161 Bellenden Rd., Peckham
Peckham has become London’s new neighborhood of reckoning, and Artusi—a small, sleek dining room on a Bellenden Road corner—leads the pack. The food is modern Italian; instead of big, heavy, saucy dishes, expect small neat plates of seasonal vegetables and twirls of house-made pasta. Try the sunchokes with hazelnuts and gorgonzola to start. And follow that with Artusi’s interpretation of pasta, which is the opposite of boring: fresh bucatini with chard, or Taleggio with the unexpected addition of raisins goes down surprisingly easy. Wine-wise, the list leans heavily on organic and biodynamic wines, sadly still a rarity in London. And across the board, the chef takes provenance seriously, listing all suppliers on the menus, which change daily. Reservations are essential.
46 Peckham Rye, Peckham
When five first-generation siblings decided to bring 1940s Saigon to London, they weren’t messing around. The menu, inspired by their Vietnamese grandmother, is short and to the point. The prawn pancakes are unlike anything we’ve had: puffed turmeric pancakes, a king prawn embedded into each one, served in a piping hot skillet with a plate of fixings (you wrap each pancake in lettuce and herbs and douse it in fish sauce). And on a cold day, there is nothing better than the salty, spicy beef pho. The exposed-brick walls, simple wooden seating, and sprinkling of plants feel thoughtful. The servers always remember you like extra hoisin sauce, the Vietnamese coffee is better than any dessert, and walk-ins are generally accommodated.
11a Station Way, Peckham Rye Station, Peckham
The Coal Rooms is the latest in a slew of openings cementing Peckham’s unlikely status as London’s new gastro hub. The place is named for the charcoal used to cook the food and, (we imagine) an homage to the train tracks above the restaurant. The dining room is peaceful and sleek in a clean, stripped-back Scandinavian way—blonde-wood everything, even the fireplaces stacked with chopped wood. The food is smoky, and the plates are small: roasted cod heads, grilled zucchini and zesty yogurt, grits on the side. The Sunday roasts—an institution in Britain—are a thousand times better than the hunks of meat and soggy Yorkshire puddings served elsewhere. The slow-roasted shoulder of lamb with crispy beef-dripping spuds and coal-roasted cauliflower, rounded off with a glass of Sauternes, is weekend lunch done to perfection.
119 Consort Rd., Peckham
Peckham Bazaar is still relatively undiscovered, which is bizarre given it is some of the best food in the city. Nestled in a residential square behind Rye Lane, the restaurant specializes in Balkan cuisine, coupled with Turkish and Greek influences. The menu changes frequently, but standouts, like the beetroot and chestnut manti (Turkish dumplings similar to tortellini) and zucchini fritters, are usually available. All the meat and fish have a strong, smoky flavor thanks to the charcoal grill in the open kitchen. Reservations are essential given the small size of the bright dining room. Start with a glass of sparkling Bulgarian wine, the perfect precursor to a spicy, smoky dinner.
Peckham Refreshment Rooms (Closed)
12-16 Blenheim Grove, Units 3 & 4, Peckham
Just as much a community hub as it is a restaurant, Peckham Refreshment Rooms is a hard one to beat, perennially packed with locals who wish the place would stay a secret. The space has an industrial skeleton, warmed up by the ochre tabletops, stacks of cookbooks and bitters lining the shelves, mellow golden lighting, and most importantly, an electric crowd. The food is what we think of as new British: deliciously assertive in flavor and usually served on a wooden board. Many of the dishes—like the chargrilled sea bass slathered in seaweed butter and doused in burnt lemon, or the pancetta bacon sandwich (the best in the city) served between two crusty wedges of potato bread—are of the dig-in-and-get-your-hands-dirty variety. This is the type of restaurant where the OJ is always fresh, the newspapers are stacked haphazardly on the counter, and the staff rarely changes. It’s also affordable, and run consciously, sustainably, and with gusto by owner James Fisher.
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