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)

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
News
Jamie and Emily Pharro discovering their friend's prank
video
News
i100
Life and Style
food + drink
News
Tim Vine has won the funniest joke award at the Edinburgh Festival 2014
peopleTim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award, has nigh-on 200 in his act. So how are they conceived?
News
people
Life and Style
techApp to start sending headlines, TV clips and ads to your phone
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift crawls through the legs of twerking dancers in her 'Shake It Off' music video
musicEarl Sweatshirt thinks so
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Daniel Radcliffe and Zoe Kazan in What If
filmReview: Actor swaps Harry Potter for Cary Grant in What If
News
Our resilience to stress is to a large extent determined by our genes
science
Travel
travel
Sport
sportBesiktas 0 Arsenal 0: Champions League qualifying first-leg match ends in stalemate in Istanbul
News
Pornography is more accessible - and harder to avoid - than ever
news... but they still admit watching it
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

    Oracle 11g SQL 2008 DBA (Unix, Oracle RAC, Mirroring, Replicati

    £6000 - £50000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: Oracle 11...

    Recruitment Consultant (Graduate Trainee), Finchley Central

    £17K OTE £30K: Charter Selection: Highly successful and innovative specialist...

    SQL DBA/ C# Developer - T-SQL, C#.Net

    £45000 - £55000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Working with an exciting ...

    Sales and Office Administrator – Sports Media

    £23,000: Sauce Recruitment: A global leader in sports and entertainment is now...

    Day In a Page

    Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

    A descent into madness in America's heartlands

    David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
    BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

    BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

    Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home
    Lauded therapist Harley Mille still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

    Lauded therapist still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

    Australian Harley Miller is as frustrated by court delays as she is with the idiosyncrasies of immigration law
    Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world. But could his predictions of war do the same?

    Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world...

    But could his predictions of war do the same?
    Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs: 'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

    'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

    Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs
    Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities, but why?

    Young at hort

    Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities. But why are so many people are swapping sweaty clubs for leafy shrubs?
    Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award: 'making a quip as funny as possible is an art'

    Beyond a joke

    Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award, has nigh-on 200 in his act. So how are they conceived?
    The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

    The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

    Sadly though, the Lawrence of Arabia star is not around to lend his own critique
    Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire: The joy of camping in a wetland nature reserve and sleeping under the stars

    A wild night out

    Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire offers a rare chance to camp in a wetland nature reserve
    Comic Sans for Cancer exhibition: It’s the font that’s openly ridiculed for its jaunty style, but figures of fun have their fans

    Comic Sans for Cancer exhibition

    It’s the font that’s openly ridiculed for its jaunty style, but figures of fun have their fans
    Besiktas vs Arsenal: Five things we learnt from the Champions League first-leg tie

    Besiktas vs Arsenal

    Five things we learnt from the Champions League first-leg tie
    Rory McIlroy a smash hit on the US talk show circuit

    Rory McIlroy a smash hit on the US talk show circuit

    As the Northern Irishman prepares for the Barclays, he finds time to appear on TV in the States, where he’s now such a global superstar that he needs no introduction
    Boy racer Max Verstappen stays relaxed over step up to Formula One

    Boy racer Max Verstappen stays relaxed over step up to F1

    The 16-year-old will become the sport’s youngest-ever driver when he makes his debut for Toro Rosso next season
    Fear brings the enemies of Isis together at last

    Fear brings the enemies of Isis together at last

    But belated attempts to unite will be to no avail if the Sunni caliphate remains strong in Syria, says Patrick Cockburn
    Charlie Gilmour: 'I wondered if I would end up killing myself in jail'

    Charlie Gilmour: 'I wondered if I'd end up killing myself in jail'

    Following last week's report on prison suicides, the former inmate asks how much progress we have made in the 50 years since the abolition of capital punishment