Camberwell Arms, restaurant review: Hearty and comforting food carried off with panache


A few summers ago, the weirdest pop-up restaurant in London popped up on the roof of a car park. Frank’s Café, as it was called, was the invention of the Hannah Barry Gallery in Peckham. They commissioned a temporary wooden pavilion from the architects Lettice Drake and Paloma Gormley (Antony’s daughter) to go on the roof of Peckham’s multi-storey car park, alongside a sculpture exhibition called Bold Tendencies.

The pavilion, a red tarpaulin stretched over wooden struts, offered a refuge from the elements, while a menu promised cheap treats like grilled sweetcorn and smoked paprika, barbecued plantain with hot pepper sauce, and ox-heart kebabs. The drinks menu offered Dark & Stormys and Moscow Mules, London beers and wine at £18 a bottle.

People started to talk about this rooftop thing, with its lovely views of night-time London, its grill-and-barbecue dishes, its increasingly groovy clientele. More punters journeyed to Peckham to ride  10 storeys up a municipal building in search of fun. A party atmosphere developed under the red tarpaulin. It became ridiculously trendy. Long queues formed of diners who’d previously never dreamed of eating ox-heart kebabs. Shoreditch scenesters and edgy Hackneyites made the pilgrimage to see what the buzz was about.

When I learned that new Camberwell Arms, previously The Recreation Ground, had been bought by the team behind the Anchor & Hope in Waterloo (a place that started so many gastropub things, including a no-booking policy)  – and that the head chef was Mike Davies, previously ensconced at the A&H and Frank’s – my appetite was whetted beyond endurance.

The place lived up to the whetting. This is easily the most attractive pub I’ve set foot in for months. The décor shows no interest in industrial chic, that blight on restaurant life. The walls are ox-blood magenta. There’s a long bar around which you can eat supper, though the dining area is preferable, with its solid wood tables and roaring log fire. There are chandeliers and sconce lights, and Mr Davies and his team work away behind the pass without chef’s-theatre dramatics. To my surprise, our party of four got a table straight away; that won’t be the case in another month or so, when word gets out.

The service here is unobtrusively terrific. Iced water appears the minute you sit down. Crusty white bread materialises before the menu. Two waiters successively itemised the charcuterie as though reciting Shakespeare. Our hilarious waitress, Siobhan, talked us through every dish as if she’d personally supervised the cooking.

The food here is hearty and comforting, but carried off with panache. Mussels with cider and bacon were lifted by the presence of cockles. “And what’s lovely about this,” said daughter Sophie, “is that there’s a little bit of bacon in each mussel because they’ve been so well scattered.” Purple sprouting broccoli with roasted garlic aioli was richly green, deliciously fresh with crunchy gremolata. ‘Poor man’s potatoes’ (new to me) were new potatoes boiled with fennel, rosemary, onion and garlic to a stew-like consistency, then topped with a fried  egg and smoked paprika: wonderfully tasty, and prickly with spice. Among the cold meats, smoked bacon slices stood out – it seems there’s a rudimentary smoke-house on the pub’s roof.

Other daughter Clementine and I shared a main-course special of chopped rabbit, dished up in joints gleaming irresistibly with that charcoal-grilled sheen. The hapless bunny had been marinated in mustard, red wine vinegar, salt and pepper before being shown the grill, and it tasted divine, as did the chopped cavolo nero in a cream sauce. Sophie’s brill was crispy on the outside, supple inside, and soft lumps of smoked salmon enriched the dill-and-cream sauce.

Angie’s Herdwick lamb chop was an odd sight, wantonly splayed apart like a diagram showing the location of the fallopian tubes. It was marvellously tender, though, nicely accompanied by white kale in a crème fraîche sauce; such a good marriage of flavours, we thought, had no need for the dollop of olive tapenade plonked on the kale like an incubus.

Homemade baked cheesecake, sharpened by tart poached rhubarb, ended a meal of splendidly crafted dishes, each with unexpected extra touches of savoury magic. What’s really good about this place is its warm heart. When Sophie cursed her fate to find that the chocolate and pear crumble tart with butterscotch sauce was off the menu, Siobhan brought her some of the sauce anyway, with wedges of poached pear from another dish. This is a place that does everything slightly beyond the call of duty.

Food ****
Ambience ***
Service *****

Camberwell Arms, 65 Camberwell Church Street, London SE5 (020-7358 4364). Around £90 for two, including wine

Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Arts and Entertainment
One of the installations in the Reiner Ruthenbeck exhibition at the Serpentine Gallery
artCritics rally to defend Reiner Ruthenbeck's 'Overturned Furniture'
John Cleese is promoting his new book
A-list actresses such as Deepika Padukone get paid a tenth of what their male counterparts make per film
The Black Friday Vines that will destroy your faith in humanity

Arts and Entertainment
The cast of Downton Abbey in the 2014 Christmas special
Robbie Rogers: US former Leeds United footballer, 25, announced he was gay in February 2013, shortly after he left Elland Road. Rogers 'retired' after writing on his blog: 'I'm a soccer player, I'm Christian, and I'm gay.' Has since signed with Los Angeles Galaxy.
peopleUS footballer said he had hoped Michael Sam and Jason Collins coming out might have helped
Arts and Entertainment
Johnny Depp no longer cares if people criticise his movie flops
Arts and Entertainment
All in a day's work: the players in the forthcoming 'Posh People: Inside Tatler'
TVGrace Dent thinks we should learn to 'hug a Hooray Henry', because poshness is an accident of birth
Arts and Entertainment
Wolf (Nathan McMullen), Ian (Dan Starky), The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), Clara (Jenna Coleman), Santa Claus (Nick Frost) in the Doctor Who Christmas Special (BBC/Photographer: David Venni)

Presents unwrapped, turkey gobbled... it's time to relax

Arts and Entertainment
Convicted art fraudster John Myatt

The two-year-old said she cut off her fringe because it was getting in her eyes
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    Recruitment Genius: Senior Project Manager - Bristol

    £31000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: In the UK, the major project fo...

    h2 Recruit Ltd: Sales Executive - Meetings & Events (MICE) - £40,000 OTE

    £30000 - £40000 per annum + benefits: h2 Recruit Ltd: Are you a high achieving...

    h2 Recruit Ltd: Account Executive - Hotel Reservation Software - £40,000 OTE

    £30000 - £40000 per annum + benefits: h2 Recruit Ltd: A rapidly growing Hotel ...

    Recruitment Genius: Tyre Technician / Mechanic

    £15000 - £16800 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Tyre Technician / Mechanic is...

    Day In a Page

    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

    Christmas Appeal

    Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
    Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

    Is it always right to try to prolong life?

    Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
    Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

    What does it take for women to get to the top?

    Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
    Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

    Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

    Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
    French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

    French chefs campaign against bullying

    A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
    Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

    Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

    Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
    Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

    Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

    Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
    Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

    Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

    Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
    Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

    Paul Scholes column

    I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
    Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

    Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

    So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
    Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

    Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

    The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
    Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

    Sarkozy returns

    The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
    Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

    Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

    Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
    Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

    Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

    Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game