If you lived in southeast London over lockdown, you may have spotted a lone pink and turquoise van pootling down the empty streets. It belongs to wine bar and restaurant Peckham Cellars, which, even when we weren’t allowed to leave the house, kept on resolutely delivering tasty bottles of wine to our doors. For me, seeing those little vans at the height of the pandemic was a small sign of hope: proof there was still life in our shuttered city and that neighbourhoods all over London were looking out for the independent businesses that make them shine.
Looking after locals is still very much in Peckham Cellars’ soul. A friendly cloud of chatter drifts down the street as you approach the place along Queen’s Road as people loll about on wooden benches on the pavement outside, hands clasped around wine glasses and forks hungrily diving into an assortment of small plates.
This is a neighbourhood joint so relaxed and laidback, you’d think nothing of popping in for a drink and snack on any day of the week. But, unlike many local joints, it manages to pair this breezy atmosphere with exceptional food and an impressive wine list worth making a long journey on the Overground for. (It’s officially a Michelin Bib Gourmand-winning spot, if you needed any convincing.)
It’s no surprise the place has attracted such attention. The collected CVs of the three friends who started it up in 2019 read like an anthology of London’s hottest restaurants: Spring, Quo Vadis, BAO, Rovi and Morito are all on the list. Like the decor (an elegant assortment of bare wood and glass), the menu is one of understated excellence. There’s nothing flashy about the food here, these are simple but mighty small plates. The baked crab is creamy, crunchy, pillowy deliciousness stuffed into a shell. The Dedham Vale Rump is perfectly pink and juicy, and all the more moreish for being soaked in Cafe de Paris butter. Even simple dishes like the Cuore del Vesuvio tomatoes and burrata zing with artfully paired nuts and herbs that smell and taste like a hot summer day. I end the meal with a vegan ‘choc ice’, cracking open its velvety chocolate shell with all the glee of a kid in a sweet shop.
The staff immediately feel like friends and you can’t help but trust their suggestions as they easily break down the extensive wine list. We’re recommended Cantina Collecapretta’s ‘Il Rosato’, an Umbrian rose that tastes like strawberry juice.
Peckham Cellars is proof that laidback, neighbourhood dining done well is one of the best evenings out you can hope to have in London. If this place is on your doorstep, you’ve won the jackpot.
The vibe: Laidback neighbourhood dining meets culinary excellence.
The food: Simple but very special European-style small plates.
The drinks: Shelf upon shelf of cannily chosen natural wines and lip-smacking cocktails to boot.
Time Out tip: Trust the staff. They’ll recommend the best plates and drinks to make sure you have the greatest neighbourhood night out.