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.


Crooked Well on Urbanspoon


Hollow Legs said...

So the locals of Camberwell are all poor scrubbers then? Oh dear, Pople. Oh deary me.

tehbus said...

Really love the look, feel and drinks of the Crooked Well and will be trying the food in the future.

I must admit though that I am disappointed to find you pigeon holing Camberwell as somewhere merely for "interesting ethnic budget eats ". I've lived around here for many years, and just like many other parts of London, it has flourished and grown into the community that it is now.

You will find a wide cross section of people living in the area, including those who are not "pretending they're in East Dulwich", but have moved to Camberwell because it's a good place to live.

Chris Pople said...

Lizzie: HA! Not QUITE what I was trying to say; I hope it didn't sound like Camberwell doesn't deserve a posh place or anything like that, it's just that the restaurants I've previously enjoyed round here are a bit more exciting than a smart Sloney gastropub.

tehbus: Point taken, I'm not pigeon-holing Camberwell as anything, I just think what makes it a great area to eat out isn't places like the Crooked Well. A few more of these and you'd be Battersea, and believe me, nobody wants that.

eatmynels said...

To what extent is this a boozer? And what was it before?

eatmynels said...

To what extent is this a boozer? What was it before the Crooker Well? Independent or company owned?

Chris Pople said...

eatmynels: It's still half-boozer and would make a pretty good place for just drinks I reckon; it's a nice old room. Before it was this scary thing:,-0.090026&spn=0,0.009645&t=h&z=17&layer=c&cbll=51.473011,-0.089676&panoid=xCPyEQ6grExrRBwmLO9yzw&cbp=12,236.27,,0,-1.4

Mr Noodles said...

I can understand why you might think that The Crooked Well is in a seemingly incongruous location, but I'm not sure why you think that this is in any way analogous to Chilli Cool's location in Bloomsbury.

Chilli Cool is ideally located for its core constituency of Mainland Chinese students. Many of which either live in the nearby University of London halls of residence or study at the many nearby centres of learning.

German said...

Quince jelly with cheese just perfect for finish a nice meal!

Oisin said...

Always pleasant to read about another pub getting serious about food. Camberwell is a little far from me but your review forces me to plan a visit. Wonder if the asparagus will still be on, I guess not. Good to hear that service was good. Very well written as always.

Leigh said...

A shame about those chickpeas; the duck leg looks lovely. I find it hard to look past duck on a menu - alongside black pudding and porkbelly.

Mariel said...

Love quince jelly with cheese.

Catherine said...

It's all rah rah rah on the East Dulwich Forum about this place.

Terd said...

I live in Camberwell and have done for several years.

No need to backtrack. You're spot on mate. It's a dump. Fact.

Unless you're rich and living on The Grove the only reason you'd live here is because of the goldilocks confluence of good bus transport links without paying for high Tube house prices.

That said, the food options in Camberwell are miles better than East Dulwich, where I used to live . Not surprised that East Dul folk are making the trip over.

Crooked Well is good. Reminds me of The Bear down the road but the dining area is much better, as was the service. I liked it. A tad expensive perhaps, but worth it.

It's still half boozer but not really a cosy pub as such. The boozer half is now better than it was as Le Petit Parisien or The Dark Horse.

Catherine said...

The bread is excellent, from Wild Caper in Brixton, and is baked in the Franco Manca ovens. The rye bread served with their salmon and mackerel starter is very odd and doesn't work. Wonder why they would use bread that looks like it comes out of packet instead of something fresh. Surely something like a couple of pieces of fresh wholemeal would be better. Shared a whole roast chicken Sunday lunch which was pretty good. Plenty leftover for a doggy bag. Love the Doom beer. The whole space is light, airy and attractive.