Nestled in the foothills of one of Camberwell’s more austere concrete massifs in the depths of the Elmington Estate, you can find yourself looking for the little Eritrean hollow, Zeret Kitchen, for several minutes - it’s a kind of blink and you’ll miss it situation. It’s well worth the hunt however, once there you’re invariably greeted like a long lost friend and led into the little dining room, the smell intoxicating. The menu is small and traditional, with Zeret priding themselves on the wholesome freshness of their ingredients and preparation. The menu makes ample provision for both vegans and meat-eaters, with every dish married with the perfect blend of seasoning and spices, secrets kept closely guarded by the smiling staff. Everything is of course served with mounds of tangy and mottled injera - Ethiopia's sourdough flatbreads traditionally made from fermented teff flour. You truly will feel as though you’ve stumbled on one of South London’s hidden treasures.
Maloko is an independent vegetarian café and creperie with social change at its heart. Meaning ‘journey’ in one of the many dialects of Cameroon, its mission is globally and locally inspired. Dedicated to combatting food poverty, waste culture, anti-social eating customs and damaging dietary choices, the owners have a lot on their plate but it’s wound up tasting pretty delicious. Pop in for freshly brewed Brazilian coffee, or while away an hour or two in their brightly painted dining room (or even outside come warmer months!) with cold pressed juices, and their delicious selection of galettes and crepes - personal favourites are the Red Goat (beets, goat’s cheese and sweet potato) and old faithful sugar, lemon and cinnamon.
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A highly specific and authentic menu that features influences from Xinjiang’s Turkic Uighur Muslims, as well as more recognisable Sichuan dishes, Silk Road have steadfastly stuck to their guns with a hardcore cult following of locals behind them. People now travel from all across the capital to sample the offerings of Northwest China, in Southeast London. Despite their celebrity (including two Time Out awards and a review from South London food god Jay Rayner), the dining experience is as authentic as they come, ushered to your table, you’re given a few minutes to look over the menu and recommendations come matter-of-factly, they know it’s good. Think traditional north Chinese dumplings, delicious glutinous morsels filled with prawns, vegetables and meat or deep and headily spiced broths with thick belt-straps of hand made noodles. The beloved skewered lamb - piqued with cumin and chilli - a nod to the ancient networks of trade that traced the Asian continent, from Iran to Japan, India to Syria and ultimately, right here in Camberwell.
In the red (white and green) corner, representing culinary heavyweight champion Italy and more than up to the task is Theo’s, the sourdough sensation that has taken Southeast London by storm. Nestled round a leafy corner by The Hermit’s Cave and decked out with marble countertops salvaged wooden booths and benches and a colossal wood oven pumping out searing heat and perfect pizzas, it really makes you feel lucky to be a local. Favourites include the bufalina, a beautiful and slightly sharp tomato base with freshly torn buffalo mozzarella scattered on top - the ingredients given their time to shine, and shine they do - and the salsiccia and friarelli, traditional sweet fennel sausage offset by the bitter leaves of italian wild broccoli rabe.
Another couple of stops along the Silk Road, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan combine their influences along with those of Russia, Turkey and China to name a few in this opulent central Asian cavern. Once inside the Pasha boutique hotel, customers must cross over a small indoor pond to get to the restaurant, bedecked in wall tapestries, cushions and bean bags and often featuring live music and bellydancing on the weekends. Expect familiar faces like hummus and beef stroganoff alongside Russian herring fillets, Central Asian dumplings and wheat noodles.
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Mangals - barbeques in Turkish - are sprinkled across the streets of London like cumin seasoning across racks of lamb. Mostly they know what they’re doing, and it’s rare that you come across a bad apple but FM Mangal falls a little further from the tree. Set over three floors, with ample room and pride of place given to the grills themselves at the front of the shop, it’s a meat-eater’s paradise. Plates of hot and cold mezze give way to char-grilled chunks of meat but the star of the show has to be the house bread, slathered in a smokey sauce with a taste you can’t quite put your finger on but you’ll be thinking of for days after.
Vineyard has occupied its sprawling territory on the corner of Camberwell Grove since 1974. A traditional Cypriot taverna, it’s certainly earned its stripes in Camberwell’s international food scene. Faux vines and grape bunches adorn the ceilings and Santorini blue and white covers the walls, and when it comes to the food it’s gotta be mezze followed kleftico, melt in the mouth parcels of slow cooked lamb, a Cypriot favourite.
Viet Café is a cute little green hideaway up Denmark Hill. Its menu evidences Vietnam’s complex colonial history, in particular its French culinary influence in the form of Bánh Mì - crusty Vietnamese baguettes traditionally served with pâté, meat, pickled carrots and coriander - available with everything from chicken satay and tender spiced pork to French brie. Fresh and zesty summer rolls and coconut turmeric curry are other menu standouts.
A Kurdish cafe, real love is poured into the food at Nandine, the matriarch behind the family and the food, Pary, goes to great lengths to keep the menu exciting and different from your run of the mill plates of hummus and falafel - from making her own pickles, dips, borek and dolma to garnishing plates with rose petals dried in her village in Kurdistan. These guys have turned Southeast’s mezze scene into a family affair: Nandine has recently expanded into Peckham Levels, and Yada (of Peckham’s beloved Yada’s and Ali Baba fruit and veg) is Pary’s nephew. Make sure you get some of her pistachio and honey drizzled baklava at the end, no matter how full you may be, it is a flakey, crushed delight.
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The South London Club is a local discount card to help support small independent businesses across South London whilst saving all who live, work & play in South London money! With over 800+ local discounts to choose from, you will discover & explore all the best hidden gems in South London. Join over 6,000 of us & celebrate all that's independent & South London!