By John Walsh
When William Blake visited Peckham Rye in 1766, aged nine, he claimed to have seen an oak tree “filled with angels, bright angelic wings bespangling every bough like stars.” Superior London foodies may scoff, but modern-day Peckham has, in the last four years, become a bit of an angelic gastro-tree itself, with every street in this formerly grotty suburb bespangled with cool little restaurants offering a United Nations of cuisines: Artusi, (Italian), Begging Bowl (Thai), Miss Tapas (Spanish), Banh Banh (Vietnamese) and a dozen others, including my current favourite, Pedler.
You can practically hear the bustle and hum of the place from the street. It’s small as a shoe-box, with an alley of tables leading away to the kitchen, and packed with Sunday-lunchtime chatterers. A dashing chap welcomed us at the door and steered us to a high counter with stools, flanked by an artfully silvered mirror. The decor is terrific. I loved the salvage-yard wooden bits ‘n’ bobs, the Auntie Maud flowered crockery, the patterned cushions, the exposed brickwork, a neon artwork of a dripping lolly… Our waitress Anna could not have been more attentive, or patient with our increasingly raucous table.
The house cocktails, agreeably priced at £7, add some lovely twists to classic drinks: Peck’em Martini adds white vermouth, aperol and fresh grapefruit to Little Bird gin, and is heavenly. The Sunday menu is brief, brunch-tastic and written in a form of shorthand: “wild ‘shrooms,” “smashed avo,” “charred broccers.” I was gagging to try their eggs Benedict with smokehouse bacon, kale and hollandaise, but my children reminded me it was now 3pm and I had to have proper lunch.
Pedler doesn’t offer transformative cuisine: they offer high-quality comfort food served with imagination and flourish. Clementine’s smoked peameal belly bacon with cheesy grits and fried egg was a clever variant on roast pork belly, and the grits several degrees better than the semolina gunge they serve in New Orleans. Sophie’s seafood kedgeree with broad beans, lemon and poached egg looked a little unappetising but was a riot of eggyfishiosity. Max and Chris both ordered “spatchcock chicken, ‘slaw, maple & jalapeno cornbread” and were surprised (but, you know, cool about it) to be served a whole chicken each. They loved the smoky barbecued flesh and kick of green pepper but both need a doggie bag to take the remnants home. These are not “small plates for sharing” — they’re “colossal plates for sharing among a platoon of starving squaddies.” I think the waiting staff might advise lunchers how large the helpings will be.
My frizzle chicken was over-battered until it resembled a cobblestone you could efficaciously fling at the police during a riot. The chicken breast within was dry, but tastily enlivened by the rich gravy. I’d heard scary rumours of the incendiary Attitude Sauce that accompanied this version of Chicken Maryland, but it seemed to offer only medium scarring of the oesophagus.
The “boozy bourbon banana, messy cheesecake, nuts, salted caramel” pudding was, as promised, a real mess but it wrapped loving arms around the tongue. The cheese platter was very fine, especially the Kentish Blue, as was – brilliant touch — the raisiny toast and charred cranberries. The wine list was gratifyingly inexpensive: nothing over £35, and the Viognier was sublimely freighted with little zephyrs of peach and apricot.
For £40 a head it was terrific value. I’m telling everyone to try Pedler’s combination of warmhearted charm and generous cooking. A shame William Blake isn’t around to benefit. He was, after all, professionally concerned with incarnations of Paradise.
Pedler, 58 Peckham Rye, London SE15 4JR, tel: 0203 030 5015; www.pedlerpeckhamrye.com/
Food *** Ambience **** Service *****