Towards the end of last year, Peckham Bazaar was becoming one of my favourite restaurants. Serving food from the Balkans, the menu was littered with sauces and seasonings I could barely pronounce, let alone come across before; za'atar, adjika, ktipiti, melokhia and the likes tingled my tastebuds, and the charcoal grill outside was manned bravely against the elements to impart that wonderful flavour to the meat and seafood they served. They closed abruptly for a refurbishment, hot off the heels of a 4* review from Fay Maschler.
Devastatingly, for both them and us, the closure was long while their various challenges were ironed out. But they're back and a shiny new grill now sits within the premises, and chef John Gionleka has a roof over his head in which to work his magic. We sat outside at a wooden bench amongst vines and sunshine, primed with a bottle of crisp, Greek white wine that slid down surprisingly easily for midday on a Saturday.
The time off hasn't harmed the cooking. Still, the dishes are executed beautifully, and still I end up googling their contents. Tomatoes bathed in fruity olive oil, topped with radishes and a charred spring onion. A large green pepper was split and stuffed with 'tsalavouti', which I believe is a Greek cheese. Creamy, soft and salty, it counteracted the slightly bitter flavour of the blistered pepper.
Octopus, charred with blackened spots on the grill was a large tentacle, curling protectively around buttery potatoes. So often octopus is overly soft, flaccid with over-braising but ours was perky and gave just the right resistance to the teeth. Samphire and capers added a savoury touch to the creamy tarama, which one might usually find luridly pink in tubs; here, the fish roe flavour was delicate, the texture light.
Skordalia, a dip made with creaming together potato and garlic, was powerful and tempered the tang of the marinated beetroot. We fought over the crusted parts of the baked feta, the soft middles having long been scooped up. Such pretty colours stained the plate.
John is a man who knows his vegetables. While the Cornish sardines were blistered simply on the grill with the merest sprinkle of chilli flakes, the esme salad was bold and flavoursome, each component part of sumac, tomato, red onion, cucumber and parsley shining through to complement the oil-rich flesh of the fish that slid easily off the delicate bones.
Mains were no less impressive. I can't resist quail when I see it on the menu, and this was no different. Marinated in both sweetness and tart, the skin was blackened on the grill, leaving tender pink flesh underneath. I tucked a napkin into my shirt collar and got stuck in with my hands, stripping it for all the meat I could get. The puree was incredibly smooth, made with fava, and soft braised bobby beans beneath were surprisingly spicy.
Lamb and pistachio adanas were plump and juicy, pink in the middle. The internet tells me that 'adjika' is a Georgian dip made with peppers, and it was slightly rough in texture, vibrant on the plate.
Grilled lamb neck fillet was served with artichokes 'a la politico', which we were told meant in the style of Istanbul. No idea. The sauce was flavoured with dill, and two large artichoke hearts sat beneath the lamb, cooked perfectly to pink. The expertly turned new potatoes hinted at John's classical culinary training.
Grapefruit and pistachio baklava with mastic ice cream was certainly a pretty thing but it was never going to hold much sway with me, since I avoid both honey and cinnamon of which it had both of. I just don't like it. The mastic ice cream was pretty interesting though - the mastic gives it an almost chewy texture. My companions hoovered up their portions.
As you might be able to tell, I loved my lunch at Peckham Bazaar. The food is just unlike anything I've had before in London; such interesting and exciting new flavours, and such skill in their execution. It's very reasonable too - sure, we paid £50 / head, but then we also had (ahem) three bottles of wine between the four of us. The starters hover around the £7 region, the mains in their early teens. The menu changes often, so I have plenty of impetus to return. They're going to start doing a brunch menu soon - mmm, shakshuka - and they roast whole animals on Sundays, as a Eastern Med-style Sunday roast. Last week I was tormented by pictures from diners of suckling pigs, this week was lamb. Go, go and go.
119 Consort Rd,
London SE15 3RU
0207 732 2525