The Crooked Well, 16 Grove Lane, London SE5

 

There's been a lot of nonsense talked already about The Crooked Well. The spectacle of a middle-class restaurant opening in apparently hard-as-nails Camberwell – a gastropub (gasp!) run by a chap called Hector (shriek!) whose website brazenly mentions that he worked in a French nightclub during his gap-year (snigger!) and whose partner is a double-barrelled posho called Matt whose career began in Tunbridge Wells (stop! Stop!) – is being greeted as if Heston Blumenthal had opened a restaurant in Wormwood Scrubs.

For heaven's sake. Camberwell has always leaned towards, if not gentility, then class-neutrality. It occupies a no-man's-land between Brixton and Dulwich, constantly pulled between the edgy and the bourgeois, somehow maintaining equilibrium. When I lived there, my neighbours were journalists and advertising types. Florence Welch, of the Machine, grew up in my road. Ten years earlier, Jonathan Miller, Alan Bennett and Terry Jones of the Monty Pythons all lived in Camberwell Grove (though, sadly, not together). It was hardly an upscale neighbourhood, but it wasn't conspicuously grotty. And before The Crooked Well was on this site, a bar called The Parisien managed to hold its own against the, you know, marauding street hooligans, and served perfectly acceptable steaks.

Angie and I arrived at 8.30pm on a freezing Tuesday evening, looking for comfort and, more to the point, comfort food. From outside, The Well is a rather cheerless-looking place with uncurtained windows. Inside, stage left, there's a drinking-and-chatting section, then a bar, then, stage right, a more formal dining area. You wouldn't call it a warm place. Beneath a wall of exposed brickwork was a fireplace, with five candles (rather than logs and coal) burning in it. The radiator beside our table was set to Tepid. The lights were set to Dim/Gloomy. Unclothed Formica tables and wooden chairs creaked on wooden floorboards. More uncurtained windows disclosed the spectacle of frozen Camberwellians struggling home to their two-bar electric fires. I was afraid my frozen fiancée would start to weep.

We needed high levels of pampering, stroking and warming-up. Though the room wasn't up to it, luckily The Well's food and drink were. I liked the way they served gin-and-tonic in a tall glass with a cucumber-long slice of cucumber. Angie loved the watercress and spinach soup, its subtlety given a kick of blue-cheese mousse, clamped between two shards of baguette. I wolfed down my salt and pepper baby squid, lightly battered and perfectly seasoned. We could feel ourselves warming, and indeed cheering, up.

The mains on offer didn't endear themselves. They featured pork belly and calves' liver, none of which appealed; whole trout and grilled seabass with mussels (doesn't hit the spot on a cold night); ricotta ravioli and ratatouille puff pastry (never on a Tuesday – or, indeed, ever). That left only the steak and the venison with red cabbage and white pudding – too rich for the wretched, half-thawed-out carnivore. Luckily, an evening special was announced – duck leg with chorizo and chickpea stew. Could there be a more butch, more comfort-foodie dish? I had reservations about combining chorizo sausage with duck, but it worked out fine, the tiny cubes of Hispanic spice nuzzling against the steaming dark slithery morsels of Anatidae. The chickpeas, though, were a step too far. They brought only a tanning-salon orange hue to the dish, and, later, I'm afraid, a shocking attack of flatulence.

Angie's chargrilled picanha steak (picanha's a Brazilian cut, somewhere between sirloin and rump, though the meat is "100 per cent British") was simply grilled with a herby butter on the side. More impressive were the creamy mashed potato dotted with gleaming traces of garlic, and the super-sweet Chantenay carrots.

Our waitress, Kitty, not only knew everything about every dish, she knew her wine, too. She recommended a Portuguese 2008 Vista Touriga Nacional Reserva. The first taste struck me as tight and unyielding, but 20 minutes later, the wine had emerged from its shell, and was soft and smoochy and delicious. That girl has excellent taste.

We could barely manage a pudding from a delectable-sounding list. But we had to try the lemongrass mousse with mandarin coulis, out of interest. Under a tiara of spun sugar the mousse had the texture of cottage cheese, which did not go at all with the mandarin soup.

Nonetheless, we left The Crooked Well feeling well-disposed to the chefs who seemed to know how to warm the cockles of the January punter. But since, at 1 0.30pm, Camberwell's newest gastropub resembled Edward Hopper's bleak Nighthawks painting, I'd say Hector and Matt and friends need to rethink the atmosphere. The Chase Co at 91 Camberwell Grove (very bourgeois) would be a start. They have some lovely curtains, I believe...

The Crooked Well, 16 Grove Lane, London SE5 (020-7252 7798)

About £100 for two, with wine

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

Tipping policy: "Service charge is 10 per cent discretionary, of which 100 per cent goes to the staff; all tips go to the staff"

Side orders: Gastro greats

The Hand & Flowers

A combination of modern British flavours and rustic French dishes helped make this gastropub the first in the country to be awarded two Michelin stars.

126 West Street, Marlow (01628 482 277)

The Star Inn

The style of cooking here is called 'modern Yorkshire' – with the emphasis very much on locally-sourced ingredients, some from the pub's own kitchen garden.

Harome, North Yorkshire (01439 770 397)

The Gurnard's Head

A shabby-chic coastal pub serving local fish, game, and wild mushrooms. Perfect after a bracing walk along the headland.

Near Zennor, St Ives, Cornwall (01736 796 928)

News
The clocks go forward an hour at 1am on Sunday 30 March
news
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor finds himself in a forest version of London in Doctor Who episode 'In the Forest of the Night'
TVReview: Is the Doctor ever going stop frowning? Apparently not.
Sport
footballMatch report: Real fight back to ruin Argentinian's debut
News
Bruce, left, with Cream bandmates Ginger Rogers, centre, and Eric Clapton in 1967
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Money
Welcome to tinsel town: retailers such as Selfridges will be Santa's little helpers this Christmas, working hard to persuade shoppers to stock up on gifts
news
News
i100
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Architect Frank Gehry is regarded by many as the most important architect of the modern era
arts + entsGehry has declared that 98 per cent of modern architecture is "s**t"
Arts and Entertainment
Soul singer Sam Smith cleared up at the Mobo awards this week
arts + entsSam Smith’s Mobo triumph is just the latest example of a trend
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    Junior Application Support Engineer (ERP / SSRS)

    £23000 - £30000 per annum + pension, 25days holiday: Ashdown Group: An industr...

    IT Systems Analyst / Application Support Engineer (ERP / SSRS)

    £23000 - £30000 per annum + pension, 25days holiday: Ashdown Group: An industr...

    SCRUM Master

    £30 - 50k (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a SCRUM Master to joi...

    Franchise Support Assistant

    £13,520: Recruitment Genius: As this role can be customer facing at times, the...

    Day In a Page

    Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

    Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

    Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
    Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

    Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

    The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
    New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

    New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

    Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
    Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

    Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

    The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
    DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

    Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

    Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
    The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

    Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

    The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
    Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

    Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

    The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
    11 best sonic skincare brushes

    11 best sonic skincare brushes

    Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
    Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

    Paul Scholes column

    I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
    Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

    Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

    While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
    Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

    Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

    Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

    A crime that reveals London's dark heart

    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
    Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

    Lost in translation: Western monikers

    Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
    Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

    Handy hacks that make life easier

    New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
    KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

    KidZania: It's a small world

    The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker