26 May 2015
Hands up if you don't know what pan-Balkan means? Just me then. If the lovely Peckham Bazaar's anything to go by, it means good things for food. So unexpected in terms of location and execution, but we were knocked out by the procession of elegant courses we encountered. Each element was resolutely considered, improving upon time-honoured, Ottoman-inspired dishes rather than needlessly messing in the name of being cheffy. Such pretty plates... and ruddy magnificent to eat.
The best of the bunch was imam bayildi; stuffed aubergines containing swoon-worthy quantities of extra virgin olive oil. It's a Greek classic that fuelled months of island hopping in my youth, but Peckham Bazaar's handsome specimen won hands down. Spiced quail was more of a departure from tradition, but proved fiddly and fabulous in equal measure. Served with smokey, sweet and sumac-sour freekeh grains and a flurry of pomegranate, the balance between refinement and robust flavour was spot on.
(Let's not forget the starters though. Charred asparagus and baked feta arrived dotted with pearl-like fresh peas and super tender broad beans, pods 'n' all. An other-worldly, mauve tentacle emerged from an oddly beauteous plate of octopus. Every mouthful was delicious).
Pud came in the form of baklava, or goaty Greek numbers (and a cheddar-esque interloper) on the cheeseboard. We moved to the diminutive outdoor space and topped off the meal with a glass of Fokianos. This deeply unusual grape is indiginous to the Greek island of Ikaria, and nods to tawny port in character. It's also indicative of the offbeat but exciting cellar spanning Croatia and Moldova via Cyprus, but leads me to my only grumble. The menu broadcasts: 'BYO on Saturday lunch... no supermarket wine please'. A well-to do-companion recoiled in mock horror at this affectation; 'but what if it's from Waitrose'?! Indeed. We understand the 'small producers' agenda to which the menu alludes, but still found it sniffy. Despite this, the resident wines earn their stripes with plenty of unknown (and unpronounceable) varieties available by the glass. The retsina surprised us as the acceptable face of 'pine wine', while a dry muscat was complex and intriguing.
Admittedly, Peckham Bazaar is in prime hipster territory; we were the token squares rocking conventional shoe/sock combos, non-awkward trouser lengths and a distinct lack of lumber-sexual facial hair. But this place isn't overtaken by swank; we enjoyed a relaxed, impressive meal and - importantly - didn't feel like odd fish. In short, take the detour - this former pub turned purveyor of grub is sublime.