Camberwell is having something of a moment, perhaps even more so than all of the other ‘up-and-coming’ South and East London hotspots. In the last year or so it’s gained the fantastic Camberwell Arms, Theo’s Pizza, which gives Franco Manca and Pizza Pilgrims a solid challenge, and now Queen’s (which replaces a nail bar by the same name).
This comes on top of the peerless Silk Road, the popular FM Mangal, and Angels & Gypsies, a pretty decent tapas place. And all of these lie on one short stretch of road between the green and where the town fades imperceptibly into the road to Peckham.
I am proud to say that I can personally claim some of the responsbility for Queen’s coming into being, because I crowd-funded it—to the tune of £100—on Kickstarter. I liked the vision and apparently 306 others did too, because it garnered £50,024 and many of us were there over the past weekend to enjoy an opening ‘feast’ with paired drinks, something Mike (half of co-founders Mike and Ollie) told me they intend to continue doing monthly. Otherwise, the menu will be focused on what they can do with their charcoal grill, a machine you can take a gander at in their open kitchen.
What is immediately obvious about the new Queen’s is that it is not a South London nail bar. It is almost like a big indoor climbing frame, the sort you might find at one of those farms you visit with your family on holiday in Dorset. This isn’t a bad thing: I think that the turn toward elegant simplicity in lots of the new wave of restaurants is something to be welcomed. The ceilings felt high and the tiling by the fireplace was very pretty (although the air coming in through the chimney was freezing).
As with so many other places I’ve been to recently, you dine fairly communally at Queen’s, on big wooden rectangular blocks of tables (unless you’re in the very cool four-man booth, which is cut away under the upstairs storage bit of the climbing frame, a little bit like the lower bunk of a bunk bed). Since all of the 30-odd covers were eating the same thing, we were also all served together on big dishes. I find this communal eating a bit wearing, but it’s probably also a factor in the reasonableness of the pricing, given the quality of what you’re getting.
As I said, I paid £100, and got dinner for two, with a drink for each of the four savoury courses. I think this is extremely reasonable, although I cannot promise this pricing will extend to future feasts.
The first course was a heavily-spiced, springy and chewy flatbread with a little broth of bacon, pearl barley, a thick grass-like vegetable whose name I’ve forgotten, and two mussels in their shells. The broth was savoury, the pearl barley had a satisfying sugar puff-like bite, and the mussels were cooked perfectly—they disintegrated into soft subsections with the lightest touch. It was served with a sloe gin cocktail that tasted like a soft drink.
Course two was raw cured sea bass (or possibly bream—who can tell) with charred fennel and some pomegranate seeds. The pomegranate seeds didn’t affect the dish much, but the fennel took on a mild cleansing flavour with the grilling, and I can never get enough of the delicate texture and flavour of raw sea bass. The accompanying drink was a shot of aquavit, the nordic spirit that tastes largely of pure alcohol, with a hint of aniseed.
Sophie liked the third course best: ‘Turkish ravioli’ or Manti with cow’s cheese, beetroot sauce, and yoghurt. The slight firmness of the bottom of the pasta (was it pasta?) was great, but the best fun was mopping up the mix of sharp yoghurt with sweet beetroot sauce left behind. We got white wine (muscadet) as accompaniment.
To fill us up they brought a fourth course which was basically roast lamb. Well, sort of: the lamb was clearly slow-cooked for hours, to a point of extreme, almost sloppy tenderness; the mash was the almost-liquid creamy stuff I’ve never been served at my or anyone else’s house but like to have when I am out; and the veg was caramelised. It was very warming, homely and delicious nonetheless. It came with a glass of clean-tasting red wine.
Finally we had the lemon tart, which was a pretty impressive specimen: wobbly, how-does-it-stay-together topping, super thin pastry coating, blowtorched crust at the top, candied lemon peel, and sumac spice for contrast. Really excellent, especially after the travesty of a tart we ate at the otherwise recommended Casse-Croûte in Bermondsey.
Queen’s is an exciting new venture in Camberwell—absolutely everything they tried came off. I look forward to checking out their regular menu, and I hope Mike and Ollie’s joint is as popular as it deserves to be.
Score: 〶 – one medal (for an explanation of our scoring system, see here).