Alibaba Mango Pickle Juice and Samosa
Portrait of a balanced diet

Sharp-eyed readers with a fondness for small print will have noticed that my post about Forza Dispensa was tagged Peckham Dining Club. And if you follow me on Instagram, you’ll have seen the hashtag #PeckhamDiningClub appear every so often. It’s a tag that sounds like an ironic South East London version of The Bullingdon Club but is, in fact, the first step in a collaboration that means I can finally put ‘counterculture artpop provocateur’ on my CV.

My friend Torie Wilkinson is an artist who’s muse has recently taken to hanging out in cafés and takeaways. Her last exhibition, One Of Everything, was an oil paint record of everything on the menu at her local chicken shop in Camberwell. A few idle conversations about Instagram and food blogging inspired by that collection lead us to a very flattering idea: a series of paintings based on my Instagram feed.

Not wanting the exhibition to simply be a narcissistic record of things I’ve looked at that I want other people to look at too (that’s what Instagram is for), we knew the paintings would need a theme. As both of us have lived deep in the South Easts for years, and as Peckham has steadily been turning into Little Hackney Below The River ever since Frank’s opened up in 2009, food in SE15 seemed an obvious peg to hang Torie’s artistic vision on.

Asian takeaway lamb kebab 2
Staring into the barrel of a lamb kebab

Potentially this is the most hipster art exhibition ever conceived, and we will both have to wear trousers so interesting at the preview that no one will even glance at the paintings. But it’s also an opportunity for me to look again at the shops, stalls, cafés and restaurants that populate Peckham Rye. Which is how I come to be eating a kebab in an alleyway on a Saturday lunchtime.

Asian Takeaway has been open for at least 2 years, maybe 3, possibly more. The red canopy and plastic window-framed hut looks like it’s always been part of the cobbled drive just off Rye Lane. I can’t remember when I first noticed it. It seemed to just emerge out of the wall. Peckham food bloggers Skint Foodie and Food Stories began mentioning it on Twitter. And I began thinking I should give it a try. Not one to hurry, I waited until a fortnight ago to actually peruse the menu.

Except I didn’t actually peruse the menu because there doesn’t really seem to be one. There were trays of samosas and curries in the counter. Bowls of dough and meats sat waiting for a customer to give them purpose. I took a punt and went with a generic request: “Can I have a lamb kebab?”

“Yes, 10 minutes.”

I handed over a £10 note and got £7 back. If nothing else, Asian Takeaway is spectacularly reasonable.

Peckham High Street Ali Babab
Destination: lunch

I whiled away the 10-minute wait with a juice from Ali Baba, the stall next-door. Blitzing fruit and veg with verve and enthusiasm, Ali Baba has a menu of regular juices and seasonal blends priced at £3.50-£4. On my first visit I drank a sweet mix of nectarine, chamomile and fennel; most recently I tried spiced pumpkin, carrot and maple – proof that soon everything will taste of pumpkin spice. Which I won’t mind.

My favourite juice so far is mango and The Pickle House. It’s a blend of mango and briny pickle juice, which balances out the mango’s sweetness and gives the juice a bit of savoury punch. If you’ve ever wanted to drink mango chutney, then this is the juice for you.

Back at Asian Takeaway, my kebab is ready. A tube of brown paper rolled around freshly baked naan, salad and lamb kofta, it looks like the sort of thing I definitely can’t spill down myself. So I unwrap it to take at look at its innards (two thick lamb koftas, shredded lettuce, tomato and cucumber batons), rewrap it, and within seconds of biting into it I am covered in hot lamb juices. Delicious, wonderful, permanently staining lamb juices.

Asian takeaway alleyway
A bench with a view

The koftas are meaty and mildly spiced, leaving a pleasant buzz on my lips as I chew messily through them. The salad is so much vegetable matter. But the bread, baked while the kebab was grilled, is the joyous bit. It’s pillowy in a way that bread has no right to be outside of novels. If I were a Borrower I’d spend a lot of time trying to steal the wraps as they come out of the tandoor in order to create the best dough-based bedding set the world has ever seen.

On a separate visit I ordered a chicken samosa, which they microwaved and therefore ruined. What should have been crisp and crunchy ended up being soft and floppy. The flapping greasy pastry overwhelmed the filling, making it a great big parcel of bland.

There are benches in the alleyway now, and some nice pot plants that do their best to jolly things up. Stagnant puddles of water caught in crumpled bits of the road sometimes make the atmosphere a bit sharp, but as far as lunch spots in London go, this little Peckham side street is one of the best.

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