Saturday, 16 March 2013

Restaurant Review: The Crooked Well

The adjective crooked refers to something which is bent out of shape or place; it’s not an unfit name for this venue. Looking quaint with a friendly village-like feel, it’s far from what you’d expect a head’s turn away from the gritty, arty urbanism of Camberwell Green. It fits no mould, either. There is too prominent a bar area for it to really be considered a restaurant, but the service is a tad too slick, the cocktail menu too extensive and the wine list too considered for it to be branded a gastropub.

Like many a Londoner, I’ve grown both weary and wary of establishments that trendily tread the line and tend to offer either overpriced pub meals or sloppily served masterpieces which are incoherent with the atmosphere. In fittingly non-committal style, though, a place of such a description can swing both ways, and on entering The Well (I’m speaking of it affectionately already), any ambiguity quickly disappears.

It may be the fact that it’s generously heated and cosily warm, or because we’re welcomed with a genuine smile and friendly banter, or down to the freshly baked bread that we’re hastily brought to pick at as we browse the menu, but for one reason or another we fall head over heels for the place in an instant.
Nervous that the food offering would compromise our feelings, we order carefully; I ask our waitress for advice and though she’s confident that the whole menu is sound, it’s refreshing to hear she has her own highlights and personal favourites. They don’t disappoint.
Pigeon breast nestled in rich, stock-seeped lentils and studded with spicy chorizo is one recommendation. The meat is beautifully and radiantly pink and tender, and we’re confident that in a room less heated, the dish’s robust Mediterranean flavours could easily permeate the London winter. A breaded halloumi salad is another, and one that we wouldn’t have plumped for without a push. It could serve as a mascot for the often maligned cheese; it’s crisp, creamy and pleasingly salty, while a honey dressing, fresh pear slices and tangy watercress all help to cut through its denseness and lend a touch of refinement to what is otherwise classic comfort food.
A ballotine of guinea fowl, Jerusalem artichoke and leeks is daintier; it’s soft, earthy and faff-free thanks to being boned and rolled. Pate Negra pork served with a red cabbage and celeriac slaw, and utterly delectable crispy roast ham is heartier, but still intricate in its flavours. From the pudding list, a chocolate and rhubarb tart is particularly impressive, with the tartness of this most classic British spring vegetable soaring through the dark richness of the chocolate. Bakewell, eat your heart out.
If The Well is a gastropub, then the genre has a leader in its field, but just as the area of Camberwell Grove that it occupies is its own entity, someway between suburban Dulwich and edgy Peckham, so The Crooked Well is a unique venue that’s well and truly in a class of its own.

16 Grove Lane, SE5 8SY
Overground: Denmark Hill
Price: £££
Written by Ben Norum

Originally published in Scout London magazine

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