Where: The Crooked Well, Camberwell
With who: J School
How much: £6/£7 for starters, mains about £15 (a tad pricey for the area, but what you'd expect for the quality)
Come here if: You want really good pub plus cuisine and can't be bothered trekking to East Dulwich
I've talked before about the difficulty of the Restaurant of Death. That sad spot repeatedly filled with restaurateur after restaurateur desperately trying to work with a location that no one ever seems to go to. The Crooked Well is definitely in one of these, or rather has been. In recent incarnations it's been a Parisian cafe, a local pub and a trendy cocktail bar, and that's just the last two years.
The stripped back aesthetic, necessary to remove layers of paint from so many recent refurbs, is both understandable and sympathetic and the new owners have done a fair amount with the look. Currently, comfortable wooden chairs and pre-laid tables occupy most of the old boozer. There are a few sofas, but this is a restaurant that you feel comfortable having a drink in, rather than a pub. In short, the refurb works pretty well.
A cheerfully chippy website describes the story of four friends settling on a pub to share and show their passion for great food, the kind of guff that so often ends up being a marketing line, here I'm fairly sure it's not. The service shows this, on our Wednesday night visit it's friendly, relaxed and assured.
Elsewhere on the website they talk about an obsession with British food, in actuality a loose descriptor for modern gastro style dishes, a loose concatenation of rustic, European influences. Starters, generally around the £7/8 mark include smoked salmon, pork belly (with an intriguing tuna creme fresche) and squid ink risotto. On first visit we didn't sample any of them, though I was sorely tempted by duck confit and a chicken terrine served with a mango salsa.
Following beers from a reasonable selection, we went for the house special, a shared rabbit and bacon pie with a side of greens. Thankfully there's no effort to sell up either on the reasonably priced menu or wine list, and along with an enormous fluffy puff of pastry crust, the buttery, wilted greens are more than adequate. Underneath the fresh baked crust there's almost more filling than we can cope with. At least a rabbit's worth of meat, slow cooked to melting point with just enough bacon to give the rich flavour a salty, smoky overcoat.
Stuffed and struggling after finishing the braised bunny, the atmosphere's enough to keep us for a coffee, though neither of us have enough room for puds. I could possibly have had a go on their cheeseboard, £2 a lump with some really interesting suggestions. Next time though, and there will be a next time. I think this place is a stayer.