What's the draw?
Started up by three friends whose collected CVs read like an anthology of London hottest restaurants (Spring, Quo Vadis, BAO, Rovi and Morito to name but a few of their previous workplaces), Peckham Cellars is a restaurant and wine bar where the driving factor of having a good time is never forgotten. When we visited on a Friday night there was a genuine vibe to the site, bustling with diners decked out in the latest clobber from Oi Polloi, and we were pleased to find that the food doesn't deviate from that fashionable formula. The plates, as they're wont to in most restaurants nowadays, come in a variety of sizes and are a paragon of that British-ish style of cooking where season and produce dictate what's on the menu.
What to drink?
The wine list is lengthy, boasting over 80 bottles grouped under headers ranging from 'weird & wonderful' to 'volcanoes' and 'minerals', but head sommelier Ben McVeigh has no trouble in guiding us to bottles that hit the spot. We started with a glass of Lirondo from Spanish winemaker Manuel Cantalapiedra, a natural verdejo that smelt somewhat like a fortified wine but had a lovely smooth and savoury quality on the palate. Think of it as a gateway skin contact: the sort of wine to order your parents if you're looking to convert them to the world of low-intervention vino. We followed that with a more classical Bergecrac Sec from Château Barouillet – a soft, murmuring Bordeaux-style white blend that paired obligingly with the dishes we ordered. When it came to red we made quick work of a xinomavro/negoska blend that holds its roots in the Chatzivaritis Estate of Greece. Notes of cherry and spice made that the standout wine of the night. Which, considering the competition, was no easy feat.
What to eat?
Working your way through the entire gamut of the menu requires an appetite, but just trust that you'll be duly rewarding for pushing through. Snack-sized portions of wild boar salami (from Bermondsey-based Cannon & Cannon) and curried hake croquettes set the tone for a meal. All of the flavours at Peckham Cellars are carefully propped against one other, great care having been taken to ensure the Jenga tower of salt, acid, fat and sweet remains balanced throughout each dish you're presented with. A plate of farmed eel is perhaps the best example of the kitchen's sure footing; smoky salty, creamy, and spicy all at once, it's a balanced affair where a delicate fillet of smoked eel sits atop a coroner's chalk outline of crème fraîche and whirls every hotspot of your tongue. Red mullet – crisp-skinned, flaky-fleshed and dressed in a five-year-old vinegar from Santorini – similarly shines. Poultry is handed well, too: whole guinea fowl arrives butchered into manageable haunches, as gamey and moist as you'd expect, with the addition of orange and black pepper doing some heavy lifting of their own to prevent the rich bird from being too Tudor. It's a walloping portion for £20 and you should absolutely provide it with a bowl of PC's smashed potatoes for company.
Small plates from £8, wine by the glass from £4. 125 Queen's Road, SE15 2ND; peckhamcellars.co.uk.