SE5 comes alive

When I started this blog it wasn’t with the intention of just writing pub and cafe reviews with the occasional update about crime levels, but that’s the way it’s been so far. I’d like to report more on what’s happening around the borough, but I think I’ll need to buy the South London Press to do that; a quick search for ‘Camberwell’ on icSouthLondon brought up a story about racism in the council, an escaped sex attacker and dirty streets. Maybe I’m being idealistic, but I don’t see that.

Camberwell seems to have sprung back into life in the last couple of weeks; I see now that it’s a student area. We decided to take advantage of the ‘2-for-1 Pizza’ offer at the BRB/Grove House last night. I went directly after work, arriving at about 7pm, and the place was absolutely packed. Every table was occupied and there were queues at the bar. We went into the smaller room and hung around like a bad smell until a middle-aged couple finally took the hint and left. The pizza there is good, and £6 for two 12″ pizzas is ridiculously good. Tuesday’s only, however.

I went to the BRB/Grove on Saturday as well, as I was looking for somewhere to watch the Arsenal v Bolton game. I went to The Castle first, but the girl behind the bar didn’t know anything about it. Next I tried the Silver Buckle, and they directed me to the Hermit’s Cave. The barmaid there said they were going to show the game, but halfway into a pint of Guiness I realised they hadn’t subscribed to it after all. On the off-chance I went into the BRB/Grove, and sure enough they were showing it — much to the annoyance of the (hungover?) bar staff.

Tadim has reopened after a quick refit, they seem to have just cleaned up the counter area. The Funky Munky is still refurbishing, well over schedule as they said they would be reopening on September 10. A quick look inside shows they’ve moved the bar back over to the right wall, where it used to be when it first opened.

That is all.

Safa, Indian restaurant

A new, modern Indian restaurant, Safa (22, Camberwell Church Street) is all about clean, muted colours and tasteful lighting — a far cry from the more traditional ‘Taj Mahal’ style.

We went on Sunday night at about 7.45pm and were the only customers; a couple of other tables arrived during our time there, but it seems that takeaway is their big money-spinner, judging by the constant stream of food coming out of the kitchen — and the very long wait for our starter.

We shared mixed Pakora to start with, crisply fried and fresh-tasting vegetables. For the main course I had Saag Gosht; the lamb was beautifully soft and the sauce not too greasy. Delicious. Ana ate Chicken Tikka Karai, with some amazingly tender chicken pieces. We’ve eaten takeaway from there before, but it was even better coming straight out of the kitchens. The starter, Poppadums, two mains, one rice, one Naan bread and two beers came to £40, which isn’t cheap but isn’t extortionate.

Back in my first time in Camberwell, Zara’s Kitchen was the place to beat for curry. I don’t know what it’s like now, but I have to say I’m not really tempted to try while Safa is so good.

Vineyard, Greek Taverna

Continuing with our monthly restaurant visits to celebrate our wedding (January 30, since you ask), the wife and I went to this nice little Greek taverna on Camberwell Grove.

There are a couple of small tables outside and Camberwell Grove is the leafiest street in Camberwell, so I’d imagine on warm evenings this place is even more popular — as it was, we were surprised by how many people were here for a Monday night. The restaurant is decked out with vines across the ceiling — fake, obviously, not like the real ones at Seymour Bros. There are a collection of odd pictures on the walls, but the place feels homely and comfortable.

One drawback was that a waiter come over to us twice before we’d had a chance to take a look at the menu, then after delivering the wine he didn’t come back again for 15 minutes, when we were more than ready to order. But the house white wine was really good, a dry Cypriot that didn’t have a strong flavour and left your mouth nice and fresh.

For our starter my wife ordered vegetarian ‘meatballs’ — I hope that’s not too confusing, I just can’t remember the proper name; Efsthethes, or something — and I had mildly spicy pork and wine sausages — hopefully any readers with a decent knowledge of Greek will correct me when I call them Loukidaca, because that’s similar but not right. I really should have taken a take-away menu when I had the chance.

My wife — ok, her name is Ana, I’ll stop calling her ‘my wife’ — had a Moussaka (I remembered that name) for her main course and I had mixed Kebab. Both came with rice, hers with chips. The Moussaka wasn’t presented well, but was tasty; mine was pretty tasty too. Nothing exceptional, just good food reasonably priced and badly presented.

But apart from the food being average and the service being fairly poor, this is a place we’d go back to — the prices are reasonable and it feels comfortable. It’s not the type of place you’d go for a proper celebration, but a good place to know for early-week eating where you don’t have to get dressed up and you can just feel comfortable.

Sophocles Bakery, Camberwell Church St

I’m an absolute sucker for bread and savouries. I love them; Dr Atkins would turn in his grave if he saw how much bread I ate. So one thing I was really looking forward to when I moved back here was Sophocles, the bakery at 24 Camberwell Church Street.

Saturday morning, the wife and I decided to go out and get breakfast because we were both feeling lazy. At first we planned to go back to Tadim, but it was closed for refurbishment. So we went over to Seymour Bros — also closed. Funky Munky was also closed for refurbishment — we hadn’t planned to go there for breakfast anyway, but it seems there’ll be quite a few new things for me to talk about soon.

We went to Sophocles instead — not that it was a last option, but just because I didn’t really think of it as a place to sit down. But it has a few tables inside, so that’s exactly what we did.

I’m guessing by the name that Sophocles is Greek-owned, although I’m not swearing by that. What I will swear by is that it’s the best bakery I know in London. The variety on offer is amazing, and it tastes just excellent. We both had a sandwich (I, Italian Chicken; the wife, Salami and cream cheese) and shared a spinach/feta pastry, eating them surrounded by the delicious smell of hot bread. It was so good we decided to buy a loaf to take home, and ate sandwiches for dinner too.

Mmmm… bread…