There are spots in Peckham where you could almost believe you’re in an upmarket English town, rather than deep in south London. The Victoria is in one such spot: a handsome inn, which first opened in 1878 on a corner of Bellenden Road, a terrace shared with a cluster of indie businesses, such as trendy deli The General Store and butcher Flock & Herd. On Sunday mornings, when Peckham Farmers’ Market is in full swing, the illusion is complete.
It’s probably the growing number of such places – part of this corner of Peckham’s swing towards gentrification – that prompted the Victoria to go for a refurb. It reopened in October following a renovation that included its 15 guest rooms, which, I’m told, weren’t worth even thinking about before.
Now the pub is taking on the role of modern, upmarket local – with the decor stripped back to highlight the building’s original features: brick walls, wooden floors, black-and-white tiling and a classic bar of dark wood, mirrors and polished brass. Vintage chairs and dark leather banquettes add to the classiness. It’s cool, but not so cool you feel you have to look the part to spend an evening there. The only hint of the old Peckham is a graphic art print referencing Only Fools and Horses, and a photograph of a pie-and-mash shop.
We arrive close to dinner time, ready to dive straight into the menu. The restaurant has also had a freshen-up, with a new head chef and a menu that has a touch more flair than your average gastropub, drawing ingredients from local suppliers and listing dishes such as miso-glazed rabbit (and that’s just for starters) and baked Devon crab with scrumpy-fried oysters and fennel mayonnaise. And the bar is stocked with 10 local beers and ciders, as well as five cask ales – the selection on tap including local brews Brockwell IPA and Peckham Pils.
Our attentive waiter introduces us to the list of biodynamic “living” wines. These include vegan wines such as Horsmonden white from Davenport Vineyards in East Sussex and low-sulphur wines like Hochar Père et Fils, a Lebanese red. We go for glasses of the house white, a Sicilian catarratto, and Scottish scallops to start: they melt in the mouth, contrasting with crunchy parsnip crisps scattered on top. For main, I can’t resist the crab – mainly because of the scrumpy-fried oysters – and it doesn’t disappoint.
For those who want to explore the other night-time offerings in the neighbourhood, there’s plenty within walking distance. Highly rated modern Italian restaurant Artusi is on the same road and, round the corner, Bar Story, under Peckham Rye Station, has cocktails, pizzas and dancing.
In summer, a Peckham highlight will always be a rooftop drink on the 10th floor of the multistorey carpark, home to the city-famous Frank’s Cafe. Later nights can be had at the CLF Art Cafe, better known as the Bussey Building, a huge multi-arts warehouse venue, that does popular club nights, plus theatre and dance performances. Daytime draws include the South London Gallery, a hub for YBAs in the 1990s, and Rye Wax, a shop selling records, graphic novels and ‘zines that also hosts events from spoken word to DJs.
After another glass of wine we head up to our room. It’s simple, tasteful and comfortable, with cool “Scandi” furnishings. I’m a complete sucker for a rain shower, so am very happy to find one in the en suite, which has bright blue-and-white tiles and a big bath. The rooms, which include standard doubles and twins, “superior” doubles and “feature” doubles – family rooms with a sofabed – all come with Wi-Fi, sound system and coffee machine.
Breakfast, included in the price, offers everything from kippers on toast to the full English, plus bread and pastries from a local bakery. We haul ourselves out of bed and head back down to the pub for rich scrambled egg and smoked salmon before heading out into Peckham, having had an unexpected reminder of just how quaint the area can be.
• Accommodation was provided by The Victoria Inn (doubles from £90 a night B&B, 020-7639 5052, victoriainnpeckham.com)
Ask a local
Wendy Scott, co-owner, Gaia yoga and pilates studio, Peckham
Eclectic homewares and gift shop Quaint & Belleon the ever popular Bellenden Road is well-stocked with beautiful jewellery and home and garden accessories, much of which is by local designers.
An edgy bar within the Copeland Park complex, The Nines serves cocktails and bar snacks (the mac ‘n’ cheese is a must). A back room hosts gigs, theatre productions and creative workshops.
A few minutes from Peckham Rye station is Miss Tapas, a small and friendly Spanish restaurant. Expect high-quality plates of tapas for sharing and an extensive list of Spanish wines.
The Peckham Plex on Rye Lane is a truly independent cinema that shows blockbusters but also work from local film-makers. And tickets are just £4.99!