Some historians believe the name Camberwell means ‘Cripple Well’, and that this south London suburb was originally established as a settlement for poor folk expelled from other parts of London in the eleventh century for having diseases such as leprosy. The lepers were sent to Camberwell for treatment from its ancient wells and generous churches. Fast-forward to 2017, though, and Londoners are flocking to the area for more gluttonous reasons.
Camberwell’s got a raw edge that’ll please anyone worried about the tarting up of south London. Its colourful pubs are the perfect blend of seasoned locals and eccentrically dressed students from the nearby Camberwell College of Arts. And with Camberwell Green and Ruskin Park just moments away, there’s also the chance to pitch up somewhere green if you fancy escaping London’s grey bits.
Running through the heart of the area, Camberwell Church Street has perhaps the greatest concentration of affordable and excellent restaurants in London. The road may have gotten a little pricier in recent years, but you can still indulge in mountains of Instagram-ready dishes and have enough cash for a pint after. So let’s give a hand to the excellent Camberwell Church Street. (That wasn’t a leper joke, promise.)
‘The Special’ – which features lamb cutlets, spicy minced lamb shish, a tender chicken thigh and a spatchcocked quail – at authentic Turkish kebab house FM Mangal.
A bufalina at Theo’s Pizzeria. It has a wood oven so big you feel the heat as you walk through the door.
An earthy slice of white chocolate and pistachio cake at The Pigeon Hole Café Bar, run by young entrepreneur Eve. The café’s quirky interior (yes, there’s taxidermy) and friendly staff will quickly turn you into a regular.
Some of the best falafel in the city at Falafel and Shawarma, which often has locals queuing up.
One of the dozen craft beers on offer at Stormbird. This beer-lover’s pub has nearly a hundred different bottles behind the bar.
Beers and chat at Hermit’s Cave. Filled with talkative clientele of all ages, it’s the closest Camberwell gets to The Queen Vic.
A calvados-filled Autumn Apple cocktail at The Crooked Well, just off Church Street. It’ll make you wish summer was over already.
A pear smoothie in unique, psychedelic, African-inspired veggie café Maloko. Try the galettes too.
Go dancing at The Tiger, open until 3.30am every Friday and Saturday. This welcoming pub is the kind of place you’ll hear afrobeat and The Beach Boys in the same evening.
Walk five minutes up the hill to Ruskin Park on a Friday evening for free summer music at the bandstand. There’s nothing like hearing a saxophone choir blast out Sade’s ‘Smooth Operator’ while you feed the ducks.
A custom-build bicycle from Cycle PS. There’s a café with a Nintendo 64 out back too, in case you fancy revisiting Rainbow Road.
An old-school hip hop disc from second‑hand goldmine Rat Records. I picked up a pristine first pressing of Jay Z’s ‘Reasonable Doubt’ for just £20. All in the name of research, of course.
And if you only do one thing…
Take a bite of China’s Xinjiang province at Silk Road, arguably London’s greatest new-age Chinese restaurant. The pork fillet stir-fry with curly black fungus and the lamb skewers are to die for.
By Thomas Hobbs, who you’ll find down The Tiger this Friday.
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