Although originally a pop-up, Peckham Bazaar has – luckily for us – become a permanent fixture. Now they’re back and more of my friends are moving to south London, I’m eager to explore neighbourhood restaurants and up-and-coming foodie hotspots; Artusi, Pop Brixton, Ali Baba’s Juice, Tooting’s Mud, and Streatham’s Hood/Brooks & Gao are also on the agenda.
Taking inspiration from across the Balkans and ex-Ottoman states, the food is grounded in the historical culinary traditions of those regions. Indeed, at the centre of the open kitchen is the charcoal grill, which is the cooking technique for all the dishes here. Even the scent of food – including meat – being grilled over charcoal evokes the spirit of summer evenings. And the first thing on view once inside the hidden Peckham Bazaar on Peckham’s Consort Road is the new shiny grill, along with smoke disappearing into the hood above the team of three bearded chefs. From the FT’s review of this eatery, I learn that although grilling has long been a popular style of cooking, the tendency has been to use it rather gently, merely adding stripes to meat or veges. No longer. Influenced by the grill cuisine of northern Spain, the spread of the Josper oven, and the availability of suitable wood and charcoal, chefs are now using the grill to maximise flavour.
The décor of the Bazaar even brings the spirit of the Mediterranean and the East to this spot of southeast London. Situated on the forecourt of what was once a pub, the small room has the decor of a Greek village taverna whilst the tiles on the walls hint at the Ottoman influences. Don’t expect too much shine and polish though – this remains shoestring stuff and it’s all the more charming for that. It’s all about the food and a cosy, sociable atmosphere here.
Some have crowned Peckham Bazaar for having the best Greek food in London, but they serve more than just Greek dishes. Unique in the London food scene, Peckham Bazaar serves fusion food from the whole of the Balkans, eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East. Although the chef and co-owner, John Gionleka, originally came to London from Albania to enter a Greek Orthodox seminary, he turned his devotion to cooking. Even the sommelier, Florian Siepert, has put together an unusual wine list stretching from Greece, Coratia, and Bulgaria, to Slovenia, Hungary, and Turkey.
Although tempted by the starter of Baked feta served with beetroot (£6.50) and their legendary Courgette fritters with kohlrabi and tarator (£6.50), I couldn’t resist going straight for mains: Imam baylidi (braised, tomato and garlic coated whole aubergine), stuffed peppers with pine nuts and herbs, and labneh (£12.50), which is the only vegetarian main.
The dish was sweet, rich and soft, and the flavours bold, strong, and sticky – real finger-licking food. The dish was also beautifully presented, and the shiny wine labneh sung out at me. Not only was it visually impressive, but it’s food to feed the soul, especially as I’m a big fan of smoky, tasty foods. With starters hovering at around the £6-£7 range, and mains at £10-£15, the prices here at high for the area. But given the high quality and generous portions, it’s not unreasonable.
As the ingredients revolve around market availability, the menu changes regularly and is littered with exciting sauces and seasonings: za’atar, adjika, ktipiti, melokhia, and the likes tingled my tastebuds. One of the joys of visiting a place like this is not knowing exactly what you’ll be eating – there’s no signature dish or laminated menu.
All in all, this place adds to the charm of up-and-coming Peckham. The neighbourhood is having a facelift and although the majority of bars and restaurants are located between Peckham Rye station and Bellenden Road (Peckham Refreshment Rooms, the bars underneath the arches, the Begging Bowl, Artusi…) Peckham Bazaar has drifted away from the pack and is set up in a former pub. Its location within modest rows of Victorian terraces, low rise council flats, and a Grand Design house, might not be an obvious destination for culinary fans, but trust me, it’s worth trekking here. The south-east corner of London is in the middle of a food revolution and Peckham Bazaar sets the standards high.
Peckham Bazaar, 119 Consort Road, London, SE15 3RU