The southeastern neighbourhood of Camberwell is London’s best-kept secret. Situated between Brixton and Peckham, the area boasts an unpretentious and raffish Victorian charm that perfectly complements a lively and multiethnic food scene.
As you walk down Camberwell Church Street – the noisy artery connecting Camberwell with Peckham – prepare to be greeted by a dazzling array of world cuisines. The local College of Arts draws a hip student crowd to the neighbourhood, bringing youth and vitality to Camberwell’s melting pot of cultures and cuisines. Catering to this student market and locals alike, the wide range of cafes and restaurants combine distinctive character with culinary excellence, serving authentic, hearty and inexpensive food with passion and pride.
Whether you’re tempted by a heaving platter of mezze or a stylish sliver of Neapolitan pizza, you’ll be hard-pressed to decide on where to eat. Find below a handful of local favourites.
Venture on a short walk from Camberwell’s central thoroughfare and be amply rewarded for your efforts by this family-run Eritrean restaurant. Based in an unlikely location below an austere concrete housing block, Zeret Kitchen gives new meaning to the phrase ‘never judge a book by its cover.’ The food at Zeret is served on huge and colourful silver platters that resemble an artist’s palette: lentil stews, steamed spinach and roasted chick peas comprise the vegetarian option, while the meat dishes offer lamb, beef and chicken choices that are roasted, grilled and simmered in a variety of exotic sauces and spices. Following Eritrean custom, diners scoop up these delicious concoctions with pieces of sour, spongy flatbreads known as ‘injeras.’ The waiters regularly bring out complimentary sides, and all meals are rounded off with jugs of steaming, rich Ethiopian coffee; overflowing bowls of salty popcorn; and burning frankincense. Offering a wonderfully sensory experience with warm and accommodating service, all for a very reasonable price, Zeret ranks amongst London’s best-loved restaurants.
216 – 218 Camberwell Road
Falafel and Shawarma
As its name suggests, Falafel and Shawarma offers a simple menu of Lebanese fare that specialises in – yes, you guessed it – falafel and shawarma! With its diner-like décor and bright lighting, what this small joint lacks in choice and ambiance it makes up for in the deliciousness and value of its food. Cheap and generous portions have earned Falafel and Shawarma a particularly glowing reputation amongst local students. Standout dishes include the enormous mezze platters or the falafel wraps with mint yoghurt and chili sauce. The sticky baklava is a lovely sweet treat to end your meal, but be warned – you might not have room for it.
27 Camberwell Church Street
If you are in a hunger-fuelled hurry to find a restaurant that will satisfy your taste buds, you could be forgiven for walking straight past Van Hing’s inconspicuous green exterior. But take a moment to pop inside this small restaurant, and you may well be lured to a seat by the tantalising sights and smells of Far Eastern cuisine. The steaming bowls of rice, patterned Formica tabletops and charming teapots serving green tea lend the restaurant an effortlessly authentic Vietnamese vibe. What’s more, the fact that Van Hing is always packed with Vietnamese locals who return for their dinner night after night is a testament to its quality. Service can sometimes be a little reluctant, but the reliably excellent food is worth the wait. Popular dishes include the pho, summer rolls and tofu vermicelli. Go for variety and order as much as you like – it’s almost impossible to spend too much at Van Hing.
42 Camberwell Church Street
Many punters consider this to be London’s best Turkish restaurant. The smell of the chargrilled flatbreads served with every meal wanders out onto the street, beckoning passers-by to enter FM Mangal’s vibrant interior. Always bustling, the venue consists of three floors, with an open metal staircase connecting the ground floor with an upper mezzanine. Chefs cook their sumptuous fare on open grills at the front of the restaurant from behind swathes of smoke. While the menu is not very vegetarian-friendly, meat lovers will devour salty lamb chops and marinated chicken kebabs served with sides of red cabbage and buttery rice. There is a special ritual to the dining experience here, where waiters bring thimbles of almond liquor and cubes of fresh watermelon as a complimentary treat while you are waiting for the bill.
54 Camberwell Church Street
The Crooked Well
The Crooked Well is based on Grove Lane, a sedate street that loops off Camberwell’s busier roads and is lined by Victorian terraces that retain their historic grace. This upmarket gastro pub specializes in the very best of British cuisine, including broad bean and asparagus frittatas or pulled pork with lemon, Israeli couscous and pomegranate. The cocktail and wine lists are worth a visit on their own. Check out The Crooked Well’s flashy website for special nights and deals.
16 Grove Lane
THEO’s pizzeria is a recent addition to Camberwell’s culinary landscape. Opening at the end of 2015, it has since drawn flocks of pizza-lovers and elicited enthusiastic reviews from London’s most difficult-to-impress food critics. This white-walled space – complete with a charming outdoor courtyard for summer dining – provides the modern, stylish setting for a simple range of wood-fired Neapolitan dishes. Particularly well-known for its charred and smoky sourdough pizza bases, THEO’s keeps things exciting by regularly changing its menu, but popular dishes stay put. Mainstays include the Anchovies pizza made with salty Italian anchovies and tomatoes, capers, olives, oregano, and mozzarella and the spicy Napoli Salami cooked with locally sourced meat. If you want to wash down your pizza with a sweet taste of Italy, go for the Aperol Spritz or the Dolce Limone, a classic blend of Frangelico, egg white, limoncello and lemon syrup.
2 Grove Lane
Maloko is a vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free paradise. Specialising in vegetarian-only buckwheat galettes and sweet crepes, this eclectic cafe is run by a flamboyant Cameroonian owner and a retinue of friendly staff. Equally distinctive is the unusual décor – an assortment of mismatched furniture, threadbare armchairs and colourful pieces of art, not to mention a ceiling covered in sackcloth. An open and informal layout allows customers to wander into the kitchen to watch as the chefs craft crepes and galettes. Choose from a variety of unique combinations, like the delicious Red Goat, made with beetroot, spinach, goat’s cheese and sweet potato. There is also an enticing selection of teas. Maloko is open until late and has a BYOB policy, making it a popular location for festive groups of friends to enjoy a tipple or two over a flavorsome meal.
65 Camberwell Church Street
Whether it’s breakfast, brunch, lunch or dinner you’re after, No67 will have something for you. This intimate, independent café and restaurant is based in the beautiful South London Gallery, a light and airy Victorian house situated next to Camberwell College of Arts. A popular staple is the Full Spanglish – a hearty breakfast consisting of two fried or scrambled eggs, chargrilled chorizo and morcilla, beans, roasted mushrooms and toast. The evening options have a distinctly exotic flair, including highlights such as sea bream, kohlrabi and pine nuts; for dessert, elderflower and gooseberry sorbet. For a cultural twist to your meal, don’t forget to browse the current art exhibitions in the capacious rooms adjacent to No67.
67 Peckham Road