Every suburb in London wishes they could have a traditional boozer exactly like Camberwell has in The Camberwell Arms. Still looking to get properly noticed on the South East London dining scene, Camberwell has some great (Silk Road, Stormbird, Mangal, Pidgeon Hole Cafe) and not so great (Daily Goods – I’m looking at you) foodie destinations. But if you compare this offering to Peckham and Dulwich just down the road we still have a fair way to go in the varied options down our end of town.
Having just moved into the area, I was keeping The Camberwell Arms for a special occasion in which we could lure some unsuspecting friends from North of the river and wow them with what we hoped would be a cracker of a meal. Well lets jus say it went so well that we have been twice in one week.
The interior is nice an spacious with ample room to sit in the bar but head to the dining area and your presented with the option to perch at the side of the pass and watch the chefs in action. Is there a more perfect night out than grabbing a pint or bottle of wine with your other half, sitting in total silence as you watch the chefs rock the kitchen, ignoring each other until the food arrives? I think not.
But each time thus far we’ve had guests so it’s been table service for us so far -not that we’re complaining. Each time we have kicked things off with the pork fat and scotch bonnet on toast (£4) and it’s a great serving for the price. The scotch bonnets aren’t as blow-your-stack spicy so everyone at the table can enjoy if they weren’t up for the challenge originally.
The next 3 starters we had arrive at the same time to hit the centre of the table so we could all dig in at our own leisure – and each of these were talked about throughout the remainder of our lunch plus well into the evening. The hot pepper soup with Ogleshield on toast (£6) was piping hot, hit you with a strong kick of peppery spice which had everyone doff their hat to the chef.
The vaguely vegetarians amongst us fell in love with the aubergine, tomato, basil and mozzarella (£6.60) that also had the option of being served as a main for £12. If you have to ask how good this dish was, let’s just say that the ladies on our table were lamenting that they didn’t utilise the upsize-me-option for their mains…
The house frankfurter with beetroot and horseradish (£6.60) again was raved about before being chastised by one of our party that ‘this isn’t a frankfurter’ while also spouting on about how much she likes mixing them up and adding them to a salad. Then she (and the rest of us) took a mouthful of the sausage and the gummy jam and immediately went back in for seconds and thirds. If I could have bought a jar of the accompanying jam to take home with us I would have.
The ribcap, green beans, tarragon mayonaise and fried bread (£16) was a schooling in how a steak dish should be. The waiter warned us that this cut of meat might be a bit ‘bitey’ for some but that only made me want to order it even more. This cut does have a little extra fat than others might be used to but the perfectly cooked meat and accompaniments really madeth the meal.
Fresh pasta was the order of the day for a few others at the table with the tagliatelle, Scottish Griolles, fresh cheese, confit garlic and lemon thyme (£15). I know I keep going on about freshness but again the kitchen hit it out of the park – full of flavour and a generous serve to boot.
‘That’s not a frankfurter’ lady ordered the smoked haddock omelette with fried potatoes and salad – and this she could definitely not deny. Even though she tried to saying that the fried potatoes didn’t look like chips – until we set her straight. That’s one hell of a dish and a perfect one for someone looking for a brunch high in a city of brunch lows.
Dessert was going to be mint stracciatella but alas it was too popular and had sold out so I went with a back up plan of blackberry ice cream with madeira loaf (£5.40). This was the one big letdown of the meal. It was stale – a serious lack of moisture and with chefs of this calibre in the kitchen this should never have left the pass. Hell, a cafe would have to have some serious balls to serve this up and expect to get away with it.
But other than that one slip up The Camberwell Arms is one of the best pub meals you could have south of the Thames. The food’s top notch, the staff are there when you need them and they have a rotating list of local cask ales. We have become instant regulars – no reason why you shouldn’t too.