Quail with Caesar salad at The Camberwell Arms
I once wrote that there was no such thing as the perfect local. I lamented the lack of ‘proper boozers’ left in London – the scrotty kind with Fosters ashtrays, pickled eggs, a juke box and a pub cat. While I still have much affection for those establishments and many fond memories of the years I pissed away in them, the fact remains that times have moved on and so have I. Maturing happened within me and so here we are with a different set of criteria which have been met in their entirety by The Camberwell Arms. I am insufferably smug that this is my local. It’s not the case that TCA doesn’t provide the same warm huggy feelings as those old boozers of yester-decade, because it does, just with bevelled edges and a pickled walnut veneer. They still sell Scampi Fries behind the bar, anyway, which should be a legal requirement before any pub is allowed to even obtain an alcohol licence let alone open the doors.
At first I had my reservations. The seats in the pub area seemed too low, but that was before I found my spot. Now I regularly nestle in, read the papers and generally feel at ease with the world, with the cosmos, with myself, even. Then there was the time I ate there shortly after opening when everything wasn’t quite right but hell, the paint had barely dried. My partner owns and runs a restaurant and let me tell you – going to a place in the first few weeks, or months, even, and slagging it off because the menu isn’t perfect yet, is beyond reprehensible. YOU HAVE NO IDEA. What did you expect them to do, exactly? Run the place on empty for a few months first before they let any customers in? There will always be crinkles, and the good places will concentrate on ironing them out.
So I’ve just come back from a perfect leisurely lunch at TCA; three courses with wine and a digestif, which I enjoyed entirely on my tod. It’s that kind of place you see. I feel completely comfortable there. If you don’t want to eat in the restaurant at the back, there’s a bar area for diners which faces the open kitchen. The pub area is up front, but you can eat there too if the restaurant and bar are full, because they actually believe in genuine hospitality, not silly rules. I’ve just inhaled a bowl of excellent BBQ mussels, with house made ‘nduja and sherry, followed by grilled cuttlefish with potatoes, pickled onions and aioli, the latter being one of the best dishes I’ve eaten in months. Smoky, tender as you like cuttlefish, like a riff on polpo a la gallega. Dreamy. Would I like dessert? Well, I shouldn’t really, but okay I’ll just have a look…OH..buttermilk and sour cherry ice cream. Go on, then, just a scoop…hmm sorry but, is that a grappa made with Gewürztraminer? I’d better try it, then, eh? I don’t even like grappa to be honest but…oh my, it’s smooth, isn’t it? Blimey. Okay now really, I should go and do that shopping, no honestly I must, etc. etc. etc.
The cooking at TCA is so solid, I can’t believe it’s happening in my local. All the ingredients are proper. They still serve that slightly controversial £50 chicken for 4 people, by the way, except it isn’t just a chicken, it’s a serious, rotisserated (totally a word) chicken with herby roast potatoes, salad and aioli, for £12.50 per person, which is actually great value. Yes, great value. Don’t you dare say otherwise until you’ve tasted it. Their pies are…damn, I want to say legendary without sounding like a wanker…very impressive, with the silkiest innards and a crust the colour of David Dickinson’s face. They make their own charcuterie. Their bread is from Brickhouse. And on and on and on…
I am writing this before I slip into an afternoon snooze, thus completing the perfect Sunday. What else is there before I go? Oh! They make a really solid martini, which is the only cocktail I drink. Well, mostly (that’s a roundabout way of saying I’m really fussy about how I take my martinis). There’s an upstairs bar too but I haven’t been yet for fear I may never emerge again. The staff are excellent and genuinely likeable. The music isn’t too loud. The bogs are always sparkling clean. The wine list is well-balanced. They do a kick ass roast every Sunday. There’s a round of free tapas-sized bar snacks early evening. Okay I’ll stop now.
The Camberwell Arms
65 Camberwell Church Street
Tel: 020 7358 4364
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