Down in SE15, the food scene is getting so fertile that you can barely stumble out of Peckham Rye station without walking into a blinding new spot. Literally, in the case of Coal Rooms – a smoky small-plates joint in the old ticket office next door.
No expense has been spared on the Grade II-listed space (the Wes Anderson-esque loos were worth the trip alone). Some of the best seats are at the kitchen counter, perfect for huffing up meaty smoke from the robata grill and coal oven behind it.
But keep moving and you’ll hit an airier, more refined dining room, festooned with Scandi-Japanese furniture and drapey plants. It’s ever-so cool and reassuringly calm, with none of the brash rowdiness of a lot of Peckham’s hip new spots.
And the menu? A brilliant and varied beast, running the gamut from modern American fare – grits with pickled jalapenos, shrimp with buttermilk – to inspired global fusion dishes, all marked by the kitchen’s proclivity for flames. Bagna càuda, a garlicky Italian dip, was strung through with miso and seaweed-heavy rice seasoning, then slathered over charred cauliflower. A wedge of hispi cabbage was burned and covered in scorching jerk dressing and ground-up pork crackling. Full-flavoured mutton shoulder was slow-cooked and served in a shredded pile; drench it with house Wow Wow gravy, flecked with capers, and you’ve got a mound of flesh to rival any in town. A side dish of killer roast potatoes covered in a duvet of melty raclette cheese, stewed onions and beef-fat mayo, was a total no-brainer. The hordes should flock for these alone.
For dessert, a knowing riff on the St John classic of dense Eccles cakes with crumbly Lancashire cheese did the unthinkable and improved on that iconic dish. What to say? The looser, mince-pie-like cake and creamy blue cheese just did it for me. A bastardised, icy tiramisu was nearly as good, served in a paper coffee cup, with a light froth (made of leftover barista milk from the bar) in place of your regular mascarpone. Divisive? Yup. Delicious? Yup.
I could wax rapturous about every one of the meticulous dishes (there were many, many more) but, really, you should just go. Stool, counter or table – take any seat you can get. South east London just got a new benchmark.