When we think of Peckham, we think of parked cars blasting out music through open doors, kids gathering on the street to dance and play, stall owners calling out daily deals and packed bars tucked beneath the railway arches. There is rarely a dull moment in this South London enclave, with its mishmash of cultures and vibrant Caribbean markets. Along with nail salons, Turkish barbers, a cheap cinema (no ice in a coke is a small price to pay for this kind of bargain), bustling music venues and plenty of yams, Peckham’s streets are filled with more varieties of food and drink than ever – from hipster watering holes selling salted grapefruit juice to vegan-friendly cafés and gastropubs. Here, we eat our way through our current pick of the crop. And no, Peckham isn’t the ‘new Shoreditch’ or the ‘new Soho’. It’s just Peckham. And we bloody love it.
If there’s a single food craze that won’t be shifting for quite some time, it’s the pillowy, meat-laden Taiwanese steamed buns made famous by the likes of Bao in Soho and the great dining rooms of Chinatown. Now, Mr Bao has set his sights on feeding the craving down in SE1, in a wood-clad, blue-tiled little restaurant on Rye Lane. There is golden kimchi, Taiwanese sausage and the ubiquitous smacked cucumber on offer to go with a small, concise menu of buns: slow-braised pork, pickles and peanut powder; fried prawns and pickled mooli; fried chicken with kimchi and wasabi mayo. All served in a sweet, bouncy pouch that would give an Eve mattress a run for its money.
This neighbourhood eatery is always heaving. Diners scooch up at the teal bar and crowd around tables in the long, narrow dining room for Little Bird Gin cocktails and ‘modern European dining’. The room is decked out in palm-print wallpaper, herringbone wooden floors and lettered mirrors, with the pocket-sized kitchen exposed at the back. The whole place is bathed in soft, low lighting, which makes waiting for a table a lot more appetising. Once you’re seated, choose from a daily changing (obviously) menu of inventive dishes. Brunch may be cherry toast, seafood kedgeree with poached egg or fried chicken with sweet bread and mac ‘n’ cheese made with honey and wholegrain mustard, all guiltlessly washed down with jugs of Little Bird bloody marys. And for dinner? Share small plates such as boozy veal with crispy garlic potatoes, roasted peaches with mascarpone and seafood tagine with apricots. Their cocktail menu claims to have ‘the perfect G&T’ – served in a cut glass with handful of ice, soft, perfumed gin and a blushing disc of pink grapefruit. They might just be right, but we’ll have to check again.
“A chalkboard menu of unfussy, seasonal Mediterranean dishes” is how this Italian-inspired eatery describes itself. It is the perfect example of how simple things can be deceptive. The menu is small, scribbled on the back wall and featuring everything the season has to offer. There is always a fresh pasta dish, which is pretty hard to bypass. The only issue is it can be a feat worthy of a gold medal trying to get a seat in this small place, which is adored by locals. So twiddle your thumbs for a few days while you wait, and once you’re in, order everything. Along with a tirelessly selective list of wines, Artusi serves elegant yet approachable food (linguine, anchovies and capers; cod, courgette and salsa verde; homemade ricotta with greens) in a bright, functional dining space. Obviously we’re far too mature to comment on Artusi’s address – Bellenden Road. So we won’t mention it.
Anderson & Co
Anywhere that serves breakfast until 2PM (3PM on weekends) is a friend of ours. Breezy, light-filled Anderson & Co’s simple, just-what-the-doctor-ordered menu of stringy, melted-cheese sandwiches, French toast with crème fraiche, eggs benedict and homemade granola with Turkish yoghurt leaves us happy (and slightly less hungover) every time. There is Square Mile coffee and the lunch menu overlaps with breakfast from around 12PM, featuring good burgers, clear chicken broth and kedgeree with crispy caramelised onions.
Peckham Refreshment Rooms
Brunch is big in Peckham, and this laid-back spot fills up fast on weekends. Housed in an Art Deco block from the 1930s, Refreshment Rooms is split into two sections over a scrubbed concrete floor – a bar area with high stools peeping into the open kitchen, and a slightly more formal dining space. The menu celebrates a diverse mix of European flavours and local produce. Brunch is earl-grey prunes with orange and yoghurt, grilled pork chop with wild garlic pesto and some ridiculously delicious roasted tomatoes on toast – soft and sweet, piled onto springy sourdough and glistening with olive oil. The bar is the pride and joy of the place, offering drinks like manzanilla Mary, pink grapefruit juice with Campari and white port with tonic. Things are just as delightful come dinner, when small sharing plates showcase the best of the season’s ingredients. Lately, there’s been monkfish tail with curried mussels, jersey royals with seaweed butter, baby octopus with fennel and confit duck with pickles cherries.
Old Spike Roastery
While Old Spike may look like your average cool-kid coffee shop – all scrubbed wooden floorboards, exposed brick and hessian sacks of beans – there is a lot more to it than just that. As well as serving some of the best freshly roasted coffee this side of the Thames, it is also a social enterprise offering training and employment to the homeless. There’s nothing like a bit of humanity to pep up a flat white.
We had to stop going to Peckham Bazaar for a while as we recovered from the embarrassment of pulling over one of the waiters and painstakingly talking him through each and every molecule of the meal that we were (very much) enjoying. From a kitchen festooned with encaustic tiles comes a daily changing flurry of Eastern Mediterranean food cooked over charcoal. Their dishes, inspired by the sunny flavours of the Balkans, include things like marinated quail with labneh, braised shoulder of lamb with ktipiti (a glorious Greek dip made with feta), grilled octopus with Cyprus potatoes and leek filo parcels with watermelon, mint and Moroccan olives. When the candles are flickering, the kitchen is smoky and the carefully-selected wines are flowing, there’s few places we’d rather be than here.
Brick House Café
Now that everyone’s finally realised that freshly baked bread one of life’s greatest joys, there are more places to graze on it than ever. Brick House’s bakers spend two days perfecting their stone-baked loaves, which are delivered fresh to cafes and restaurants across the city. Drop into their breezy little café for sandwiches loaded with homemade relishes, jams, Neal’s Yard cheese and Flock & Herd meats, along with Square Mile coffee, sweet treats and locally-produced beer. As you’re in the area, make sure you pick up a loaf of their award-winning ‘Peckham Rye’ to tear at in the comfort of your own home.
Despite all the spectacular world food on offer, we’ll still flock to a traditional British pub like seagulls to a fallen Mr Whippy. This royal blue boozer is one of Peckham’s eating and drinking hubs, attracting a wide mix of locals. The restaurant sources the ingredients for its classic dishes from some of the best producers in the biz, including Gillwing Farm in Sussex, Flock & Herd (down the road), and Dawn, their green-fingered next door neighbour. Go on a Sunday for a roast that will knock your Docs off, or sample their weekday menu of seasonal dishes like duck with hash browns, steak burger with dill pickles or wild mushroom tortellini, washed down with a couple of artisanal g+ts.
The Begging Bowl
Sample sizzling Thai street food at this popular spot, where the tapas-style small plates are designed to be shared. Head chef Jane Alty has done away with the tired dishes found in most Anglo-Thai restaurants, opting instead for exciting twists on seasonal produce, such as guinea fowl with grilled coconut and pickled garlic, charcoal grilled aubergine or deep fried whole seabass with sweet tamarind sauce and green mango. Cosy up at a table beside one of the big windows, or do your damnedest to bag a seat at the wrap-around terrace on warmer days.
Taco Queen at Rye Wax Records
If you find yourself craving some perfectly-crafted tacos (when do you ever not?), drop by Rye Wax record store’s basement bar, where you’ll find Taco Queen serving up some of the finest in the city. Theirs are made using inventive, globally-inspired flavour combinations like kimchi and sriracha mayo, crispy tofu with lemongrass and battered avocado with pink pickles.
Ganapati is a good example of the power of simplicity. Locals swarm to this colourful, homely South Indian restaurant for home cooking at its best, with a dining room that spills out into a teeny conservatory fanned by banana leaves. Tables fill with comforting dishes inspired by the street food of Kerela, Andra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu, such as flaky parathas, pumpkin dosas and clattering steel thali trays heaped with curries, chapattis, pickles and pachadis.
Lately, Forza Win has become the place that beckons us across the river more than any other. Set inside a warehouse, guests share communal tables at one sitting a night (from 7.30-11.30pm), huddling together at communal tables to share plates and platters of simple Italian fare and plenty of spritz-fuelled conversation. Expect to squabble over mountains of fresh pasta, comforting meat dishes, colourful salads and show-stopping dolce. Book ahead and arrive hungry – these guys are generous. And that’s exactly why we love them.