Tucked off Peckham’s trendy Bellenden Road, home to foodie hotspots including The Begging Bowl, Artusi and Anderson & Co., Peckham’s Refreshment Rooms has already built up quite a reputation amongst locals. On the Saturday evening when my companion and I frequented, Blenheim Grove was heaving and the restaurant rammed full of Peckham’s edgy arty and boho crowd. And it isn’t hard to see why. The cooking is accomplished but not pretentious, prices are perfectly reasonable and it’s handily placed next to Peckham Rye station.
If you approach this restaurant from the west you might dismiss it as merely a part of the gentrified corner of Peckham through which you pass to get there. It’s known, rather pretentiously, as Bellenden Village, a term which makes some locals roll their eyes. However, carry on west from the door of the Peckham Refreshment Rooms – named after a local hostelry, now long gone – and you quickly realise you aren’t in some glossy version of Peckham but in the real thing. Here you’ll find rows of Afro-Caribbean hairdressers bubbling with laughter and gossip; beyond that is Rye Lane. It’s a vivid, scuffed place of saturated colours where everyday life is a spectator sport. Typical of this area, this is a good restaurant where you’d least expect to find it.
This understated tapas bar has a cheap but cheerful vibe. Like its surroundings, the décor is unshowy: raw plaster walls, scruffy poured concrete floor and a big slab of glossy burgundy MDF for a bar. The seating is also functional with wooden stools available at the bar or the high communal table. Indeed, Peckham Refreshment Rooms reflects how London is a quilt of poverty and surplus – both sit side by side. Although the restaurant may be many things, it’s not comfortable or showy. All the seating is at the high counters or the bar, on blunt stools which demand long legs. Luckily, my companion and I managed to bag seats at the counter, watching the bustle of the kitchen.
The Peckham Refreshment Rooms brings a little slice of Barcelona to South London. The menu consists of small tapas style dishes.
After much umming and ahhing, my companion and I both ordered the Sicilian aubergine and borlotti beans (£7), a flavoursome and slow-cooked dish full of fragrant spices and served with a creamy aioli.
All the produce tasted gloriously of themselves: a few ingredients well prepared is the ultimate sign of a good eatery. Indeed, the chef offers a list of daily-changing seasonal specials, including an exquisite Dandelion, broad bean and goat’s cheese salad and spears of Lemon and butter-drenched asparagus with a heavenly curd dip.
The food, service and atmosphere at this Peckham diner is as buzzy and colourful as the neighbourhood. A toned-down, friendly little tapas bar, this place is perfect for a carafe of wine and tasty snacks before (or after) a night out. The restaurant is even open for coffees and croissants at 7am on weekdays. The hip Peckham Refreshment Rooms is just another reason why I’m so keen on moving nearby…
Peckham Refreshment Rooms, Unit 4, 12–16 Blenheim Grove, London, SE15 4QL