Peckham is a lot more than Hooky Street and regenerated bits of concrete. It’s a bustling part of London that’s excellent for food and drink. From flavour-packed thali with homemade paratha, to some of London’s smokiest and sauciest jerk, plus wonderful wine bars and fiery West African barbecue as well, the breadth of options in SE15 is truly brilliant. The only question is what to eat first.
The Kurdish restaurant on Rye Lane has two big glistening shawarmas on the go at all times but their menu is evenly split between meat, vegetarian and vegan options. The chicken qozi is fantastic. It glistens with honey and lemon and the potatoes absorb all the fats and flavours to evolve into an entirely new kind of brick-like carbohydrate. The vegan mezze is also excellent.’ falafel is crunchy and light, full of yellowness and a smattering of herbs, along with the pistachio hummus and dalooja, a red pepper and pomegranate dip. There are hajeri bread sandwiches and shawarmas as well and everything is good eaten in or taken away.
Humankind’s relationship with fire goes back a long way. Humankind’s relationship with moody, exposed brick restaurants that are perfect for feeling like a sexy grown-up is arguably slightly shorter, but in our opinion, just as important. Kudu Grill, the third restaurant from Kudu Collective, is bringing the two together and the results are entirely fantastic. We’re talking fried pigs’ tails nibbles, whole grilled lemon soles, and braai cauliflower with goat’s curd, spiced biltong, sophisticated cocktails, and - whisper it - treacle bordelaise t-bone, all served in a room that feels like you’re at the boujiest of house parties. Just be sure to book ahead, it gets busy.
A good paratha is something we’d walk 20 minutes for. An excellent paratha is something we’d cross the city for. Ganapati, a cosy South Indian-inspired restaurant on Holly Grove in Peckham, has the latter. There’s a menu of exciting things like thaire vadai, a savoury lentil doughnut soaked in yoghurt, poppadoms with spicy garlic pickles, and our favourite thing here: the thali. Come here on a weekday afternoon and you’ll get one of the most filling, delicious lunches around for under £15. We’re talking a choice of curry vegetarian, fish, or chicken curry, rice, poppadoms, an excellent raita, and a mung bean salad. And because we are strong believers that bread is the key to happiness, make sure you try one of those flakey Kerala parathas as well. You’ll come here for the lunch menu, then back again for dinner, then probably do it all again until you’ve tried everything on the menu.
London isn’t lacking in jerk options, but it is when it comes to the two Cs: consistency and char. JBs has no problem with either of these. The little restaurant off Peckham High Street makes jerk full of spice, sweetness and a welcome hit of smokiness. A small portion of chicken will set you back just £3 while on weekends their jerk pork is the thing to get ASAP. Their menu of Caribbean classics is all homemade, from patties to stews, and it’s the kind of place you can happily swing by alone or make a detour for to pick up something ludicrously tasty.
Levan is that rare thing in London: a wine-bar and sharing plates restaurant that actually serves plates of food big enough to share. It’s a super casual and relaxed place. The kind that makes you feel that you’re more mature, successful, and cool than you likely are. Well, that’s what it did for us anyway. Hit it for a glass of something from their excellent natural wine list, and stay until you’ve eaten everything on the menu.
Sometimes you leave your house with only one thing on your mind: food. That means no time to wait in queues, no patience for a 20-minute history lesson about the heritage of the chanterelle mushrooms used in the pate, and absolutely no small plates. When a satisfying, delicious meal is your top priority, head to this no nonsense spot on Rye Lane. Here you’ll find plates of piping hot lamb kabali pilau loaded with carrots and raisins, chicken karahi in a fresh, light tomato sauce, and banjan borani - all of which should all be on your table. It’s a great place to have in your back pocket for a lowkey weeknight dinner, and it’s the perfect restaurant for a group of hungry people who forgot to make a reservation on a Thursday evening.
Forza Wine is a rooftop up on Rye Lane, and it leans more restaurant than bar. Once you see a couple happily sharing an oil-drenched panzanella in the sun, you’ll understand why. It’s all sharing plates: cauliflower fritti with aioli, mussels in a punchy nduja sauce, grilled flatbread with Cheesestring-like taleggio. And, as the name suggests, there’s a solid and natural-filled wine list too, as well cocktails for under a tenner. You can sit inside or out, just be sure to specify when you book.
No matter whether you sit inside Mike’s converted storehouse in Copeland Park or out on the massive, covered and heated decked area in the yard, you’ve got the same menu of spongy Roman-style slices to work through. The ‘Nicoletta’ - a pineapple and mozzarella led number draped in mortadella and laced with perfectly sweet and punchy scotch bonnet onions - is a stand out, but the same attention to ingredients, flavours and textures runs throughout the brief menu. You could opt for a couple of slices and a gem lettuce salad and leave here fairly satisfied for well under £15, but you might want to consider coming with a pal, camping out for the afternoon and trying all the slices, plus an ice cream sandwich, and a round of margaritas.
Persepolis isn’t your average London corner shop, though you could be mistaken for thinking so from the outside. This luminous yellow Persian deli will brighten your mood even on the most dire London day. It’s got BYOB cafe space serving delicious vegetarian mezze at amazingly low prices. It’s perfect for a drop-in lunch, but you’ll probably want to book for dinner because this place is no secret.
Some foods open up parts of your brain you didn’t even realise were there. They react with your tastebuds and do the tango with your receptors in eye opening and, in the case of Alhaji’s yaji, eye watering ways. Their homemade yaji (a never-fully-known spice mix of chilli, peanut, ginger and garlic that varies from the hands that make it) is one of these foods. It covers their freshly grilled suya - you can choose from lamb, beef (get the tozo), or chicken - and it’s the reason you likely find a new found appreciation for raw tomato and white onion. Both offset the fiery spice and savouriness that’s comes as standard from this melt-in-your-mouth Nigerian barbecue spot. FYI it’s takeaway only.
Sometimes queues are a sign that a place is very good and sometimes a queue is just a sign that you did some drunk online shopping and now need to wait 45 minutes for the Zara returns’ desk. But in the case of Yemanes, it’s definitely the former. A family-run North African stall just off Rye Lane, they specialise in speedy and deeply satisfying wraps. The fillings - think falafel, fresh salad, and tender lamb shawarma - are great, but it’s the wraps themselves that really make this place a must-try lunch spot. They cook each wrap fresh for every customer and it’s delightfully chewy and thick. Thanks to their £6 price tag, Yemanes is permanently busy but the wait is worth it, and if you’re really feeling bold you can fight it out for one of their few little pavement tables.
Sophisticated without being overly slick, Kudu is an excellent South African inspired restaurant for a classy-ish dinner or brunch. It’s one of those ‘I want the whole menu’ type places, but whatever you do, don’t miss out on the bread with bacon butter (or alternatively shrimp). It’s mind boggling. Thought hijacking. If it were a person, we’d probably send it an overly eager text on a Friday night.
Zionly Manna is a takeaway and dine-in spot inside Peckham’s Rye Lane Market with a changing daily selection of deliciously fresh African and Caribbean-inspired curries and stews, alongside staples like rotis, rice and peas, and dumplings - all of which are entirely vegan. Individual options are available, but £20 will get you a bulging platter of Ital-inspired goodness, including everything that’s on that day, four dumplings, and one of their delicious handmade juices (sorrel and cranberry is our favourite).
There’s a special (and unhinged) kind of pleasure in backing yourself on the spice front at Tiwa N Tiwa. The West African grill restaurant packs a punch. Their suya, though not freshly grilled, has absolutely no problem in letting you know its presence while their beef ayamase has the kind of slow burning chilli hum that’s more than welcome as the temperature outside drops. You can sit inside with a beer or get everything to takeaway.
Coal Rooms is a train station restaurant. Not in that it serves week-old sausage rolls and spitefully priced Ribena, but in that it’s attached to Peckham Rye station. Any closer and you’d tap out to pay the bill here. This is a very good thing if you’re coming or going and need somewhere both reliable and tasty. Or if you’re looking for one of the best cheesy crumpets ever. Or a ten out of ten roast chicken on a Sunday.
081 Pizzeria makes some very, very good pizza. We’re talking thick, chewy crusts, rich sweet tomato sauce, and toppings that include things like fried aubergine slow-cooked in a tomato sauce, and mushrooms with smoked mozzarella and truffle oil. Located inside Peckham Levels, this is a solid option in the area, and if you look at the menu and are torn between two of the 12inch pizzas, just get them both - we’ve done the research and can confirm they taste just as good cold as they do freshly baked.
Remember the good tests at school? Ones where you were very confident (or had a bottle of water with some very interesting and useful ingredients). Going to Mr. Bao is a bit like having one of those tests. You cross things off the menu, and, because pretty much everything here is tasty and nice, it’s quite hard to fail. The baos are great, especially the mushroom and chicken ones, while the small plates are almost all consistent crowd pleasers as well.
Please sir, I want some more. Is this what the Begging Bowl was named after? Probably not. Is it completely and utterly fitting? Yes. Peckham’s go-to Thai spot is one of the best in London, and everyone should be coming here. But also please don’t, because we want that pomelo salad and braised pork soup all to ourselves. We recommend coming with a little crowd, so you can order a bit of everything.
Candlelight isn’t, for the most part, ideal living or working conditions. A candlelit bath, yes. A candlelit batch of washing and ironing, no. Peckham Bazaar, however, thrives in candlelight. It’s a postcard of a neighbourhood restaurant. Intimate, a bit out of the way, and it’s got a red phone box outside it. This place serves some lovely Mediterranean food from it’s charcoal grill - like octopus with white taramasalata, or quail with tagine. And the atmosphere is as relaxed and slow burning as the candles on your table.
Artusi is the Italian neighbourhood restaurant of your dreams. Minus the cobbled street exterior and thirty degree heat. It’s a cosy, casual, you’ll-end-up-coming-here-once-a-week, type place. The menu changes constantly, but expect things like dreamily ripe bull’s heart tomatoes with nice things, a ragu and other pastas, and simply done meat and fish with vegetables. Put simply, this is a very nice restaurant.