I'm pretty lucky to live where I live. Not only is it also the location of my favourite Chinese restaurant in London, Silk Road - it also has my favourite pub, The Camberwell Arms. It's a pub - a proper pub, with proper beer, and no sign of leather banquettes or polished floors. At the front, proper cast iron stools surround the tables, and plenty of interesting beers and wines are on offer. Out the back, a dining room that still retains enough of a casual atmosphere which means I can stop by for a drink with friends, which more often than not leads to a bite to eat.
The food is really great. They regularly post their menus online, and it changes often, depending on what is available. A blackboard denotes sharing dishes; of these, I've had the double pork chop twice now, and this has served 3 of us amply. Coated in a sweet, sticky glaze, the pork has proper fat to it, cooked just so that the meat slightly blushes, but the fat renders down enough to coat each mouthful. Most recently, it was served on a bed of rainbow chard, shot through with mustard and cream, to be soaked up by boiled, then fried new potatoes pressed into the liquid.
Giant chickpeas, grilled cuttlefish and a splodge of aioli that bordered on spicy, it was so garlicky has been one of my favourite starters in 4+ visits. They use that charcoal grill well, the scent of barbecue permeating the cuttlefish.
Potted little shrimps piled on top of a crumpet, absolutely soaked in butter, seeping down into the crevices of the crumpet is a rich little starter, one for sharing, lightened by pickled gherkins (top pic). Pork fat and scotch bonnet on toast is another one of those snacks; the panic-inducing fruity hotness of the scotch bonnet is prominent, the sweet roasted peppers mellowing it out.
Other times, roasted calcots, those giant Spanish spring onions came with romesco sauce, nutty and fruity.
Grilled roasted peppers drizzled in sherry vinegar were perfect in simplicity, and a green tomato salad dressed generously and dotted with fluffy mozzarella highlighted the top-quality produce.
Big, gutsy dishes which sometimes aren't really a looker but taste amazing is what makes this place. A hunk of pork belly, crisp up top and fork-tender beneath came as a giant slab in a dish full of perky, comforting lentils. As a rule of thumb, come hungry.
Desserts aren't fancy, but are well executed. I can't resist any of their tarts, especially if they come with some sort of fruit compote. Fig leaf ice cream, a single scoop, was all I could manage at my last visit.
It's not a local pub in the purest sense; mainly because if it came to it I would travel for a meal here. You leave incredibly well sated, stuffed to the brim, probably a bit boozed. I brought my sister here, and when we left she exclaimed: "that's not a pub! The food is way too good to be a pub!" and yet it is. I love it.
The Camberwell Arms
65 Camberwell Church Street
London SE5 8TR
t: 020 7358 4364