s gawn. This applies even to stuff made in vast quantities for supermarkets, wines like my wine of the week.

It’s from the Roussillon, a region of France blessed with hectares of old vines, mainly carignan and grenache, that used to make Vin Doux Naturales. These wines are now out of fashion. I am fighting a one-man battle to return them to popularity but whilst the French wait for my campaign to take off, the grapes are being used to make table wines. And what wonderful table wines they make. This is all old-vine Grenache and it’s really rather serious. It smells very savoury like leather with a touch of something herby and then when you taste it that leather comes through again though there is plenty of fruit to support it. It tastes of a harsh landscape where only vines and wild rosemary will grow. It was actually a little unyielding when I tried it in March but by now and with some sausages, I bet it will be delicious.

The cost for this wine is £6.99 but from 14th August ’til 3rd September, it goes down to £5.49. I’d buy at least six and drink them when the weather starts getting cold. How’s that for agile consumer advice?

Categories
Wine articles

The changing face of the wine snob

I have an article in editorial limbo with the Spectator Life magazine – should be out in September – called ‘Death of the Wine Snob.’ You can probably guess my argument but you’ll have to wait until September to appreciate its full vision. I wrote most of it from LA earlier this year. There I visited a wine merchant with my wife and father-in-law, Jonathan. I asked the woman behind the counter to recommend a few not too expensive Rhoney Californian wines. In an off-hand way she turned three bottles upright and then rattled off technical details about them. One of them was from a producer, Wind Gap, who I’ve had before. I mentioned that I liked it but preferred a blend they did called Orra, did they have that one? Then something odd happened, the woman got a bit flustered, and then a bit cross and said something along the lines of I’ve never heard of it. I seem to have upset her by mentioning a wine that she didn’t know.

I wanted to talk about wine, she wanted to get competitive. She then mentioned a red from Arianna Occhipinti, I said I liked that red but preferred her whites. ‘Whites? She only makes one white.’ 15 love! Things really deteriorated when Jonathan told her that I write a wine column in England, her response was to tell me about a wine podcast that she made. Had I heard of it? Sadly I hadn’t. She looked furious.

It was a very odd experience exacerbated by being heavily jet-lagged (so jet-lagged that I thought I might have imagined the whole thing). It took me a while to realise why it seemed so familiar. Of course! Record shops in my teens and early 20s. This woman would have gone down a storm at Rough Trade in Notting Hill. I suppose it is inevitable that as wine becomes cool, it is going to attract record shop types. Whereas once they would have obsessed over white label imports from Chicago, now it’s the Cote du Py from Marcel Lapierre. Either way the result is the same, these people want to use their knowledge to make you feel small. Makes me long for a good old-fashioned wine snob. At least I knew where I was with him.

Categories
Wine articles

Top ten annoying food and drink words

Here are ten words that I particularly dislike in food and drink writing. I was going to explain why after each but seeing them there on the page, their awfulness is obvious. Suffice to say, I have put them in because they’re meaningless, over-used or just plain horrid (I’m thinking of you foodie.)

1)      Foodie

2)      Sustainable

3)      Oodles

4)      Quaffing

5)      Iconic

6)      Foraged

7)      Superfood

8)      Artisan

9)      Curated

10)   Heritage

Does anyone have anything to add?

PS

I’ve just remembered how much I hate the phrase ‘popped & poured’ repeated ad nauseum on American wine sites such as Cellar Tracker.

Oh and ‘mixologist’, that should be somewhere high up on this list.

Categories
Wine articles

Odd flavours, off flavours

There’s a lot of talk at the moment amongst us wine bores about natural wines – wines made with no additives and little or no sulphur. Positions have become entrenched, harsh words have been said. I foresee a schism. The debate, as far as I can tell, boils down to this: those who don’t approve of natural wines say ‘some of them are horrid’ and those who do either reply ‘well some of yours are horrid too’ – this is known as the schoolboy defence – or ‘what is horrid? – the French  philosopher defence.

The problem with heated debates is that they only serve to obscure the facts. Uncommitted bystanders are asked to choose sides when actually what we want is information. The novelist Nicholas Blincoe put this rather well recently when he said that the argument over Europe could be boiled down to one side shouting ‘cappuccino’ and the other side ‘gypsy.’ We’re left none the wiser. 

As natural wine is made in a risky way, it doesn’t seem  a controversial thing to say that there is a greater chance that some of them will have faults, some of them will taste horrid. The logical retort would be yes, there is this risk but it’s worth it for the highs that can only come from wine made in this way. I call this the cycling without a helmet defence. Perhaps it is dangerous but it’s worth it on a sunny day to feel the wind in your hair. It’s not one that anyone seems to use and I’m not sure why. Would accepting that natural wines have a greater tendency to spoil undermine the whole concept? Does anyone outside the wine world really care? Is anyone reading this post?

I will give you an example. I tried a wine called Fou du Roi 2010 from Les Temps de Cerise at a recent Roberson tasting.  It had the most gorgeous ripe vivid fruit, a touch of CO2 sparkle, and a lightness and and sense of fun that shouted ‘natural wine’ Then, however, a wave of something I can only describe as badly kept real ale hit me. I’m not sure what the technical term for this is, or whether there is is even a technical term.

Generally I would describe myself as a natural wine enthusiast. I am also very tolerant of ‘faults’, vinegar, oxidation, etc. I can deal with. I particularly love old school Rioja, Chateau Musar etc with all their quirks and foibles. I like a bit of Brett – a yeast infection that makes a wine smell of old socks. I like white wines made with skin contact so that they turn orange. Basically I love wine. But one thing I can’t put off as a quirk is that stale smell. It means that I am reluctant to order any wine described as natural on a restaurant wine list. I’ve had this often with natural wines, gorgeous fruit and then old beer.

Some of these wine were from highly-lauded producers. What I want to know is whether they were meant to taste like that.  Everyone else at the Roberson tasting was slurping and spitting without recoiling. Am I abnormally sensitive? In order to appreciate them do I have to get used to this taste?

The following week I went to a tasting organised by the wines of Jura. Now here are some seriously peculiar wines. Imagine a cross between white Burgundy and a sort of farmhouse sherry and you’re nearly there. The best wines – Vin Jaunes and Cotes-du-Juras – were oxidised and some of them had a sharp tang of acetic acid – vinegar. These wine were on the whole amazing. Last night I had a Rancio wine from the Roussillon – yes that means rancid – the wine is left in old barrels, not topped up and left to oxidise in the heat until they take on nutty, fruity flavours. All these things in a table wine would be considered faults but here they are elevated into something beautiful, especially with a nice piece of Gruyere. 

If there is anyone out there who knows the technical term for the stale ale taste, please could they let me know. I want to learn!