When Jonathan suggested starting up some regular local restaurant crawls recently, I was so excited, I stepped up to the challenge of leading the very first crawl around my manor, Peckham. The idea is that our group of five would order a starter in one restaurant, a main in a second followed by dessert in a third and then finally drinks in a bar. This particular crawl was scheduled to take place on a Thursday night and I was worried we might not fit everything in but it turned out my fretting was needless as the evening was a blinder. We’ve divvied up the posts between us and so I’ve inserted write-ups of each place visited below. After meeting in Bar Story (more of that later), we moved onto Ganapati for starters. I’ll hand you over to Lizzie…
“Ganapati is a South Indian restaurant on a leafy street in the heart of Peckham. When we arrived, I was surprised by the interior; bare wooden country home-style tables were well spaced out and it was light and airy, atypical of the generic curry houses that I’m used to. Pretty sprays of flowers made the place look homely, and there was a pleasing waft of curry leaves. We were welcomed to our table warmly and we explained our plans for the evening to our rather bemused server. While perusing the A4 laminated menu, we were brought a jug of tap water to share. Instantly and rather predictably for me, the ‘aubergine bhurta’ appealed – a smoky aubergine salad with chilli and spices. This was delicious, and even the aubergine sceptic of our party loved it. The smoky flesh of the aubergine was both creamy and slightly tart, with a subtle chilli hint. We also had the crab thoran, which was suitably crabby and had delicious chunks of coconut in it. A masala dosa drew gasps of incredulity from the sheer size of it. Given it’s a pancake stuffed with potato, we wondered how much one would struggle if following it with a main course.
Vegetarian street snacks were extremely moreish and I wish we’d ordered two lots of these, and done away with the vegetable achar, which was simply just pickled vegetables. Don’t get me wrong, I am a huge pickle fan but these were a little unexciting whereas the street snacks were expertly fried, light and grease-free. We accompanied our starters with a Cobra beer, and I was a touch taken aback when the bill weighed in at a hefty £45, including service. Perhaps I am too used to the ample delights of Tayyabs. Nevertheless, I am still keen to sample their main courses… I spotted a spicy aubergine masala that caught my attention.”
38 Holly Grove, SE15 5DF
0207 277 2928
For the main course I decided to play a wild card. Sure, we could have gone to Il Giardino for Italian (I’ve never been but it’s recommended by mates) or The Gowlett for pizza but that just didn’t feel very, well…Peckham. So, I picked a Nigerian restaurant just down the road, crossed my fingers and hoped for best. Here’s Chris’s account of our meal…
“I’m not proud of it, but I have been known to occasionally turn a blind eye to the ethical sourcing of meat and fish in favour of a better meal. This is the curse of the food-lover, sadly – it may be cute and fluffy with huge brown eyes and one of only a handful in existence but if it tastes good fried and served with a tomato salad then the choice is unfortunately made for me. Out of my hands, sorry – nothing I can do. You can give me all the statistics you like about the world’s cod supply and how over fishing is slowly bringing about Armageddon but the fact remains cod has a gorgeous, flaky flesh and rock (which fashionable foodies will try and tell you is the “new cod”) has all the flavour and texture of a bag of sand. Natural selection, innit.”
“That said, even I flinched at the sight of Dodo on the menu at the Delta Tavern, our main course stop on the Peckham Restaurant crawl. I weighed up the options in my mind – greatest scientific discovery of the last 500 years, or the chance to try a dish before Dos Hermanos got to it? I would have ordered it too, if it wasn’t for the fact it turned out to just be fried plantain. So instead, we ordered the worryingly non-specific “Assorted meat” and “Spicy Fried Fish”, each accompanied by a generous portion of fried rice for a measly £5 a dish.”
“In common with other African cuisines I’ve tried (and I have Cadbury to thank for my introduction to Ghanaian cuisine a couple of months back), it’s about making the most out of cheap flesh and still ending up with a filling – and most importantly spicy – plate of food. The meat was largely gelatinous and fatty, with some tripe in there too, but doused in the onion and bell pepper sauce it was pleasantly fiery and with an interesting range of textures. The fried fish was overcooked in parts but was a charmingly simple preparation – the whole back end of a fish coated in spices and dipped into boiling fat. It was nicely crunchy and was washed down very well with the £2 cans of Stella (see if you can get them cheaper at your local offie!). It was a perfectly decent and very, very cheap dinner. Well done them.”
58 Rye Lane, SE15 4RJ
0207 450 7048
Last but by no means least we headed to Frank’s Campari pop up bar (which also serves cake and therefore could provide us with dessert), situated on top of Peckham’s delightful multi-storey car park. Here’s what Jonathan had to say about it…
“We approached Frank’s Café and Campari Bar with fear and trepidation. Sinister red paint trickled down the ammonia scented concrete stairs and made us feel as though we were in a prequel to an episode of Waking the Dead. When we emerged on the roof of the multi storey car park we were silenced by the most awe inspiring view over London you will find anywhere in the capital. From the Dome in the east, past Docklands and into the City the lights twinkled and our jaws ached from gaping.
With a beer in hand, we ignored the sign saying no drinks beyond this point and explored the two top floors which were filled with rather bizarre, but fun, works of art.The highlight was a chauffeur driven ride, by one of the artists, in a futuristic looking golf buggy/go-cart which used the sculptures as its obstacle course. Just imagine a combination of Mad Max, Back to the Future and a tour around the Whitechapel Gallery.
Frank’s serves drinks and food from their BBQ until 10pm.”
Frank’s Café and Campari Bar
10th Floor, Peckham Multi-Story Car Park
95a Rye Lane, SE15 4ST
We wound up the evening with a few drinks in Bar Story. Here are local gal Jassy’s thoughts…
“Stuffed into the back of a railway arch, and with a junk yard vibe out front, Bar Story used to be where Peckham’s art set gathered to admire each other’s fixed wheel bikes and vintage hats. Now it’s where everyone goes once Frank’s is shut. They must be looking forward to October 1st.
The decoration is minimal – they have painted walls, communal tables and doors on the toilets – and the atmosphere is relaxed. We started and ended our evening there. I noted that they have a huge cocktail menu, which we didn’t try, and a food menu that runs the gamut of contemporary pub favourites, from houmous and pitta to chicken curry, pizza and chips. We didn’t try that either. In fact, all we did was drink lager and cider, drop a glass and cheer the firemen that wandered through, possibly to tell off the staff for letting people sit round a large bin of fire in the front yard.
For the firemen, the friendly bar staff and the fact that they often play Tina Turner’s greatest hits, I’m going to give them two thumbs up. Not as good as Frank’s, obviously (gnash your teeth Bar Story), but the best we’ll have once Frank’s is gone.”
213 Blenheim Grove, SE15 4QL
T: 020 7635 6643
So there you have it – the inaugural restaurant crawl. I’m delighted I took the plunge as the night was an absolute stonker. You know by now how I feel about Peckham so I won’t bang on too much. Yes, it has problems but it’s also bursting with energy and personality. I love a bit of a gritty, smelly edge to my neighbourhood. I love the pumping beats which accompany me on my walk to the station and I love the fact I can buy African land snails…you know, if I wanted to. I recently read a comment on a review site that described Peckham as an, “unadulterated shithole” and went so far as to ask, “who the hell lives in Peckham?” Well, apart from an estimated 26,000 people, numbskull, I do thanks very much, and I love it.