Ask a lot of people what they think of Camberwell and the only answer usually involves Danny’s famous Camberwell carrot (because it was invented in Camberwell and it looks like a carrot……duh). But change is definitely afoot, at least to the non-Withnail generation. Perhaps it started with the brave opening of a fine and authentic tapas bar on camberwell’s “prime pitch”. Angels and Gypsies was a revelation when it opened its very Spanish doors. Success has been deserved and extensive; booking is essential, which is not something many imagined would happen amongst the usual dining establishments of Camberwell Church Street, which tend to cater to the walk in (from a bus) and walk out (to a bus) crowd.
Set in the shadow of Gilbert Scott’s monumental church (way too big even then for the deeply unreligious congregation surely) its decoration is sparse but ecclesiastically fitting with hams hanging in the window against the stained glass murals. The food is never short of excellent, familiar enough to tapas lovers but individual enough to be special (they don’t do patatas bravas, preferring their own unique version). Since it opened, along with the boutique hotel above (more words rarely relevant to Camberwell) it has fostered the u turn that was so desperately needed to meet the needs of the metropolitan mix-up of local dwellers. The south london gallery, a few hundred yards towards Peckham has been a favourite ever since we met Michael Landy there with his “art bin” – although we had no idea we were talking to the artist himself until a rather loud American interrupted our conversation (“oh my god! Michael! I can’t believe you’re actually here!).
They have recently reimagined their spaces with 6a architects, to create among other things a rather on-message london cafe/bar/restaurant. This perhaps doesn’t quite appeal to the art college students next door, but it is always full even though there are now 2 other quirky independent coffee bars on the street (beards, rolled up tight jeans and a fixie being the minimum entry code). The areas restoration must now be coming someway towards its peak, with the recent opening of the Camberwell Arms, a sister (or brother?) to the excellent Anchor and Hope in Waterloo, and with the same excellent quality food and ingredients and indeed the buzzy convivial atmosphere. Oh, and we’ve also now got a Costa, whoopee.