As Shoreditch becomes a victim of its own success (like Soho before it), so restaurateurs and property people look to densely-populated districts poised for gentrification. It was no surprise that Peckham – which, owing to its transition from Saxon village to urban experiment, became known mainly for the poverty within it, was bound to come up. Throw in a younger generation of middle class homebuyers priced out of neighbouring Dulwich and a newly thriving, swelling banlieu like SE15 is created.
The dining scene in Peckham is at the heart of the transformation and is now home to several restaurants routinely raved about in the food press and on celebrity social media. There, a great Victorian building housing Peckham Rye station stop now also contains Coal Rooms.
In ambience terms, Coal Rooms has stolen a march on all comparable eateries in its grade. The wall lights are gentle as the glow of a child’s anti-nightmare lamp. The tables are spread fairly vis-à-vis covers, displaying a praiseworthy lack of greed on the part of the owners who are, admittedly, working with a small dining space. There is a hint of formality – with good flooring, a use of clean whites throughout and hosts in aprons. The effect is very Scandi – and pleasing to the eye. Outside of that, Coal Rooms is a loafer’s paradise. Nearly all clientele present during my visit were in t-shirts and trainers; everyone looking unwound and easy, enjoying their time (and personal space) without the pomp that traditionally pairs with a restaurant vying for innovation and acclaim.
A latch-lifter of milk stout – black, sweet and malty – was most welcome. Wine-wise, there is not much going on. The beer and spirits list is far more interesting, perhaps in keeping with the freedom from fuss referred to. The stout paired well with a starter of an immensely chunky, generous portion of black pudding. So humungous was the block of pud, I could barely finish it (not usually a statement you’d see me make about an entrée). While the flavours were competent and the texture joyous – reminiscent of great hotel breakfasts of times gone by – I did long to end the dish due to its relentlessness. You know how you can tire of a risotto mid-way; yearning a new mouthful of flavour? It was exactly that. Though I would sooner be here issuing that mild complaint than be sharing a tale of miserly portions.
My main was a semi-shredded lamb shoulder with two sides: an umami salad and the intriguingly named “fat boy hashed potatoes”. Said potatoes arrived in a deep dish, as lasagne might, and were close to being gratin. They were good, enhanced by beef dripping mayonnaise that could flick any carnivore’s switches. The lamb, as you’d want, tore easily on the cutlery and was packed with the Coal Rooms’ trademark, meat-stock flavours. The salad of the hallowed third flavour left me curious rather than wowed, fair though it was. And, as I age, I notice that sprinklings – concocted in this case from crispy shallots – just repeat on me. In all, it was a hearty course, full of marrowy, uber-savoury flavours. I would have to stop short of calling my meal a classic but, given the delightful environment, attentive service and overarching will to be well-fed, there is not a gripe I can level at the food.
Rarely do I eat dessert but the call of a millionaire’s shortbread with stout caramel was too strong. Happily, the pleasure of seeing stout caramel in a dessert was outweighed only by the quality of its eating. Paired with a cool glass of Pedro Ximenez dark sherry, I was in afters heaven.
I haven’t said much about the macro-space – the revivified quarters of Peckham Rye station. If you rate Victoriana and period design, you are likely to admire the superb job that has been done of transforming redundant rooms of the commuting revolution into an eatery for the present, complete with coffee bar to the front for weekday mornings.
The bill came in at a very reasonable figure for what was had (suppressed a little by no wine).
Neither is Coal Rooms chic, nor is it a manifestation of a newer kind of gastro-fad. In fact, it’s just plain good and I will be returning.
11a Station Way
by Cristian Ley