Wednesday, 13 July 2011
The Crooked Well, Camberwell
Another week, another interesting new opening in Camberwell. I seem to have been spending a lot of my time around these parts lately, although admittedly most of that is down to the marvellous Silk Road and my insatiable desire for their home-style cabbage. If you've not made the effort to visit this unassuming little Xinjiangese and haven't yet sampled a healthy handful of cumin-spiced lamb kebabs or a big steaming bowl of belt chicken noodles or yes, that silky, stocky hand-torn cabbage, then you have a real treat in store. It's the kind of restaurant every spice-loving Londoner wants as their local, and I love it.
But this post isn't about Silk Road, and the Crooked Well isn't an uncompromisingly authentic specialist in unpronounceable regional Chinese cuisine or a gritty East-African canteen with no cutlery, it's a strangely familiar, brand new and very smart gastropub. And if you've come to this area of town looking for interesting ethnic budget eats (and I can't think of any other reason you might find yourself here) the sight of this place with its polished wooden floors and £15 main courses of confit duck and roast guinea fowl may seem incongruous to say the least. I'd never go so far as to say a posh gastropub doesn't belong in Camberwell any more than I'd say a budget Sichuan doesn't belong in Bloomsbury, but there is opening a restaurant sympathetic to the needs of its locals, and there is crossing your fingers and pretending you're in East Dulwich when you're not.
Residents of East Dulwich of course would find the Crooked Well very much to their liking. House bread - a sourdough of some kind - was very tasty with a lovely crust and the salted butter good enough to match up to anywhere on Lordship Lane. The truffle mayo with my asparagus starter was excellent, too - flecked with a generous amount of fresh black truffle and lovely light (presumably home made) mayonnaise, although I'm not sure how seasonal asparagus are in mid-July. And a pork belly dish with tuna creme fraiche sounded weird on paper but turned out to be rather nice, a cold summer salad with soft rolled pork and crispy crackling.
Mains were only slightly less enjoyable. I had a lovely bone-in pork chop, tender and juicy and cooked very well, although as you can see from the photo above the advertised "gremolata" was nothing more than a few miniscule blobs of green sauce - they really would have been better off either not mentioning it at all or being a bit more generous with the application. And I'm afraid a confit duck leg with saffron aioli and chickpeas was uncomfortably heavy on undercooked, crunchy chick peas and light on any kind of acid or citrus to cut through the duck fat. The duck itself was moist and delicious, it just didn't have anything else to help it down. Mind you, there's still a lot to be said for a nice bit of confit duck and this generous portion was nevertheless polished to the bone even if most of the rest of the plate was left untouched.
I liked the cheese arrangement at the Crooked Well. From an attractive board of seven French and English cheeses you are invited to have as many as you like for £2 per portion, and I was even more delighted in my own geeky way to be told they were all unpasteurised. Of the three I went for, all were a perfect temperature and in very good condition, the highlight being a thick, gooey Affine au Chablis (the rind is washed in white Burgundy). They also left us a big basket of more than enough salty crackers, so no penny pinching there.
The Crooked Well is a perfectly decent gastropub, competent and comfortable and somehow fairly unremarkable in every way other than the fact it is in Camberwell and not nestled amongst expensive florists and Cath Kidson outlets in some South London "nappy valley". But it deserves to do well in the same way as any new business trying to make a living serving fresh food deserves to do well, and I have a sneaking feeling that it probably will do well, eventually, as creeping gentrification of this corner of SE5 brings the kind of customer that doesn't mind spending £30 on their dinner (that would be me, then) and appreciates a decent cheeseboard. Not everything about my meal was perfect but the service was friendly and absolutely on the ball (easy when we were the only people eating, but still appreciated) and it was all very easy to enjoy, especially once I realised they had a bottle of Fernet Branca behind the bar and weren't afraid to use it. There are more exciting, and cheaper, places to eat around these parts, but there's always room for another good restaurant. I wish them well.