- Food & Drink
If you’re looking for a place that exemplifies modern London restaurants, then take yourself to Blenhein Grove, pull up a stool in Peckham Refreshment Rooms and order a plate of ham to share. From the barely there decor to the mix and match small plates menu, PRR has the metropolitan neighbourhood restaurant vibe down pat.
We were there on a Tuesday night, a group of five that had turned into a table of three because you can’t rely on Londoners to actually turn up. Our waitress was unfazed. She rearranged the tables, fetched the printed-on-paper menus and suggested we get stuck into the booze.
The menu is divided into bar food, charcuterie, kitchen, sides and sweet. Like Countdown contestants, we went for three from the top, three from the bottom and two from the middle.
I’ve described it as sharing plates, but you could eat starters and mains if you’re determined to be retro (and the backlash against divvying up your dinner must be on its way). We’re committed grazers, though. Our waitress, whose ability to read us was uncanny, brought us some small plates so we could split the spoils.Blackwood cow’s curd, dandelion leaves and roast cherry tomatoes was a classic mix of forest floor earthiness and sweet, innocent dairy. Stand out star, though, was the briny pickled sardine and potato salad. Posed mid-swim on a board, the fish was a deft, delicate mix of sweet and sour that rubbed along nicely with the creamy-fleshed potatoes.
The hit of the mains was the bowl of soft polenta, ceps and Parmesan. The kind of no-need-to-chew food that I class as comfort slurry, it was thick with mushrooms and umami. Roast pheasant and creamed cabbage was smokily enlivened by chunks of Alsace bacon while, from the specials, porchetta came with a sheet of crackling and a bowl of apple sauce. But it was saliva-suckingly dryad ate like porcine glue, firmly attaching my tongue to the roof of my mouth.
We finished by heading back up the menu to the cheeses. A French blue with walnuts and pears and an aged Parmesan with truffle honey were both perfect. The final bill, including two glasses of sherry, two glasses of wine, a lemonade and service as perky as an episode of Clueless, was £94.50.
If Peckham Refreshment Rooms is exactly what I expect from a local London restaurant, then Peckham Bazaar is the kind of enterprise that springs up wherever dreamers dream their dreams. In this case, down a quiet side street in South East London.
When it opened last year it had a makeshift dining room, an outdoor grill and a pan-Balkan menu that required a lot of googling or the humility to admit that you’ve no idea what half of it meant. Closed for many months, it has reopened with highly coverable tiles on its wall, the grill shifted indoors and a menu that is still insouciantly baffling.
Full disclosure: I know Donald, who is responsible for a lot of Peckham Bazaar’s nonchalance, and the chef manning the grills the night I ate there was at Ballymaloe with me. This ought to put me in an awkward position but happily, Peckham Bazaar is magnificent.
It was a Thursday. The lights were romantically dim, the dining room was full and the wine menu was pretty much all Greek to me. It does come with extensive footnotes but we put ourselves in Donald’s hands, telling him to bring us something not too spendy that was a bit like a nebbiolo (my dining companion Leonard’s favourite flavour of wine). We ended up with a £35 bottle of Greek red from a vineyard called Hedgehog, which was just like a nebbiolo and we sank two bottles of it.
A basket of bread with oil and d’hukka kept us going while we translated the bits of the menu that were a mystery (we’d failed to pack our humility that night). I had mussels saganaki to start with, a messy collection of plump molluscs with scoops of soft, warm flatbread that I swept through the bowl to make sure not a spoonful of tomato sauce was left.
Having loved the partridge at Peckham Refreshment Rooms earlier that week, I decided to repeat the trick and ordered partridge breast with butternut squash and chickpea tagine. Ultimately, and for no specific reason I can place any thoughtful fingers on, I preferred the partridge at PRR. But the tagine. The joyfully spiced squash and chickpea tagine that I kept eating well beyond the capacity of my stomach (shouldn’t have eaten all the nice bread, really). That I adored completely.
We were all completely full. Stuffed to the gunnels and lightly perspiring with the effort of digestion. So we ordered a dessert to share (temperance). That night’s pudding – they only do one – was ataif, a yeasted pancake, soaked in rosewater and cardamom syrup and served with quince and yogurt ice cream.
If perfume was solid, edible, cloud-like in consistency and delicious, then it would taste like that pancake. My trouser seams were dangerously close to tearing themselves asunder, but I kept risking one more spoonful. I don’t regret it and my trousers just about managed to hold it (me) together, so it was the right decision.
The final bill for four people with starters, mains, one pudding and two bottles of wine but not service, was £175.50.
While I’m talking about places to eat that have Peckham in their name, Peckham Market popped up three weeks ago in a playground off Lyndhurst Way. Open every Saturday from 10am-2pm and seemingly based on the same lines as Brockley Market, it’s a mix of street food stands for instant satisfaction and market stalls for people who still insist on cooking and eating at home.
My friend and I had po’boys from Hank’s Po’Boys, wonderful coffee from Mouse Tail, kale, apple and basil juice from the ever brilliant Ali Baba, and picked up Newton & Pott pickles, sorrel plants and fractal cauliflowers. If you were still wondering whether gentrification really was happening in Peckham, the new market leaves you in no doubt.
A conscious salving add-on to all the shopping and eating is the market’s charity giving initiative #tweetasyoueat. Tweet a picture of what you’re eating at the market with the hashtag and they’ll donate a school meal to the charity One Feeds Two.
Winter, with its winds, rains and glowering skies, doesn’t seem like the ideal time to launch a market, but the yard was busy enough on its opening week. With luck and enough hungry well-heeled Peckhamites, it should be a success.