Me ‘learning’ (drunkenly grappling) how to ‘play’ (make a noise like a cat with bronchitis) the accordion.
I’ve moved house. I’m going to go on about this. You’ll see. I used to live within spitting distance of Frog on The Green which is one of my favourite places to eat in Peckham, if not in SE London. I’ve raved about the sandwiches already. Goats’ cheese fondue. I mean, get in. Now I have to sit on the bus for like, a whole 5 stops or something.
While I’ve been lurking/hanging about/eating everything/semi stalking around this place over the past couple of years the owner John has become my friend. This is because, aside from being a talented chef, he is quite possibly the nicest man in the world. He’ll really cringe when he reads that, which is kind of why I wrote it. Ha. The time I saw him before the supper club I popped in for a ‘coffee and a chat’ and left three hours later, several courses of food and a few bottles of wine down. He also has a cat.
I had been a guinea pig for some of the dishes he was to serve at his new ‘Balkan dinners’. I remember being served the most exquisite round courgette, soft and striped and stuffed and surrounded by my one of my favourite things in the whole wide world – yoghurt. I am obsessed with the white stuff. It was such a perfect little plate of food, so simple and cooked with such obvious care; I remember looking up at my companion, eyes wide. The bowl was wiped clean, feverishly, with too much fluffy bread.
So when I heard the first dinner was to be themed around yoghurt, I did a gleeful cackle which could be heard all the way to The Old Kent Road. Yoghurt, aside from tasting dreamy, is a bit like cultural glue. As Florian of co-organiser ‘Food Trips’ put it, ‘yoghurt is a food that binds a fragmented region together, split in multiple ethnicities, religions and a plethora of states: The Balkans.’
We started with a ‘tarator’, a traditional balkan dish and the kind of light, silken bowlful that makes me clap my hands together and squeal like a Californian college girl on spring break.
‘Chicken, yoghurt, hazelnut butter and mint’ was, simply, one of the most enjoyable dishes I’ve eaten in a very long time. So perfectly balanced, expertly seasoned and a powerful reminder of John’s calibre as a chef; he’s worked at The Square don’t forget.
There’s stuffed baby gem and veal schnitzel next; it’s like someone phoned me up a week earlier and asked me exactly what I wanted to eat and I replied, ‘SHITLOADS of yoghurt! Cooked lettuce! Fried things!’ They just keep on coming. Then it’s that globe courgette, filled with minced pork and pine nuts and as perfect as I remembered it, surrounded by soured yoghurt and olive oil.
By this point I was getting full, and I had trouble finishing the spring lamb and yoghurt gratin, but the idea of a yoghurt gratin is genius, quite frankly, and I shall be stealing it as soon as possible. Lighter than a dauphinoise, with characteristic tang.
The fried ball on top of the gratin contains brains, which I think must have been put there to spare John’s blushes over my raving on and on about how much I loved the food because brains, I just can’t get along with. I’ve tried and tried, it ain’t happening. I’ve moved on.
Dessert was ‘yoghurt, corab, sesame and pistachio’ which I can’t remember in the finest detail as I was inebriated on Greek and Macedonian wines. The cosy atmosphere and soothing notes of the accordion floating around the room between courses meant the evening passed by in a blink. The next thing I knew I’d made two new best friends and invited them to my birthday party. Then it was 3am and I was ordering a taxi.
John is as much a lover of Peckham as I and we often talk about how the area is changing, and what is happening in terms of food. I’m excited to see how these Balkan dinners pan out. I mean, who else is cooking this kind of food? Certainly no-one else in the area. I’m excited. I recommend you go very soon.
I may have moved down the road, but my heart remains in Peckham.
The Balkan dinner was frankly a stupendous bargain at £27.80 for 6 courses and more food than I could eat, which is saying something. Wine isn’t included but was available to buy on the night at very small mark ups. The dinners are in association with Food Trips (the organisation I did the South London food tour with), so watch the website for details.