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A spread of Kurdish mezze shot from above, including baharat fries, dips, kebabs, rainbow salads, and more
Nandine’s spread of Kurdish mezze
Nandine [Official Photo]

Where to Eat in Camberwell

Jamaican and Nigerian soups, peerless fish and chips, outstanding Ethiopian stews, and more

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Nandine’s spread of Kurdish mezze
| Nandine [Official Photo]

Even before it was London, Camberwell was mixed. Charles Booth’s turn of the century poverty maps painted Camberwell with a palette of rich yellows, pinks, reds and poor blues, from Camberwell Grove’s line of vast Georgian mansions, to the cramped Victorian terraces built for working men and their families. Mercantile wealth was towed into the borough on the Grand Surrey Canal, while the existence of the new railway brought in labourers who could now commute north and east. The Camberwell Fair became an annual respite for these new residents, showcasing entertainment and cheap foods ─ oysters, whelks, trotters ─ while the more affluent curtain twitchers declared it a hotbed of “vice, folly and buffoonery”.

A hundred and fifty or so years on, the middle classes of Camberwell are much more likely to boast about its affordable food with ‘if you know you know’ inflections than they are to deride it. Camberwellites, perhaps more so than any other type of Londoner, basically refuse to shut up about how good their food is.

There is another way of looking at Camberwell. One curious thing for an area so blessed with places to eat out, is that there are very few, if any, destination restaurants, even while the reputation of Camberwell Church Street — with its feeling of a curated food court — masks some of its less trodden paths, the real hidden food of Camberwell may reside somewhere in the menus of places which are already well known; menus which act as Trojan Horses, presenting as one thing while obscuring what their best dishes are. After all, the best thing at one of the best restaurants, Falafel and Shawarma? It isn’t the falafel, nor is it the shawarma.

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Note: Restaurants on this map are listed geographically.

1. Zeret Kitchen

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216-218 Camberwell Rd
London SE5 0ED, UK

On a small Brutalist housing estate off the Walworth Road, Tafe Beleynah works alchemy with lentils that any number of molecular gastronomists or meat-free burger companies would sell their soul to learn the secret of. Although this is not a vegan restaurant, it’s easy to have a completely meat- and dairy-free meal, where Beleynah’s Ethiopean and Eritrean dishes can be soaked up by teff-based injera, made in-house. The no-brainer to get is the house special vegan selection, which gives a generous amount of all of Beleynah’s vegan stews, including the misir wat — lentils spiced with berbere — which has the uncanny meaty depth of a slow-cooked ragu. The defin misir wat, a much milder lentil stew, has a rich, acidic butteriness that approximates a cottage cheese, while actual cottage cheese crops up in an outstanding kitfo that only just cooks the small cubes of beef until they are bouncy and rich. Despite all this, the best dish may actually be the dulet, the most obviously meaty thing on the menu, that combines kidneys and tripe finely chopped into springy, savoury anonymity that could convince even the most ardent offal sceptic.

2. Cool and Cozzy Restaurant

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101 Southampton Way
London SE5 7SX, UK
020 7703 1378

On a low-rise stretch of Southampton Way, the only giveaways that might explain a window emitting a neon-blue glow are two illuminated white bollards painted with a stripe of green on top and blue on the bottom — to a flag nerd, the unmistakable colours of Sierra Leone. Patience is rewarded at Cool and Cozzy; it might take half an hour but how many takeaways in London are putting out an entire 2kg fish? Tilapia are fried whole in their silver and pearl armour, skin alternately shatteringly crisp or pulled off in strips like aquatic jerky to uncover meaty flesh. It’s possible to get Salone staples, like cassava leaf, potato leaf and krain-krain, but ─ as the owner admits ─ it’s the seafood that people are really here for: those fish, piles of crab and whole lobsters split down the middle and grilled. Dishes can be ordered with attieke, the Ivorian staple made from peeled and grated cassava mixed with a fermented version of itself that acts as a starter. Often compared to couscous, it comes as fluffier pale yellow flakes, slightly chewy with a fermented tang that can be cut through with raw onion or a pepper sauce so potent just the smell alone induces shivers.

3. Happy Valley Chinese

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160 Southampton Way
London SE5 7EW, UK
020 7703 7516

The truth is, the best Chinese takeaways are the ones nearest to home, the ones which nightcap a potentially disastrous evening and ensure the night ends in the most pleasurable way possible. So in this spirit, the best Chinese takeaway in London is actually Happy Valley on Southampton Way at about 11.30 pm when the drunks are congregating outside and the older bald chef has finished his cigarette break and is back at the wok seasoned with a generation’s worth of chow meins, ready to prepare an order of crispy noodles and black bean sauce.

4. Noodle Neighbour @ The Old Dispensary

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325 Camberwell New Rd
London SE5 0TF, UK

The prolonged period of lockdown has forced every neighbourhood to adapt. Some enterprising and foolish souls have decided to make the leap from their home sandwich making to takeaway food; meanwhile, pubs are in need of new kitchens. This is why Camberwell has seen a small blooming of pub-sandwich pop-ups: Bite Club at The Crooked Well, Mondo at The Grove House Tavern, as well as Cutie Pies at the Tavern for weekend dinners. The best of the pandemic projects has just moved into The Old Dispensary: Noodle Neighbour, formerly called Max and Taffs. It could uncharitably be lumped in with the surprisingly large category of “went to Silk Road once and started a Chinese restaurant” London enterprises, but the biang biang noodles handmade and hand-delivered every Friday are genuinely excellent, and most importantly, not afraid to tinker with the boundaries of both Chinese and Italian cooking. A biang biang alla norma, with glossy aubergine, basil, chilli oil and vinegar, is the London innovation that should be on the Padella menu.

5. Akwaaba Kitchen

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342 Camberwell New Rd
London SE5 0RW, UK

There’s holes in walls, and then there is Akwaaba Kitchen, which is literally a hole in the wall on Camberwell New Road and easy to walk past even for locals who know exactly where it is. Akwaaba means “welcome” in Twi, Ghana’s most mutually understood language, and Akwaaba Kitchen mainly specialises in chichinga, skewers of meat doused in a spicy, aromatic powder, which can be had on jollof rice, or with rice in a wrap which Akwaaba get extra credit for not succumbing to calling it a “burrito.” But he best thing at Akwaaba is not the skewers nor the wrap, or indeed anything traditionally Ghanaian, but the glazed hot wings, shatteringly crisp and tossed in a spicy and sweet ginger sauce. Ask for extra shito on the side.

6. Wuli Wuli

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15 Camberwell Church St
London SE5 8TR, UK

There have been roughly three versions of Wuli Wuli. The first was as a small Camberwell secret, with an additional menu saying ‘Sichuan dishes’ in Mandarin, selling the type of fire and brimstone, blood and guts dishes that got South London hearts racing, back in late 2010. The second version was a reaction to Silk Road’s success: it reduced the Sichuanese output and added biang biang noodles, the food became less spicy and more rustic. This lasted roughly up until the pandemic when it changed again. Now it’s is more or less back to exclusively Sichuanese food but the menu is massively reduced, the food is quieter and more homely, with simple but effective quick-fry dishes like lamb and cumin; satisfyingly chewy chaoshou dumplings in red oil; and northern-style braises, like an excellent rendition of di san xian’s aubergine, green pepper and potatoes crawling with star anise. Get the cold saliva chicken to take away and it will provide a good three lunches for the week, either on rice or, best of all, in a sandwich.

7. Falafel & Shawarma London

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27 Camberwell Church St
London SE5 8TR, UK
07910 000108

In the beginning, there was Falafel. And Mahmoud Alkhatib saw that it was good, so he added a second option, and amended the name with ‘and Shawarma’. Since it opened close to what seems like the beginning of time (2007), Alkhatib’s takeaway wrap shop has become Cambewell’s heart, run with the precision of a military operation, and even inspiring direct copycats. Superficially there seem to be two choices: falafel, or shawarma. Both are £3.50. On the one hand, it is incredible value to get a wrap made with care for such a low price. On the other, how could a wrap taste anything other than heavenly if it’s £3.50 for it? Here’s the thing: the falafel and shawarma are decoys. The best two things on the menu aren’t even on the board. First, the samosas, brittle equilateral triangles, filled with pungently spiced mince and sweet onions and smothered in garlic and chilli sauce at four for £1.50. Secondly, the potatoes, sticky and rich, texture like soft fudge, and radiating chilli, cumin and what appears to be a whole lemon’s worth of juice. Any wrap benefits from asking to throw a few on; if anyone can convince Alkhatib to put the samosas in a wrap, then maybe he’ll have to change the name again.

8. Silk Road

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49 Camberwell Church St, Camberwell
London SE5 8TR, UK
020 7703 4832

Silk Road hasn’t changed much, but everything around it has. Back in 2009, Londoners saw cumin on a Chinese menu and lost their collective heads; now it is simply one of many in the city selling food from Xinjiang province ─ particularly as Uighurs fleeing Urumqi, Karamay and Turpan set up shop in every corner of the city, from Walthamstow to Tottenham Court Road. Although it’s no longer quite the destination restaurant it once was, what Silk Road does retain is its energy ─ even if its audience often resembles some kind of mash-up between something called “Left Twitter” and a Theatre and Performance seminar at Goldsmiths. “Here’s what to order from Silk Road” has become a literal meme, but here it is anyway: the best things are the most straightforward, kebabs (lamb shish, kidneys, fish), homestyle cabbage in an umami rich sauce which is at least 80% scalding oil, and the tomato, egg, and pepper noodles, with its cumulonimbus egg whites coddling noodles and barely cooked tomato chunks. Groups should consider ordering the boiled lamb, a Flintstone piece of meat on the bone with salty, tear-inducing onion shavings ─ to be shared and torn apart with hands, whenever people are feeling comfortable doing this sort of thing again. 

9. Francesco's

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53 Camberwell Church St
London SE5 8TR, UK

South London is full of restaurant rivalries, copycats and acrimonious splits: from the Creams vs Kaspas “who did it first?” debate, to the abundance of fake Morley’s, which often resembles a Morley’s psyop to enhance its own reputation. Knowing this, it’s tempting to wonder ‘who is Francesco?’ and ‘why did he fall out with Theo?’ Except Francesco’s, the only real rival to Theo’s Camberwell pizza crown, is really an offshoot of Falafel and Shawarma, an extension of its domination of the road in handheld cheap eats. It’s no mistake that the best things here are not the pizzas but the lunchtime wraps ─ £3.50, that magic number again ─ which are essentially small pizzas folded around themselves, light, airy and steaming hot, molten tomato and cheese combining to burn the roofs of mouths. A pepperoni with extra chilli sauce is straightforwardly delicious, and arguably the best pizza-related item on the street.

10. Fladda Fish & Chips

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55 Camberwell Church St
London SE5 8TR, UK
020 8127 6297

A good fish and chip shop has to understand what fish and chips is about. There is no point trying to gussy it up. No one wants ikejime battered haddock, and even fewer people want to pay anything more than £10 to fill themselves up on a Friday. Fladda in Camberwell gets this, but isn’t shy to make improvements and alterations, which is where it just edges Camberwell’s other good chippy (Deep Sea on Vestry Road). Anonymous ‘chip shop’ sausages and pert, scarlet saveloys sit alongside battered sausages from The Butchery; homemade steak and ale pies alongside Pukka; whole fish fillets alongside a £5 fish bites and chips deal celebrating fish off-cuts that Josh Niland could be proud of. There is bread and butter. There is gravy. There is battered halloumi. There is even a pretty decent, if decadently, doubly oily, mackerel sandwich to get through the new Brexit-induced glut. Everything is expertly fried, with golden brown crunchy chips ... And... Are those scraps in the back? On hearing the words “anchovy mayo,” it’s even possible to forgive the mint in the mushy peas.

11. Van Hing

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42 Camberwell Church St
London SE5 8QZ, UK
020 7703 9707

There are three ways to enjoy Van Hing. First is in it’s menu of British-Chinese favourites done with care: good versions of Singapore noodles; salt and pepper tofu; crispy noodles with duck and pork. The second is to go for the small Vietnamese menu, particularly the exceptional bánh cuốn with wrappers so fine it’s possible to read a book through them, either eaten on their own and dipped in fish sauce, or stuffed with finely minced pork and wood ear mushrooms. The third is to come on a Friday, when those in the know are here for lòng lợn. This demotic Vietnamese sharing food is not for those faint-hearted about offal. It’s Operation on a plate: sliced hearts, liver, intestine stuffed with bitter herbs, with absolutely nothing done to obscure their initial function as organs, retaining crunch and chew where appropriate. Then there’s the mam tom for dipping: A dank, grey pool of fermented shrimp with an intensity only usually found in decaying things, whipped up into an angry froth and gulped between snatches of fresh herbs.

12. Theo’s

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2 Grove Ln, Camberwell
London SE5 8SY, UK

Whether Theo’s serves the ideal pizza may come down to whether what its eater wants is an accurate rendition of Naples served with the best imported mozzarella while sitting close to a traffic junction on the corner of Grove Lane. The pizzas at Theo’s are actually fine, even if their pale snow leoparding makes you want to ask for 30 seconds more in the oven. But where the sourdough comes into its own are on the lunchtime panuozzi: pizza-sandwich hybrids, bread folded over filling over bread, into crispy melts. It also means the ingredients have a chance to break free from the Neapolitan litany ─ the best sandwich is the tuna melt, with olives and chopped red onions cutting through the ooze. Yes, it may be less John West and cheddar and more Ortiz and buffalo mozzarella, but that can be forgiven. 

13. FM Mangal

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54 Camberwell Church St, Camberwell
London SE5 8QZ, UK

FM Mangal is almost certainly the best London ocakbaşi south of the Thames, which, for Turkish restaurants, is like winning the Europa League. Where it equals and surpasses its Green Lanes and Edmonton cousins is in its wraps, which are put together with care and precision. First, the bread is given ample time to get to know the meat; they are introduced on the grill so it is infused with both fat from the meat, and the smoke as that same fat drips and ignites on the coals. Then the bread is brushed with brick-red biber paste in broad brushstrokes like a Matisse, and the wrap is constructed: salad, pickles, chilli, garlic sauce, and a kebab of choice. All are great, but the adana, so dense it could spring a bed, is the one.

14. Oregano Leaf Pizzeria

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44 Camberwell Church St
London SE5 8QZ, UK

Theo’s, for hedonists.

15. Sanchez

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4 Daneville Rd
London SE5 8SF, UK

The closer you get to Denmark Hill, the more handheld and portable the food becomes. This is because much of the eating options in the area are servicing workers from either Kings College Hospital, or the bus garage around the corner. Sanchez, a Colombian bakery which opened during lockdown, is well placed to capture this time-poor demographic: buñuelos, little stress balls of fried dough and cheese, empanadas filled with potato and strands of beef, and best of all, salteñas, the soft bois of Latin American handheld pies. One does not attempt to eat a salteña lightly, it must be held as delicately as a newborn’s head, nibbling into the soft, baked casing, before pressing gently to bring forth a riotous mix of chicken, green and black olives, slices of soft boiled egg, and delicious, scalding broth.

16. Brunchies

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1 Valmar Rd
London SE5 9NG, UK

In their line of duty, food writers must always have a Robert Jenrick-esque respect for flags. A red, yellow and green Bolivian flag hung on a corner of Coldharbour Lane suddenly makes Brunchies visible ─ delve deeper and it’s possible to find not only generic brunch fare but an all Bolivian kitchen starting to tentatively branch out into hearty meat platters that compete with Latin House opposite. The coating of their pollo a la canasta ─ BFC ─ is rugged and craggy, with a well-seasoned ordnance survey map of ridges, peaks, and valleys. It comes on top of the holy trinity of chips, rice and plantain, a coma in a polystyrene box. Lechon al horno comes as a thick strap of pork shoulder, about the size of a mobile phone in a 1980s movie, skin cooked not to a crisp, but to the texture of a wine gum. The idea is that the future menu will be split in two and never the twain shall meet, but wouldn’t a lechon benedict be a great excuse to finally eat brunch?

17. Victreatz Nigerian Afro-Fusion Takeaway

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16 Coldharbour Ln
London SE5 9PR, UK

A casual eater walking into Victreatz might be tempted by a lunchtime jollof and chicken deal, emboldened by a ladle of hot stew on the side, but this would be to miss the best things that chef Victoria Cole makes, which are neither the chicken, nor the suya, but the pulses, starches and vegetables that define the soporific nature of Yorùbá cuisine. Ewa oloyin, honey beans, are cooked until they have soaked up enough stew that their cell walls threaten to dissolve, either eaten on their own luxuriating in their own sweetness as ewa riro, or mashed with a moat of hot pepper into ewa agoyin. Many stews and soups are done party style, with Cole wielding a lighter hand with the palm oil. Egusi, that ingenious seed, thirstily soaks up soup and coalesces into curds that are often compared to scrambled eggs or ricotta but should only ever be compared to egusi. All else that is required is a ball of pounded yam; some patience; and a roll of kitchen paper for wet fingers.

18. The Bread Of Life

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19 Coldharbour Ln
London SE5 9NR, UK

The soul of Jamaican cuisine is not necessarily found in its more famous dishes ─ not in the stinging smoke of jerk chicken, nor in a container of curried goat, nor even in the dish commonly held up to be a national symbol, ackee and saltfish. If the soul is in any one thing, it’s in its soups: red pea cooked to a melting consistency, gelatinous with salted pig tail and cow’s foot, or a mutton soup chock full of spinners and hard food that will power the eater through the day, providing satiety rather than uncomfortable fullness. If a regular chicken broth is liquid penicillin then a chicken soup from Coldharbour Lane’s The Bread of Life is the Astrazeneca jab in a carton. The soups and porridges change daily: the sweet peanut porridge on a Friday has the smooth, creamy texture of grits, soothed with the balm of nutmeg, a taste of childhood no matter the background. And while the sign on the door says man cannot live on bread alone, it’s possible to live solely on the fried dumplings, instantly identifiable on sight by their Escher braid, and in the mouth by their sugar snap coating that yields to the lightest, fluffiest dough. Perfection in four bites: one of the single best things available to eat in South London.

19. Viet Cafe

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75 Denmark Hill
London SE5 8RS, UK

Viet Cafe is a more interesting location that appearances might initially give. Run by Sonia and her friend Donna, one of Viet Cafe’s first employees who has just stayed for the last 10 years, it has mostly been pigeonholed as a bánh mì and sandwich joint, quickly filling up the workers and visitors of Kings College Hospital. In reality, the cafe specialises in that much broader category: things on rice. Grilled beef or pork are well marinated and tender, coming with the kiss of char from the grill, and might form a rice bowl with a fried egg and some chilli, or a tangle of steamed bun noodles with bouncy meatballs, salad and fish sauce. Better yet, is the bò kho, a Vietnamese beef stew redolent of good home cooking: tender brisket offering no resistance to a plastic spoon, with thick batons of carrot glistening with fat and greedily sucking up all the slow-cooked flavour from the meat, proving the cross-cultural truth that the best part of long meat cooking is the starchy vegetables. On Friday night, Sonia prepares phở for Saturday morning until it sells out. It is an outstanding version: blushing rare beef that gently loses its shame in the soup, darker pieces of well done meat, and homemade meatballs, all in a sweet, southern style broth. The North vs South debate doesn’t really matter: good phở is good phở.

20. Nandine

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82 Vestry Rd, Camberwell
London SE5 8PQ, UK

It was a cruel twist that Nandine’s victory lap of opening a flagship shop on Camberwell Church St was cut short by the pandemic. Pary Baban’s restaurant was only open a few months before lockdown hit; since then, it has only been open for takeaway, while the original Nandine on Vestry Road has been shut the entire duration of 2020. Camberwell will be all the better when London’s best Kurdish restaurant is fully functional again: what marks Nandine apart from all its competitors is the level of care, skill, and soul put into the food on an almost microscopic level. It’s one thing to make hummus well, but it’s another to nail each of the eleven components of their mezze, from the taut texture of vine leaves to the notes of smoke in the aubergine qawarma to the crystalline finish on the meat kubba. Each mouthful always has something to surprise and delight: simple rice or cabbage dishes are judiciously anointed with judicious use of stewed fruit, or fresh herbs like mint and parsley. This is not a cuisine that is a stranger to dill. The very best thing though is at the original Nandine: a Kurdish breakfast comprising in-house yoghurt, white cheese, fig jam, honey, bread, and salad, a platter that is somehow simultaneously frugal and completely luxurious.

21. Tasty House

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118 Denmark Hill
London SE5 8RX, UK
020 7274 9538

When talking about restaurants and their importance to communities, it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that people don’t just want the same food over and over again. Cities are not just a place for faithful recreations, they are also where unexpected symbiotic relationships may occur. Like the Kosher Chinese restaurants of Golders Green, Tasty House, an inconspicuous takeaway on Denmark Hill, is a testament to the ability of Chinese cuisine to mould itself round the tastes of a local community — list it alongside 805, Enish, First Choice and The Happening Bagel Bakery as a pillar of Black London eats. Its reputation is built off the back of burnished fried rice dishes, whose fugitive notes of wok hei shares DNA with party jollof, while all orders can be customised to levels of spiciness and ─ crucially for those on their deen ─ porkiness. The menu has one truly outstanding dish difficult to get elsewhere in London: the salt and pepper chips, tanned in the fryer then stir fried with onions and chilli.

22. Different Taste

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120 Denmark Hill
London SE5 8RX, UK

To open a takeaway called ‘Different Taste’ next door to Tasty House is either an act of trolling at a real estate level or an elaborate conspiracy theory, where two seemingly competing takeaways are served by the same kitchen. While consistently less busy, the food at Different Taste is generally as good if not better than its neighbour, and has one extra arrow in its quiver: its curry laksa, a violent shade of terra rossa with tofu puffs, hard boiled egg, soft noodles (bee hoon or laksa noodles) and either with seafood or a roast pork and prawn mix. It’s not the best curry laksa in London, but this is Camberwell: it’s good enough to satisfy any cravings.

23. Just A Bite Catering

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Kch Business Park, 129-131 Coldharbour Ln
London SE5 9NY, UK

Okay, this is a tricky one to find. It’s possible to get there through King’s College Hospital but the easiest way is to walk up the left hand side of Coldharbour Lane towards Loughborough Junction, and turn left where it says King’s College Hospital Business Park. Walk uphill as ambulances pass, before coming to a ramp. Go up the ramp, and between the hours of 11 — 2p.m. on a weekday, Just A Bite Catering is parked at the top, selling wraps. Ignore the wraps, the thing to get here ─ as all the surgeons and orderlies know ─ is the kebabs on chips, pudgy chunks of chicken shish, long seekh kebabs or grilled paneer. On a Friday they make more use of their fryer and do a masala fish, battered with the savoury tang of gram flour and served with fries that sport a dazzling array of sauces and chutneys, from garlic sauce and mango at one end, right through to coriander and chilli on the other.

1. Zeret Kitchen

216-218 Camberwell Rd, London SE5 0ED, UK

On a small Brutalist housing estate off the Walworth Road, Tafe Beleynah works alchemy with lentils that any number of molecular gastronomists or meat-free burger companies would sell their soul to learn the secret of. Although this is not a vegan restaurant, it’s easy to have a completely meat- and dairy-free meal, where Beleynah’s Ethiopean and Eritrean dishes can be soaked up by teff-based injera, made in-house. The no-brainer to get is the house special vegan selection, which gives a generous amount of all of Beleynah’s vegan stews, including the misir wat — lentils spiced with berbere — which has the uncanny meaty depth of a slow-cooked ragu. The defin misir wat, a much milder lentil stew, has a rich, acidic butteriness that approximates a cottage cheese, while actual cottage cheese crops up in an outstanding kitfo that only just cooks the small cubes of beef until they are bouncy and rich. Despite all this, the best dish may actually be the dulet, the most obviously meaty thing on the menu, that combines kidneys and tripe finely chopped into springy, savoury anonymity that could convince even the most ardent offal sceptic.

216-218 Camberwell Rd
London SE5 0ED, UK

2. Cool and Cozzy Restaurant

101 Southampton Way, London SE5 7SX, UK

On a low-rise stretch of Southampton Way, the only giveaways that might explain a window emitting a neon-blue glow are two illuminated white bollards painted with a stripe of green on top and blue on the bottom — to a flag nerd, the unmistakable colours of Sierra Leone. Patience is rewarded at Cool and Cozzy; it might take half an hour but how many takeaways in London are putting out an entire 2kg fish? Tilapia are fried whole in their silver and pearl armour, skin alternately shatteringly crisp or pulled off in strips like aquatic jerky to uncover meaty flesh. It’s possible to get Salone staples, like cassava leaf, potato leaf and krain-krain, but ─ as the owner admits ─ it’s the seafood that people are really here for: those fish, piles of crab and whole lobsters split down the middle and grilled. Dishes can be ordered with attieke, the Ivorian staple made from peeled and grated cassava mixed with a fermented version of itself that acts as a starter. Often compared to couscous, it comes as fluffier pale yellow flakes, slightly chewy with a fermented tang that can be cut through with raw onion or a pepper sauce so potent just the smell alone induces shivers.

101 Southampton Way
London SE5 7SX, UK

3. Happy Valley Chinese

160 Southampton Way, London SE5 7EW, UK

The truth is, the best Chinese takeaways are the ones nearest to home, the ones which nightcap a potentially disastrous evening and ensure the night ends in the most pleasurable way possible. So in this spirit, the best Chinese takeaway in London is actually Happy Valley on Southampton Way at about 11.30 pm when the drunks are congregating outside and the older bald chef has finished his cigarette break and is back at the wok seasoned with a generation’s worth of chow meins, ready to prepare an order of crispy noodles and black bean sauce.

160 Southampton Way
London SE5 7EW, UK

4. Noodle Neighbour @ The Old Dispensary

325 Camberwell New Rd, London SE5 0TF, UK

The prolonged period of lockdown has forced every neighbourhood to adapt. Some enterprising and foolish souls have decided to make the leap from their home sandwich making to takeaway food; meanwhile, pubs are in need of new kitchens. This is why Camberwell has seen a small blooming of pub-sandwich pop-ups: Bite Club at The Crooked Well, Mondo at The Grove House Tavern, as well as Cutie Pies at the Tavern for weekend dinners. The best of the pandemic projects has just moved into The Old Dispensary: Noodle Neighbour, formerly called Max and Taffs. It could uncharitably be lumped in with the surprisingly large category of “went to Silk Road once and started a Chinese restaurant” London enterprises, but the biang biang noodles handmade and hand-delivered every Friday are genuinely excellent, and most importantly, not afraid to tinker with the boundaries of both Chinese and Italian cooking. A biang biang alla norma, with glossy aubergine, basil, chilli oil and vinegar, is the London innovation that should be on the Padella menu.

325 Camberwell New Rd
London SE5 0TF, UK

5. Akwaaba Kitchen

342 Camberwell New Rd, London SE5 0RW, UK

There’s holes in walls, and then there is Akwaaba Kitchen, which is literally a hole in the wall on Camberwell New Road and easy to walk past even for locals who know exactly where it is. Akwaaba means “welcome” in Twi, Ghana’s most mutually understood language, and Akwaaba Kitchen mainly specialises in chichinga, skewers of meat doused in a spicy, aromatic powder, which can be had on jollof rice, or with rice in a wrap which Akwaaba get extra credit for not succumbing to calling it a “burrito.” But he best thing at Akwaaba is not the skewers nor the wrap, or indeed anything traditionally Ghanaian, but the glazed hot wings, shatteringly crisp and tossed in a spicy and sweet ginger sauce. Ask for extra shito on the side.

342 Camberwell New Rd
London SE5 0RW, UK

6. Wuli Wuli

15 Camberwell Church St, London SE5 8TR, UK

There have been roughly three versions of Wuli Wuli. The first was as a small Camberwell secret, with an additional menu saying ‘Sichuan dishes’ in Mandarin, selling the type of fire and brimstone, blood and guts dishes that got South London hearts racing, back in late 2010. The second version was a reaction to Silk Road’s success: it reduced the Sichuanese output and added biang biang noodles, the food became less spicy and more rustic. This lasted roughly up until the pandemic when it changed again. Now it’s is more or less back to exclusively Sichuanese food but the menu is massively reduced, the food is quieter and more homely, with simple but effective quick-fry dishes like lamb and cumin; satisfyingly chewy chaoshou dumplings in red oil; and northern-style braises, like an excellent rendition of di san xian’s aubergine, green pepper and potatoes crawling with star anise. Get the cold saliva chicken to take away and it will provide a good three lunches for the week, either on rice or, best of all, in a sandwich.

15 Camberwell Church St
London SE5 8TR, UK

7. Falafel & Shawarma London

27 Camberwell Church St, London SE5 8TR, UK

In the beginning, there was Falafel. And Mahmoud Alkhatib saw that it was good, so he added a second option, and amended the name with ‘and Shawarma’. Since it opened close to what seems like the beginning of time (2007), Alkhatib’s takeaway wrap shop has become Cambewell’s heart, run with the precision of a military operation, and even inspiring direct copycats. Superficially there seem to be two choices: falafel, or shawarma. Both are £3.50. On the one hand, it is incredible value to get a wrap made with care for such a low price. On the other, how could a wrap taste anything other than heavenly if it’s £3.50 for it? Here’s the thing: the falafel and shawarma are decoys. The best two things on the menu aren’t even on the board. First, the samosas, brittle equilateral triangles, filled with pungently spiced mince and sweet onions and smothered in garlic and chilli sauce at four for £1.50. Secondly, the potatoes, sticky and rich, texture like soft fudge, and radiating chilli, cumin and what appears to be a whole lemon’s worth of juice. Any wrap benefits from asking to throw a few on; if anyone can convince Alkhatib to put the samosas in a wrap, then maybe he’ll have to change the name again.

27 Camberwell Church St
London SE5 8TR, UK

8. Silk Road

49 Camberwell Church St, Camberwell, London SE5 8TR, UK

Silk Road hasn’t changed much, but everything around it has. Back in 2009, Londoners saw cumin on a Chinese menu and lost their collective heads; now it is simply one of many in the city selling food from Xinjiang province ─ particularly as Uighurs fleeing Urumqi, Karamay and Turpan set up shop in every corner of the city, from Walthamstow to Tottenham Court Road. Although it’s no longer quite the destination restaurant it once was, what Silk Road does retain is its energy ─ even if its audience often resembles some kind of mash-up between something called “Left Twitter” and a Theatre and Performance seminar at Goldsmiths. “Here’s what to order from Silk Road” has become a literal meme, but here it is anyway: the best things are the most straightforward, kebabs (lamb shish, kidneys, fish), homestyle cabbage in an umami rich sauce which is at least 80% scalding oil, and the tomato, egg, and pepper noodles, with its cumulonimbus egg whites coddling noodles and barely cooked tomato chunks. Groups should consider ordering the boiled lamb, a Flintstone piece of meat on the bone with salty, tear-inducing onion shavings ─ to be shared and torn apart with hands, whenever people are feeling comfortable doing this sort of thing again. 

49 Camberwell Church St, Camberwell
London SE5 8TR, UK

9. Francesco's

53 Camberwell Church St, London SE5 8TR, UK

South London is full of restaurant rivalries, copycats and acrimonious splits: from the Creams vs Kaspas “who did it first?” debate, to the abundance of fake Morley’s, which often resembles a Morley’s psyop to enhance its own reputation. Knowing this, it’s tempting to wonder ‘who is Francesco?’ and ‘why did he fall out with Theo?’ Except Francesco’s, the only real rival to Theo’s Camberwell pizza crown, is really an offshoot of Falafel and Shawarma, an extension of its domination of the road in handheld cheap eats. It’s no mistake that the best things here are not the pizzas but the lunchtime wraps ─ £3.50, that magic number again ─ which are essentially small pizzas folded around themselves, light, airy and steaming hot, molten tomato and cheese combining to burn the roofs of mouths. A pepperoni with extra chilli sauce is straightforwardly delicious, and arguably the best pizza-related item on the street.

53 Camberwell Church St
London SE5 8TR, UK

10. Fladda Fish & Chips

55 Camberwell Church St, London SE5 8TR, UK

A good fish and chip shop has to understand what fish and chips is about. There is no point trying to gussy it up. No one wants ikejime battered haddock, and even fewer people want to pay anything more than £10 to fill themselves up on a Friday. Fladda in Camberwell gets this, but isn’t shy to make improvements and alterations, which is where it just edges Camberwell’s other good chippy (Deep Sea on Vestry Road). Anonymous ‘chip shop’ sausages and pert, scarlet saveloys sit alongside battered sausages from The Butchery; homemade steak and ale pies alongside Pukka; whole fish fillets alongside a £5 fish bites and chips deal celebrating fish off-cuts that Josh Niland could be proud of. There is bread and butter. There is gravy. There is battered halloumi. There is even a pretty decent, if decadently, doubly oily, mackerel sandwich to get through the new Brexit-induced glut. Everything is expertly fried, with golden brown crunchy chips ... And... Are those scraps in the back? On hearing the words “anchovy mayo,” it’s even possible to forgive the mint in the mushy peas.

55 Camberwell Church St
London SE5 8TR, UK

11. Van Hing

42 Camberwell Church St, London SE5 8QZ, UK

There are three ways to enjoy Van Hing. First is in it’s menu of British-Chinese favourites done with care: good versions of Singapore noodles; salt and pepper tofu; crispy noodles with duck and pork. The second is to go for the small Vietnamese menu, particularly the exceptional bánh cuốn with wrappers so fine it’s possible to read a book through them, either eaten on their own and dipped in fish sauce, or stuffed with finely minced pork and wood ear mushrooms. The third is to come on a Friday, when those in the know are here for lòng lợn. This demotic Vietnamese sharing food is not for those faint-hearted about offal. It’s Operation on a plate: sliced hearts, liver, intestine stuffed with bitter herbs, with absolutely nothing done to obscure their initial function as organs, retaining crunch and chew where appropriate. Then there’s the mam tom for dipping: A dank, grey pool of fermented shrimp with an intensity only usually found in decaying things, whipped up into an angry froth and gulped between snatches of fresh herbs.

42 Camberwell Church St
London SE5 8QZ, UK

12. Theo’s

2 Grove Ln, Camberwell, London SE5 8SY, UK

Whether Theo’s serves the ideal pizza may come down to whether what its eater wants is an accurate rendition of Naples served with the best imported mozzarella while sitting close to a traffic junction on the corner of Grove Lane. The pizzas at Theo’s are actually fine, even if their pale snow leoparding makes you want to ask for 30 seconds more in the oven. But where the sourdough comes into its own are on the lunchtime panuozzi: pizza-sandwich hybrids, bread folded over filling over bread, into crispy melts. It also means the ingredients have a chance to break free from the Neapolitan litany ─ the best sandwich is the tuna melt, with olives and chopped red onions cutting through the ooze. Yes, it may be less John West and cheddar and more Ortiz and buffalo mozzarella, but that can be forgiven. 

2 Grove Ln, Camberwell
London SE5 8SY, UK

13. FM Mangal

54 Camberwell Church St, Camberwell, London SE5 8QZ, UK

FM Mangal is almost certainly the best London ocakbaşi south of the Thames, which, for Turkish restaurants, is like winning the Europa League. Where it equals and surpasses its Green Lanes and Edmonton cousins is in its wraps, which are put together with care and precision. First, the bread is given ample time to get to know the meat; they are introduced on the grill so it is infused with both fat from the meat, and the smoke as that same fat drips and ignites on the coals. Then the bread is brushed with brick-red biber paste in broad brushstrokes like a Matisse, and the wrap is constructed: salad, pickles, chilli, garlic sauce, and a kebab of choice. All are great, but the adana, so dense it could spring a bed, is the one.

54 Camberwell Church St, Camberwell
London SE5 8QZ, UK

14. Oregano Leaf Pizzeria

44 Camberwell Church St, London SE5 8QZ, UK

Theo’s, for hedonists.

44 Camberwell Church St
London SE5 8QZ, UK

15. Sanchez

4 Daneville Rd, London SE5 8SF, UK

The closer you get to Denmark Hill, the more handheld and portable the food becomes. This is because much of the eating options in the area are servicing workers from either Kings College Hospital, or the bus garage around the corner. Sanchez, a Colombian bakery which opened during lockdown, is well placed to capture this time-poor demographic: buñuelos, little stress balls of fried dough and cheese, empanadas filled with potato and strands of beef, and best of all, salteñas, the soft bois of Latin American handheld pies. One does not attempt to eat a salteña lightly, it must be held as delicately as a newborn’s head, nibbling into the soft, baked casing, before pressing gently to bring forth a riotous mix of chicken, green and black olives, slices of soft boiled egg, and delicious, scalding broth.

4 Daneville Rd
London SE5 8SF, UK

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16. Brunchies

1 Valmar Rd, London SE5 9NG, UK

In their line of duty, food writers must always have a Robert Jenrick-esque respect for flags. A red, yellow and green Bolivian flag hung on a corner of Coldharbour Lane suddenly makes Brunchies visible ─ delve deeper and it’s possible to find not only generic brunch fare but an all Bolivian kitchen starting to tentatively branch out into hearty meat platters that compete with Latin House opposite. The coating of their pollo a la canasta ─ BFC ─ is rugged and craggy, with a well-seasoned ordnance survey map of ridges, peaks, and valleys. It comes on top of the holy trinity of chips, rice and plantain, a coma in a polystyrene box. Lechon al horno comes as a thick strap of pork shoulder, about the size of a mobile phone in a 1980s movie, skin cooked not to a crisp, but to the texture of a wine gum. The idea is that the future menu will be split in two and never the twain shall meet, but wouldn’t a lechon benedict be a great excuse to finally eat brunch?

1 Valmar Rd
London SE5 9NG, UK

17. Victreatz Nigerian Afro-Fusion Takeaway

16 Coldharbour Ln, London SE5 9PR, UK

A casual eater walking into Victreatz might be tempted by a lunchtime jollof and chicken deal, emboldened by a ladle of hot stew on the side, but this would be to miss the best things that chef Victoria Cole makes, which are neither the chicken, nor the suya, but the pulses, starches and vegetables that define the soporific nature of Yorùbá cuisine. Ewa oloyin, honey beans, are cooked until they have soaked up enough stew that their cell walls threaten to dissolve, either eaten on their own luxuriating in their own sweetness as ewa riro, or mashed with a moat of hot pepper into ewa agoyin. Many stews and soups are done party style, with Cole wielding a lighter hand with the palm oil. Egusi, that ingenious seed, thirstily soaks up soup and coalesces into curds that are often compared to scrambled eggs or ricotta but should only ever be compared to egusi. All else that is required is a ball of pounded yam; some patience; and a roll of kitchen paper for wet fingers.

16 Coldharbour Ln
London SE5 9PR, UK

18. The Bread Of Life

19 Coldharbour Ln, London SE5 9NR, UK

The soul of Jamaican cuisine is not necessarily found in its more famous dishes ─ not in the stinging smoke of jerk chicken, nor in a container of curried goat, nor even in the dish commonly held up to be a national symbol, ackee and saltfish. If the soul is in any one thing, it’s in its soups: red pea cooked to a melting consistency, gelatinous with salted pig tail and cow’s foot, or a mutton soup chock full of spinners and hard food that will power the eater through the day, providing satiety rather than uncomfortable fullness. If a regular chicken broth is liquid penicillin then a chicken soup from Coldharbour Lane’s The Bread of Life is the Astrazeneca jab in a carton. The soups and porridges change daily: the sweet peanut porridge on a Friday has the smooth, creamy texture of grits, soothed with the balm of nutmeg, a taste of childhood no matter the background. And while the sign on the door says man cannot live on bread alone, it’s possible to live solely on the fried dumplings, instantly identifiable on sight by their Escher braid, and in the mouth by their sugar snap coating that yields to the lightest, fluffiest dough. Perfection in four bites: one of the single best things available to eat in South London.

19 Coldharbour Ln
London SE5 9NR, UK

19. Viet Cafe

75 Denmark Hill, London SE5 8RS, UK

Viet Cafe is a more interesting location that appearances might initially give. Run by Sonia and her friend Donna, one of Viet Cafe’s first employees who has just stayed for the last 10 years, it has mostly been pigeonholed as a bánh mì and sandwich joint, quickly filling up the workers and visitors of Kings College Hospital. In reality, the cafe specialises in that much broader category: things on rice. Grilled beef or pork are well marinated and tender, coming with the kiss of char from the grill, and might form a rice bowl with a fried egg and some chilli, or a tangle of steamed bun noodles with bouncy meatballs, salad and fish sauce. Better yet, is the bò kho, a Vietnamese beef stew redolent of good home cooking: tender brisket offering no resistance to a plastic spoon, with thick batons of carrot glistening with fat and greedily sucking up all the slow-cooked flavour from the meat, proving the cross-cultural truth that the best part of long meat cooking is the starchy vegetables. On Friday night, Sonia prepares phở for Saturday morning until it sells out. It is an outstanding version: blushing rare beef that gently loses its shame in the soup, darker pieces of well done meat, and homemade meatballs, all in a sweet, southern style broth. The North vs South debate doesn’t really matter: good phở is good phở.

75 Denmark Hill
London SE5 8RS, UK

20. Nandine

82 Vestry Rd, Camberwell, London SE5 8PQ, UK

It was a cruel twist that Nandine’s victory lap of opening a flagship shop on Camberwell Church St was cut short by the pandemic. Pary Baban’s restaurant was only open a few months before lockdown hit; since then, it has only been open for takeaway, while the original Nandine on Vestry Road has been shut the entire duration of 2020. Camberwell will be all the better when London’s best Kurdish restaurant is fully functional again: what marks Nandine apart from all its competitors is the level of care, skill, and soul put into the food on an almost microscopic level. It’s one thing to make hummus well, but it’s another to nail each of the eleven components of their mezze, from the taut texture of vine leaves to the notes of smoke in the aubergine qawarma to the crystalline finish on the meat kubba. Each mouthful always has something to surprise and delight: simple rice or cabbage dishes are judiciously anointed with judicious use of stewed fruit, or fresh herbs like mint and parsley. This is not a cuisine that is a stranger to dill. The very best thing though is at the original Nandine: a Kurdish breakfast comprising in-house yoghurt, white cheese, fig jam, honey, bread, and salad, a platter that is somehow simultaneously frugal and completely luxurious.

82 Vestry Rd, Camberwell
London SE5 8PQ, UK

21. Tasty House

118 Denmark Hill, London SE5 8RX, UK

When talking about restaurants and their importance to communities, it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that people don’t just want the same food over and over again. Cities are not just a place for faithful recreations, they are also where unexpected symbiotic relationships may occur. Like the Kosher Chinese restaurants of Golders Green, Tasty House, an inconspicuous takeaway on Denmark Hill, is a testament to the ability of Chinese cuisine to mould itself round the tastes of a local community — list it alongside 805, Enish, First Choice and The Happening Bagel Bakery as a pillar of Black London eats. Its reputation is built off the back of burnished fried rice dishes, whose fugitive notes of wok hei shares DNA with party jollof, while all orders can be customised to levels of spiciness and ─ crucially for those on their deen ─ porkiness. The menu has one truly outstanding dish difficult to get elsewhere in London: the salt and pepper chips, tanned in the fryer then stir fried with onions and chilli.

118 Denmark Hill
London SE5 8RX, UK

22. Different Taste

120 Denmark Hill, London SE5 8RX, UK

To open a takeaway called ‘Different Taste’ next door to Tasty House is either an act of trolling at a real estate level or an elaborate conspiracy theory, where two seemingly competing takeaways are served by the same kitchen. While consistently less busy, the food at Different Taste is generally as good if not better than its neighbour, and has one extra arrow in its quiver: its curry laksa, a violent shade of terra rossa with tofu puffs, hard boiled egg, soft noodles (bee hoon or laksa noodles) and either with seafood or a roast pork and prawn mix. It’s not the best curry laksa in London, but this is Camberwell: it’s good enough to satisfy any cravings.

120 Denmark Hill
London SE5 8RX, UK

23. Just A Bite Catering

Kch Business Park, 129-131 Coldharbour Ln, London SE5 9NY, UK

Okay, this is a tricky one to find. It’s possible to get there through King’s College Hospital but the easiest way is to walk up the left hand side of Coldharbour Lane towards Loughborough Junction, and turn left where it says King’s College Hospital Business Park. Walk uphill as ambulances pass, before coming to a ramp. Go up the ramp, and between the hours of 11 — 2p.m. on a weekday, Just A Bite Catering is parked at the top, selling wraps. Ignore the wraps, the thing to get here ─ as all the surgeons and orderlies know ─ is the kebabs on chips, pudgy chunks of chicken shish, long seekh kebabs or grilled paneer. On a Friday they make more use of their fryer and do a masala fish, battered with the savoury tang of gram flour and served with fries that sport a dazzling array of sauces and chutneys, from garlic sauce and mango at one end, right through to coriander and chilli on the other.

Kch Business Park, 129-131 Coldharbour Ln
London SE5 9NY, UK

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