With who: Dr Vole and The Ginger Prince
How much: starters around a fiver, mains between £8 and £12
Come here if: you have a hankering for moussaka and retro dining
These days it seems every mention of Camberwell comes with the breathless rejoinder that a gentrification is coming. Church Street is on the way up, Camberwell Village is on the way up, the whole damn area is coming up like a teenager at their first rave. The new housing, the new restaurants and bars, no restaurant review is complete without a GCSE style compare and contrast between the 'grim, gritty Camberwell' of old and the rays of light being shone by the latest purveyor of gastronomic goodness and culturally relevant modernity. The honourable exception in the press being Mr Jay Rayner, who lives round here and knows that it's always been a salty but fascinating and (relatively) cohesive community.
The Vineyard Taverna feels like it's been part of the community for generations. Like Primrose Hill's Lemonia, it existed before the area pulled itself up by the bootstraps and like Lemonia it obviously has long term fans. If your parents grew up in the area, this is likely to have been one of the places they'd have come to on a date. In fact, on a Saturday night, it still feels like the type of place young local couples come on a date.
We were here because all of the other, newer eateries we fancied were slammed full. The still deeply patronising (though by now almost understandably so) front desk at Angels and Gypsies stifled a laugh when I enquired about a table at 9 on a Thursday evening, "did you not plan your night out sir? Did you not realise several weeks ago that a couple of beers post work would almost certainly fire a desire for food and therefore procure a booking?" The chaps at The Crooked Well were nicer. Apologetic, friendly, understandable and accommodating; but still full to the gills until 10:15.
Looks wise, it makes some attempt at the authentic Greek taverna style. Faux grapevines cover the ceiling, white paper table cloths give a light air though the effect is localised with black and white prints of Camberwell Church Street in years gone by and spoilt by the large TV in the bar cum entrance. Tables spill onto the street in even the most inclement weather, though these, like the few scattered around the bar are often occupied by the local Greek Cypriot community who use the space as their overflow front room.
Ordinarily, I've gone for the mezze. Shared mixed platters for the table of dips, crudites, pitta and vine leaves fold into various species of fried and are followed up by lumps of chicken and lamb kebab. It's not that it's bad, it's just pedestrian, forgettable and other than being an acceptable beer soaker-upper, not really anything to get fussed about. It's somewhere you go en masse, like you did at university, diving on the sharing plates with your shared bonhomie more important than what you're shovelling down your neck.
This time though, I'm pleased to report that we go off piste and I sample some really rather good cooking. After a trio of those fairly forgettable dips, my main of Lamb Kleftico arrives in front of me with a rush of fragrant steam. A hefty portion of slow roasted meat, pink and juicy, falls of the bone, glistening motes of garlic and a hint of bay mingling in the oil infused flesh. Soaking into the olive oil cooked chips, it's a struggle to finish the slab, and a bigger struggle not to suck the bone clean afterwards. It's a worthwhile reminder of why you should support longstanding local restaurants.