Lolak Africa [Official Photo]
Describing Peckham as a “melting pot” would be like putting egusi in a blender and calling it a smoothie: it gives the managed chaos a smooth, flavorful consistency. This may be the kind of diversity that can be sold by realtors, but Peckham has always had his fractures, long before gentrification, long before complaints from yoga teachers over the noise of neighboring churches in white clothes. They were there when Manze’s pastry and mash shop was symbolically burnt down in the 1985 Peckham Riots, and they’re still here to find out who eats in and who owns Peckham’s restaurants – in the way a area stretching from the Rye to the outskirts. Old Kent Road has so many of its best food companies crammed into tiny pockets of real estate.
The Peckham version of heralding a ‘destination’ restaurant food scene to attract the type of reviewer who expects a George Cross for taking an Overground train, referencing Del Boy (filmed in Bristol) and eating small plates a little truth in it. But this is just one of many versions, and an unrecognizable to almost anyone who actually lives there. The observation that Peckham functions as an exclusive suburb of Lagos is not new; The usual counter-tale that the area manicures faster than one of Rye Lane’s many nail salons isn’t either. But between the bukas of Choumert Road and Anthony Gormley’s phallic landmarks on the nominally defining Bellenden, there is a more interesting story of jagged, restless hybridity that resists attempts to paint it in binaries of gentrification or decline.
All of this makes trying to sum up an area like Peckham in a list of places to eat a jerk’s game. But if there is is a real version, it exists somewhere in the friction. It is in the sales techniques of Pakistani butchers who know how to describe the viscera of a cow in Urdu, Yorùbá and Igbo; it’s in the dark kitchens sandwiched on an empty floor between London’s cheapest cinema and a Campari bar; it is in the appearance of the smoke from the Ugandan barbecue near there William Blake first saw his angels on Peckham Rye. It’s in vegan Rastafari pasta, Filipino burritos, chapal wraps, and the same leafy greens translated into twenty different languages and eaten by a thousand different people. It’s in places that might exist in Peckham, and nowhere else.
This map traces its northern limit to Peckham High Street, in anticipation of a guide to Old Kent Road and its many tributaries, including Peckham Park Road.
London restaurants, pubs, cafes and bars will reopen from May 17th, with the rule of six in place. Customers can check with individual sites to determine their availability and Covid security measures before deciding to visit.
To note: The restaurants on this map are listed geographically.