There's a food paradise in London…and it’s not where you think. Not spoilt-for-choice Soho, nor cool Shoreditch.
Nope, it’s Peckham, whose beauty lies in its diversity. For although SE15 has become gentrified, food from all over the world and for all budgets is represented, uniting to offer the best food found within one postcode perhaps anywhere in the capital. Melissa Thompson, the writer behind food project Fowl Mouths, shares her Peckham favourites, new and old, with Hot Dinners.
Ask anyone for the best suya (Nigerian BBQ) in London and chances are they’ll suggest Angels Bakery. As its name suggests, it serves beautiful baked goods but come lunchtime the coals are lit to knock out takeaway boxes of the West African grilled meat staple. Choose from chicken, beef or lamb, seasoned beautifully and cooked with just the right amount of char.
The menu at Artusi changes all the time, chalked up on a wall to salivate over, and it is always hard to choose from. The dishes match the décor – inspired, fresh, no-nonsense. Italian-inspired, pasta is made on-site daily. One day there might be cacio e pepe, and the next pappardelle with merguez sausages. Meat comes from renowned neighbourhood butcher Flock & Herd.
Housed in Peckham Rye’s former ticket hall, this listed building looks great – check out the toilets - but the food is even better. Their robata-grilled meat is a delight and their Sunday roast is legendary. They’ve also started doing breakfast. Special mention goes to the Peckham Fatboy–a deliciously indulgent dish of potato hash, Ogleshield, beef fat mayonnaise and crispy onions.
A relative old-timer of Peckham restaurants, having opened in 2004, Ganapati is chef-owner Claire Fisher’s ode to India. The colourful space is filled with mouth-watering aromas that pave the way for the delicious, homely food. The thalis are fail-safe favourites or go off-piste with their more inventive offerings such as tuna with smoked tamarind. The desserts are also great.
Follow your nose to JBs Soulfood as they cook their jerk chicken and pork on a drum barbecue out back. Expect a queue - it’s a Peckham institution - but rest assured it’ll be worth it. Their signature chicken, served with rice and peas and coleslaw, is a must but come back to work your way through the menu, especially the oxtail.
Run by a couple, Kudu pays homage to husband Patrick’s South African roots but borrows inspiration from all over, for instance matching peri peri duck hearts with dukkah. Their boundary-pushing works – the food is different and delicious. Anything cooked on the braai (barbecue) comes recommended but whatever you do, order the Kudu bread with melted lardon butter and sumac. Mind. Blowing.
The second restaurant by Nicholas Balfe of Brixton’s Salon, Levan opened in November 2018 with an emphasis on sustainability and seasonality. The effortlessly cool interior features an open kitchen serving food European-inspired food with the odd nod to East Asia, all matched with natural wines. Their house-cured sardines are a firm favourite, as are the Comte fries.
One of the oldest pie & mash shops in London, this branch of the Manze empire opened in 1927. Still in the original family’s hands, it’s renowned for its pies, mashed potato and liquor, as well as their jellied or stewed eels. Walking inside feels like stepping back in time with chilli vinegar on the table and white-clothed friendly staff.
This cosy pan-Balkan restaurant serves delicious plates of food from this otherwise relatively under-represented part of the world. There’s always a buzz here, with tables packed in tight for a taste of the daily-changing menu of dishes that take you on a journey. Thankfully, they often revisit some of their favourites that have achieved near-cult status, such as their courgette fritters and their grilled quail.
This former multi-storey car park plays host to everything from yoga studios to clothes retailers but its 6th floor is about the food. At the time of writing, notable are Zephyr Burger – gorgeous California-style smashed patties using dry-aged meat from Nathan Mills at The Butchery. Also great is Hao Hao Chi who serve delicious dumplings. Their Spicy Sesame Noodle Salad is superb.
Persepolis, a café-cum-shop, should come with a warning –it’s easy to lose yourself for hours amid its shelves stacked high with obscure and otherwise hard-to-find Persian and middle eastern ingredients. The small restaurant out back celebrates these ingredients in their vegetarian menu which can nearly all be made vegan. The fattet with garlicky tahini sauce is stunning.
Though technically a foodtruck-with-chairs, Salas’s Middle Eastern food has created a buzz as strong as any good restaurant – without any social media. A one-man-band, he makes everything from scratch, from the flatbreads to the falafel and sauces. Unexpected ingredients – such as wilted spinach and mango sauce in a chicken shawarma– make this a true delight. The queues say it all.
A pioneer of regional Thai food in London, The Begging Bowl couples ingredients sourced from Bangkok with meat and fish from local suppliers. They press their own coconut cream and make their own bitters and infused spirits. The Kaffir Sour, made with their own kaffir lime-infused gin, is sublime and goes perfectly with their excellent Northern charcoal grilled sausage.
This Peckham pub’s menu reads too good to be true, given how little it’s shouted about, but the food is consistently brilliant. There’s a focus on seafood, delivered daily from Cornwall and cooked perfectly by head chef Jake Chappel-Kelly, but everything from the meat to the vegetarian options are inspired.
Hidden down an alley near Peckham Rye station, this Kurdish restaurant seems to relish being difficult to find, but it’s worth persisting. The kibbeh are to die for and the shawarma is beautifully spiced and delicious – and brilliant value too. Easier to find is the recently-opened secondary outpost on Rye Lane geared towards lunch - their huge mezze plate deal is a steal.
The best of Peckham
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First published in 2019.
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