With its famous markets, a remarkable collection of new and newish breweries and an increasing number of restaurants creeping onto the hit lists of the food-obsessed, South East London has firmly earned its credentials as an epicurean attraction in the capital. Spend a weekend touring the area by train to discover the old guard who’ve made it great and the new kids who’re making it brilliant.
Anchoring the foodie scene in South East London is M Manze, a pie and mash shop on Tower Bridge Road as culturally significant as the bridge itself. Manze has been going since 1902, dishing up historic staples of the London workman’s lunch, namely jellied eels and pie and mash with parsley liquor – all to this day made in house.
Not far down the road, we have the focal point of modern British brewing, also known as the Beer Mile – a 1.5-mile (2.4-kilometre) walkable route of beer-focused bars and brewery taprooms between Southwark Brewing Co and Fourpure. (At South Bermondsey station during a brew day you often get a heady malty whiff.)
On weekends, beer drinkers customarily line their stomachs at the buzzing Maltby Street Market, held on a narrow, smoky and bunting-clad walkway hidden just off Druid Street.
Some of the city’s best traders line up here, and as is generally true of the foodie scene in London, eclectic would be an understatement – among other offerings, there are Japanese dumplings from the Gyoza Guys, toasted cheese sandwiches from The Cheese Truck and Mozambique-style burgers from African Volcano to lunch on.
Bermondsey Street, round the corner from London Bridge station, is another twee part of South East London, with its delis, gin bars, boutiques, small art galleries and bistros. Casse-Croûte is one of the most charming establishments, daily chalking up a short menu of classic French dishes, like roquefort salad, rabbit with mustard and crêpes suzette.
Levan, one of Peckham’s newest additions, offers a more modern and more encompassing approach to the French bistro. A train ride will take you from Bermondsey to Peckham Rye, a short stagger from Levan’s doorstep. Here, ‘sharing’ dishes – such as the chanterelle and vacherin pie – draw the eye, and justifiably so.
But smaller dishes, particularly the comté fries and the apple tarte tatin, are the real heroes, while sides of cheese never go amiss (the creamy bleu d’auvergne is a corker), especially alongside something from Levan’s exhaustive list of natural wines.
Speaking of neighbourhood restaurants, this part of London is well equipped. Franklins, among them, has been around since the late ’90s, and its consistency has earned it a lot of love from locals.
Simplicity in its food and cheery service are top priority, while the daily changing menu means regulars invariably find something new to tuck into. From Peckham, get there in a few minutes via a train to East Dulwich.
Then, Crystal Palace-way – and after 13 minutes on the train – is Gipsy Hill, where you’ll find a taproom known for knocking out some of the city’s most coveted one-off and seasonal beers, often in collaboration with a top UK brewery like Boxcar, Deya or Verdant.
Gipsy Hill Taproom’s highly rated, citrus-forward IPA, Hepcat, is almost always on the taps. It’s pumped from a state-of-the-art cellar, too, meaning there really is nowhere better to drink beer.
Southern offers regular routes from London Bridge to Crystal Palace, making it easy to travel around South East London – or other destinations such as Brighton and the south coast. For more information on train times and to book your tickets, visit southernrailway.com.