Not long ago, Peckham was known as being one of the most insalubrious of south London’s neighbourhoods, and for being home of sitcom Only Fools and Horses, and little more. But, over the last few years, it has quietly evolved into an inventive gastronomic destination. It boasts a collection of eateries that easily beats more obvious and established south London foodie hangouts like Blackheath, Greenwich, Canary Wharf and Dulwich.
From the outside, you’d never guess what culinary delights await at this South African-inspired restaurant converted from an old fast chicken joint. Last year it received a much-coveted Michelin Bib Gourmand.
It’s easy to see why this contemporary small plate restaurant has made such a splash with its bold, original dishes. With the cosy feel of a 1960s lounge bar, with faded, dusky pink walls, blue velvet sofas and copper-covered tables, its menu could include mussel potjie (cauldron) pot with courgettes, basil and jersey royals (£8.50), containing juicy mussels in a tangy sauce of coconut milk and seaweed-flecked gnocchi.
There’s a salty, crunchy duck and pork terrine with biltong scratchings and gribiche (£8.50), and a delicious pudding option is spiced pumpkin tart with miso, charcoal ice cream and salted caramel (£7.00), which just melts in the mouth.
Kudu Restaurant (119 Queen’s Road, Peckham SE15 2EZ; 020 3950 0226; kudu-restaurant.com)
This little cafe-style Taiwanese eaterie has stripped-back decor, and a very relaxed vibe, enhanced by its enthusiastic and friendly staff. Dishes are small and tapas-style, so most people order two to three bao buns per person and a couple of sides as well.
The tasty dishes include sesame spinach (£2.00), ginger and garlic edame (£3.30) and pork dumplings (£3.90).
Baos (steamed bread rolls with a filling of meat or vegetables), include slow-cooked beef brisket with fresh jalapenos, wasabi and pickled cucumber (£4.50), ginger braised tofu with kimchi and crispy onions (£4.60) and bao diddley chicken, with 24-hour marinated chicken, wasabi mayo, kimchi and coriander (£4.50).
Every dish is a lively and spicy mishmash of unusual pan-Asian flavours, using fresh ingredients. All vegetarian dishes can be made vegan, and the restaurant is very accommodating for those with dietary needs.
Cocktails (£7.50) include plum wine negroni, containing barrel-aged gin, Campari, plum wine and chocolate bitters, which is potent enough to start an Airbus.
Mr Bao (293 Rye Lane, Peckham SE15 4UA; 020 7635 0325; mrbao.co.uk)
Housed in the former ticket office of Peckham Rye Station, Coal Rooms’ unusual dishes include burnt hispi cabbage, doused in hot jerk dressing and combined with ground pork crackling, at a very reasonable £5.
The slow-cooked smoked lamb’s neck on the bone (£15) is deliciously crumbly, while the ’Peckham Fatboy’ hash brown potatoes with beef dripping mayonnaise and onions (£6) are a delicious solid cake of potato.
An egg yolk bursts from the pearl barley carbonara with bacon, parsley and parmesan (£5) while the smoked eel, lardo, gnocci and liquor (£7) is like a delicately-flavoured posh version of what you’d get in a pie ’n’ mash shop.
Desserts include Club Tropicana, consisting of coconut ice cream, mango IPA caramel (I’ve no idea either) and burnt pineapple (£6).
There’s a fine wine list, and the loos, bricked up since the 1930s until recently, are a striking film set-style period piece, something out of a Wes Anderson film.
Coal Rooms (11a Station Way, Peckham Rye Station, SE15 4RX; 020 7635 6699; coalroomspeckham.com)
The Begging Bowl
On an unbusy road lined with busy hipster-style eateries and bars, this popular light and airy Thai restaurant has a modern feel, with painted reclaimed wood and a greenhouse courtyard that’s ideal on a summer’s evening.
Typically you choose four or five dishes to share, plus limitless Jasmine or sticky rice (£3). Examples include crispy noodles with yellow bean, beansprouts, pickled garlic and Chinese chives (£8), which is colourful, light and refreshing. The eastern flavours flood out of the coconut, turmeric curry with monkfish, palourde clams, grilled friggitello peppers and lotus stem (£15).
Heavenly beef – cured onglet, coriander seed and smoked chilli dip (£6) – certainly lives up to its name, whilst relish of cured Loch Duart salmon, coconut and chilli comes with a separate chunk of pork belly, a wedge of crispy smoked trout wafer and a garnish of cucumber, chickory, betel leaf and sorrel (£15). You’re supposed to blend these all together to enjoy the burst of differing flavours, but I preferred just to savour them separately.
You can tell that everything is made from scratch using really fresh ingredients, and the result is consistent sweet, sour, salty, power and zing.
The Begging Bowl (168 Bellenden Road, Peckham, SE15 4BW; 020 7635 2627; thebeggingbowl.co.uk)
Specialising in South Indian cuisine, this down-to-earth hidden gem of a restaurant was one of the first to herald Peckham as a foodie destination. A world away from a typical Indian dishing out nondescript kormas and masalas, it’s clear that everything is made imaginatively with wholesome, fresh ingredients.
There’s vegetarian street snacks (£5.50), two deep-fried potato balls and a pair of nutty, chickpea patties with ginger, curry leaf and green chilli. The mildly spiced beetroot dosa (£5.50), its deep purple based flecked with bright green leek and broccoli and red chilli, is delicious, but the flaky, buttery paratha is an absolute must, and you’d be hard-pressed not to order another.
The Kerala Fish Mollee (£14.00) contains tender sea bass fillets cooked in a mild curry sauce of ground coconut and spices, with little tinges of lemon, chilli and ginger making it all the more yummy.
The selection of desserts includes sorbets (£5.50) and ice creams (£6) made in-house. I tried the rich banana and date ice cream, a scrumptuous end to a tasty meal.
Ganapati (38 Holly Grove, Peckham, SE15 5DF; 020 7277 2928; ganapatirestaurant.co.uk)
Opening in November 2018, this modern, inventive European bistro has already made quite a splash. Buzzing and packed to the seams with punters – like it seems every other Peckham eaterie at the moment – its old school hifi was pumping out some great funk via the medium of vinyl.
I tried the house-cured sardines (£7.50), soaked in rosemary and olive oil. Their beautiful, glistening silver forms made me reflect that it’s amazing how nature has so perfectly replicated tin foil. However, to be honest, I prefer the 40p ones at Tesco, the uncooked feel wasn’t to my taste.
The Compte fries with saffron aioli (£6.50) – cheesy chips to you, mate – were delicious, and made with chickpea flour. A sharing plate of mussels (£10.50) cooked with leeks and nduja (spicy salami) was complemented well by a tasty dish of roast cauliflower, kale, Parmesan and truffle (£12.50).
Coupled with an excellent wine menu and a small dessert selection including a moorish apple tarte tatin with creme fraiche (£6.50), you can’t go wrong at Levan.
Levan (12-16 Blenheim Grove, Peckham, SE15 4QL; 020 7732 2256; levanlondon.co.uk)