Sunday, 17 April 2011

A Camberwell state of mind - Apr 2011

It's an odd beast is mother Camberwell. I've lived here for coming up a third of my life now and it never fails to surprise. Fitting between Brixton and Peckham, with the gentrified green of Dulwich and Herne Hill to the south, and the wasteland of the Walworth Road and estates to the north, it's a proper spoonful from London melting pot.

Crammed together you've got attempts at a new, cool and refined order, aided by the proximity of the Art College and waiting for the boost of the Hipster Express, alongside staunchly local spots catering to the working class community and the immigrants from Africa and the Caribbean who now call the area home. Spit and sawdust boozers, poundshops, chicken shops and evangelical churches vie with gastropubs and independent restaurants for the local real estate. It's a fascinating spot, if not the most picturesque.

If there's a block that sums this up best for me it's the bottom corner of Grove Lane (further up home to some of the most expensive, sweeping Georgian piles in the district) Where boho cafe Johanssons and next-door neighbour the Hermit's Cave exist in, if not blissful harmony, then certainly friendly ignorance. Next door to them you've got Cruzon, one of the most delightful old greengrocers you'll ever step foot in, owned by an elderly Cypriot and his family, friendly as you like having served generations from his faded old shop.

Squatly nestled on the corner of Camberwell Church Street like a bulldog faced Millwall fan, outwardly all neck, thrust and belligerence, The Hermits and many of its denizens are pure Sarf London bluster on the surface and properly, authentically friendly underneath. It's the sort of place where people are identified by the team they follow rather than the company they work for, you'll always get some form of conversation at the bar (if you want to) and no one bats an eyelid at the ever garish costumes of the art students. Having spent some wonderful afternoons, nights and (memorably for England's rugby World Cup win) a morning in there over the years, I feel able to call the place my regular.

Johanssons on the other hand scrubbed up a few years back, stopped metaphorically drinking and smoking and took a night course. It's now a cozy little cafe. Not cheap mind, but with really good quality ingredients. They don't always cook it as well as they could, a recent visit gave me bacon so hard it broke into shards as I cut it, but they're trying to up the tone and if we get an upward boost with the Hipster Express, will be full of yummy mummies within weeks.

As has been said (by me often, but by others too), Camberwell is a wonderful spot to live if you're a foodie. Some of the finest (and cheapest) local restaurants cover a broad spectrum of cuisine befitting the cultures that flock here. I wouldn't say you can eat authentically round the world without leaving the Village, but you can give it a bloody good try...

Some of my local favourites include:

Wuli Wuli - a near faultless Sichuan. Once they realise you're there for the good stuff and not the generic Chinglish at the start of the menu the staff will guide and offer suggestions. Listen to them, even if it involves Duck's Tongues - though they will strongly try and recommend you away from these slippery little delicacies if they don't think you've got the constitution for it.
Silk Road - rustic Chinese canteen serving home style specialities, complete with the scowling old lady churning out plates of pot sticker dumplings. Cheap, spicy and wonderful. The Middle Belt Chicken is the cheapest way to get full in the area.
Angels and Gypsies - Great, great tapas though staff do occasionally behave like they're running a starred joint in the West End rather than a small restaurant in Camberwell. Possibly they'll have the last laugh...
The Bear and the Tiger - Two lovely little pubs, renovated from their spit and sawdust days but still with plenty of character. The Bear was recommended in last year's Observer Good Food mag, though the service can be patchy when they're busy. The Tiger does great sausage rolls... seriously. They also have some great food options. A recent trip saw faultless pub classics of fish and chips and burgers well executed with great ingredients, as well as a well spiced and flavoured pig cheek ragu over homemade pasta. Either would make fine local pubs, if only most of my friends weren't wedded to the Hermits..

And shockingly there are many others that I haven't been to yet, I've got to get round to going to Pasha, the only Khazak restaurant in London (and favourite of their national football team who stayed here a few years ago). I was also reading a review for a brilliant sounding Eritrean restaurant called the Zeret Kitchen that will have to be explored at some point... Let me know if there are any others you think I'm definitely missing...

Camberwell images come from (Copyright David Hankin)

Tiger on Urbanspoon
Angels and Gypsies on Urbanspoon


  1. Zeret kitchen is brilliant. I recommend taking a few people though, especially if you go on a a week night as it can be really empty. Food great though and the lady owner (I assumed she was the owner) is so welcoming.

    Also, annoyed that I clocked those sausage rolls in the The Tiger the other day, commented on how good they looked and yet still didn't have one. Damn.

  2. @ Helen - Thanks for that, I'll go mob handed... I have an aversion to eating anywhere that quiet, regardless how good I hear the food to be or off the beaten track it is.. The sausage rolls are fine. Worth waiting till they bring a fresh load out of the oven, they're best hot!