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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.

 

 

 

 

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Restaurants

Passive aggressive BYO policy

Whilst in the impressive wine section of M&S Lewisham on Sunday, I marvelled that such riches were available on Lewisham High Street when all around were pound shops and stalls were you can unlock your or indeed someone else’s mobile phone. I assume someone must be buying the Greek whites and Lebanese reds or they wouldn’t stock them. I returned home and read Nicholas Lander in the FT/ Jancisrobinson.com. One of the restaurants he mentioned was a place that has opened not far from Lewisham called Peckham Bazaar. I hope he doesn’t mind me quoting a bit of it:

“John Gionleka is the Albanian-born chef at Peckham Bazaar. His repertoire extends, however, across the cooking of his native country to Turkey, Greece and Iran and he is ably supported by his sommelier, Florian Siepert , who has carefully put together an unusual wine list from Greece, Croatia, Bulgaria, Slovenia, Hungary and Turkey.”

Sounds good doesn’t it? About my two favourite things are grilled Ottoman things and East European/ Levantine wines so immediately I went to their website to find out more.

On it was the following statement:

“Free BYO Saturday lunch only. Please no supermarket wine. Please.”

No supermarket wine. Seems on odd sort of instruction. I love the second ‘please’ as if even the idea that someone might argue with them is too painful to contemplate. You can see the owners closing their eyes and shaking their heads wearily as they utter these words. It’s not going to be an easy one to police. When someone comes in with a bottle of Wolf Blass Chardonnay are they going to be given a grilling (pun intended) about whether they bought it from a cornershop or the local Tesco’s Metro?

It’s hard to know why they have this instruction. Is it on aesthetic grounds? Would a bottle of commercial Malbec upset their carefully constructed flavours? I rather think though it’s on ethical grounds perhaps with a side order of snobbery thrown in. The owners think that supermarkets are a bad thing.

I don’t want to get into an argument about the ethics of supermarkets. On the whole I think they’re a good thing for the customer. Moreover, people like them. I’d say that nearly 100% of Peckham Bazaar’s potential clientele are supermarket shoppers. If they want to serve all the local community rather than just the dedicated foodies then they are going to have to put up with people who don’t share their views on supermarkets.

And this is the odd thing about it: they’re trying to impose their personal morality on their customers. It’s like a vegetarian restaurant not letting people in who wear leather shoes. Either have a BYO day or don’t, but don’t have one and then tell people where they can or can’t buy their wines.

The sad thing is that you can sort of see what they’re getting at. Support your local shopkeeper. If you are lucky enough to have good local shops, then for God’s sake use them as much as possible. If there is a good local wine shop why not ask them to offer a small discount to your customers on BYO day? It’s really not that complicated. You can spread a little bit of happiness through the community without having to resort to passive-aggressive diktats.

I’m still planning to go because the food sounds too good to miss. If i’m feeling brave I might even try to smuggle a bottle of M&S Xinomavro past the door police. As they open it, I’ll feel like I’m striking a blow for the ordinary folk of South East London.

 

 

 

 

 

Categories
Books Recipes

The Breakfast Bible

9781408804810In 2005 a meeting was held somewhere in Kentish Town or perhaps Peckham that would reverberate down the ages. The meeting was chaired by a shadowy figure known only as Malcolm Eggs. His aim was to fight mediocre breakfasts within the capital. He brought together a crack team of writers, gardeners, students and out-of-work musicians. Everyone dropped their legal names and adopted nommes de guerre such as Ed Benedict, H. P. Seuss and Dr Sigmund Fried. Thus the London Review of Breakfasts was born. Amazingly it was a great success, inspired a legion of imitators and quickly became a target of the powerful breakfast lobby.

Now there is a book and rather than limit themselves to London, Malcolm Eggs and the LRB team have taken on the massive task of defining and describing breakfast itself. So along with a history of coffee, recipes for sausages and how to boil the perfect egg, there are essays on breakfasts in literature, breakfast and class, and Freud’s breakfast dream. It’s a book to cook from and to savour in bed. As a contributor to the book and the website, I can with all disinterest say that it’s timeless masterpiece. Please buy many copies.

The Breakfast Bible by Seb Emina & Malcolm Eggs is published by Bloomsbury 11th Februrary £16.99. You can read an extract here.