Sunday, 2 February 2014

Peckham Bazaar

So rules are made to be bent and broken, and my North East London remit almost certainly could be bent to stretch down to South East London. For it is on the East side of the city after all?

I like South East London. If I wasn't in Hackney, I'd almost certainly be living down there somewhere. Although the roads aren't much fun for cycling, and Elephant and Castle roundabout would be a daily thrill. But it's leafy, hilly, down to earth...and has a burgeoning foodie scene.

Peckham seems to be the epicentre of South East London's boom, with some hipster happenings like Frank's Campari Bar atop a multistorey carpark, and plenty of yuppy happenings on the "villagey" Bellenden Road. Just a couple of blocks away from all the hubbub of Rye Lane is Peckham Bazaar, sited in an old pub on Consort Road, which I visited last October.

Peckham Bazaar specialises in food and wine from the Balkans, and have a big smoky grill outside, which most food is cooked on. You can smell the grill wafting down the street as you approach, giving you an instant holiday feeling. It may be the only restaurant in London specialising in food from the Balkans, which is a bit of an oversight, eh, restaurenteurs? It's one of the most fascinating and beautiful parts of the world, and has some excellent food and wine to boot.

The establishment is superbly run. It feels like you're going to a mate's house for a barbecue, with the grill outside, with some big communal tables and a few smaller ones, and very friendly, informal service. The winelist is knowledgeably talked through; they didn't have any left of the Croatian red I fancied, but we were recommended an excellent alternative from Greece. It's worth saying I've barely seen a menu of Eastern Mediterranean wines as good as this in the Eastern Med, let alone in London.

We kicked off with grilled octopus and pork souvlaki. The octopus was served with lightly pickled mini vegetables (carrot, cauliflower, cucumber, onion), with a whiff of fresh dill about them. They complemented perfectly the meaty, smoky chewiness of the octopus, which was cooked to perfection.

The souvlaki came with a crisper selection of veg - carrots with carraway seed, and fennel, with a side of sumac topped yoghurt. A generous drizzle of top notch olive oil, topped with a splosh of vinegar, made the whole thing fiendishly addictive.

The selection of main dishes was impossible - I was wild at the idea of every dish on the menu. One of my friends had a North African flavoured dish of quail with harissa potatoes and an orange and olive salad - full of perfumey, punchy spiciness. My other friend had a Greek inspired pork chop with butter bean casserole - the herbs on that pork were just out of this world, and the pork was cooked to perfection.

I had lamb and venison adana kebabs - a twist on my Dalston ocakbasi favourite. Served with rich and deeply flavoured beetroot and walnut, and offset by a crispy, fresh fennel and sumac salad, this dish was an incredible mix of flavours.

The portions are generous, so sharing one dessert between three was the only realistic option for this late lunch. We had chocolate and cardamon cake, served with red wine roasted figs and mastic ice cream - a Levantine recipe that makes the ice cream a bit stickier and sweeter. Yes! Again, the flavour combinations were inspired and perfect.

Just writing up Peckham Bazaar has reminded what a perfect meal this was; one of the best I had in 2013. And now I remember that I need to take all my friends here. Since I went it's had some incredible reviews, including by the Standard's Fay Maschler, and appeared in some venerable Best of 2013 lists (here, here), and you probably need to book a couple of weeks in advance for a table now. But it's worth the effort, worth the trip down to Peckham if that's not your end of town, as you will be rewarded with an unforgettable, fresh, high quality meal that will knock your socks off. Do it!

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