Monday, 5 August 2013
Peckham Bazaar, Peckham
With few notable exceptions, if you want to eat great, cheap food in London, you need to travel. Where rents are lower, it makes sense that restaurants can offer better food for less, and any time I've had a sub-£15 meal recently worth shouting about it's been somewhere like Whitechapel, Tooting or Camberwell - Zones 2 and above. Yes, they take a bit longer to get to, but if a handful of extra stops on the tube is all that's stopping you from experiencing the wonder that is a meal at Apollo Banana Leaf, or Silk Road, then you don't deserve to be happy.
And so, ten minutes walk from Peckham Rye overground station, through a quiet housing estate, over the road from a primary school, basically - if we're being honest - in the middle of bloody nowhere, stands Peckham Bazaar, the latest reason to charge up a couple of extra quid on your Oystercard. John Gionleka, who you'll find lost in clouds of charcoal smoke behind the grills, has spent time in the kitchens of two-Michelin-starred the Square, in Mayfair, but has left the fine dining world to cook up food inspired by his native Albania, while making use of the eclectic markets of Peckham (poke your head into Khan's on Peckham Rye if you have time - it's an Aladdin's Cave of unusual foodstuffs, and tat).
In the interests of full disclosure, the team behind Peckham Bazaar are mates of mine, but I'm not doing them a favour with this post. I honestly believe that had I just stumbled upon the place (however unlikely that sounds given the location) I would still be raving about it, so exciting is what's on offer. Take a look at the menu, for one thing:
Is there anything on that blackboard that doesn't scream "eat me!"? And look at the prices too; these aren't starter-sized portions, or small tapas-y sharing plates - you really do get a whole lot of Balkan bang for your buck. We ordered the lot.
Cured egg is John's take on the Chinese century egg, and is gorgeous, well seasoned and gently vinegary with a great soft yolk. White taramasalata is impressive, too, with a more rustic texture and packing far more flavour than anything you might find at your local Greek taverna. But the vegetables weren't sidelined either - nice firm artichokes, carrots and radishes were all seasoned and oiled and treated with the utmost respect. It's a mark of all the Peckham Bazaar dishes, in fact, that sides aren't ever an afterthought - every element is lavished with attention, each vegetable dressed properly. There's no filler.
The menu at Peckham Bazaar reflects largely what meat and veg they've managed to get their hands on at that particular moment in time, and with that in mind it probably doesn't make sense to go into exhaustive detail about how great the octopus was, for example (by golly it was good, seasoned with paprika and crispy from the grill), or how utterly addictive the pomegranate and orange glaze on the quail was (crunchy and sweet, encasing superbly moist bird), because there's every chance that by the time you visit - and you obviously should visit - it may all be different.
Or perhaps it's even a waste of everyone's time to talk about the lamb adana - a huge, grilled chunk of minced lamb meat and spices - resting on a bed of buttery gigante beans, or the inch-thick steak of pork, slow-smoked then finished over coals, so good we ordered a second once the first had disappeared. On the one hand, I feel sorry for you if you go to Peckham Bazaar and any of the above are unavailable. But then, there's every chance they will just be replaced by something equally as stunning.
And in the end, one of the joys of visiting a place like this is not knowing exactly what you'll be eating - there's no signature dish, no laminated menu, no burger or triple-cooked-chips or crowd-pleasing high-profit-margin stalwarts to keep the accountants happy. John is cooking the kind of food he likes to eat, and as has been proved time and time again, this is the one surefire way of making the kind of food other people want to eat too. Trust them, and trust me - this is food that's worth travelling for.
Peckham Bazaar is currently open weekends only, with plans to open weekday evenings as soon as they can. Don't be confused by the "Frog on the Green deli" signs still lurking around the place, they haven't got round to changing all the stationery yet. For more details, check out their website. Many thanks to Magnus and Lizzie for additional photos.