Coal Rooms: Review
The previous function of the space now occupied by modern restaurant the Coal Rooms isn’t immediately obvious until you open the door to the toilets. I doubt there’s a more spectacular set of conveniences in South London — original 1930s mosaic flooring, gleaming white tiling and a room so big it could probably quite comfortably fit in a whole other sit-down restaurant.
It was, we were told, only half of the toilets from the old Peckham Rye rail station — specifically the gents, which is why the Victorian ceramic urinals each have a pot plant placed in front to dissuade all but the most inebriated guests from attempting to make us of them (the new toilets are all cubicles).
Peckham, it’s fair to say, has had its ups and downs between the 1930s and today, but further sign of its leap towards respectability — or depressing submission to gentrification, depending on your point of view — is this dynamic new restaurant, overhung with smoke from some serious-looking charcoal grills and smokers in the open kitchen, with a bright, minimalist bar and dining spaces either side. It’s undeniably a very cool space, and staffed by staff whose youth and energy are quite infectious.
The food, too, is trendy and interesting in a modern British-meets-anything-goes-international style you may have seen crop up around the capital in the last few years. First, we tried was a pretty pile of fennel, white cabbage and brown shrimp, which was fresh and clean-tasting, even if it could perhaps have taken a bit more seasoning. Only £5 for quite the generous amount of shrimp, too, which is nice of them.
Coal-roasted cauliflower with miso bagna cauda had almost the opposite problem to the shrimp — it was fiercely flavoured, miso and anchovy providing a knockout one-two punch of umami, and a coating of furikake (a Japanese paste made with sesame seeds) adding further complexity. The cauliflower itself, though, was nicely done, with a pleasant range of textures from the crunchy florets to the al-dente stalks, and an all-important extra note of smoke from the grill.
‘Umami salad’ (the Coal Rooms really do like their umami) was a halved baby gem lettuce topped with crispy onions, anchovy sauce (we think) and various other umami-rich ingredients, which sounds like it could be a bit of a mess on paper but actually ate very well. Kind of a Japanese-inflected version of a wedge salad, it was cooling and satisfying with a nice fresh crunch.
The best thing you could say about this vast 800g T-bone steak was that it was clearly very good steak — 45 day aged Dexter — and for most people that would be more than enough reason to order it. We’d perhaps like to have seen a bit more of a char on it, and it arrived strangely cold, but it often takes a little while for new restaurants to know all the ins and outs of their new equipment, and Josper-style grills are notoriously unpredictable things, so there’s every chance that very soon the Coal Rooms will be turning out piping hot steaks with good thick dark crusts with the best of them.
Slightly bamboozled by the myriad of options under the ‘sauces’ section of the menu, we went for three — beef dripping horseradish (very good, rich and creamy with little bitterness), Aja Amarillo hot sauce (not bad, but a bit bland — could take some more vinegar or citrus) and Wow Wow, a beef stock based sauce cut with capers and pickles, which was great to dip chips in.
Ah yes, chips — or rather “‘Peckham Fatboy’ roast potatoes, raclette, onions, and beef fat mayonnaise” which was one of the highlights of the entire dinner. Golden brown spuds, presumably triple-cooked to get a fantastic crunch and silky smooth interior, were draped in a healthy (or rather, deeply unhealthy) layer of bubbly Raclette cheese, and were absolutely lovely in every way. If you’re not the kind of person that can enjoy chips covered in melted cheese then you don’t deserve to be happy, quite honestly.
It will be interesting to see how this place develops as the months go by. We get the impression that right now, in the scary first few weeks, they’re trying a bit of a ‘throw everything to the wall and see what sticks’ attitude to menu composition, and the results, while certainly fun, are a bit haphazard. There’s definitely talent here though, and a remarkable propensity to experiment, and both of these things should be encouraged. Lord knows we already have enough places already that are playing it safe.
So our recommendation comes with certain caveats, but a recommendation it still most certainly is. The Coal Rooms, a fun and fascinating new addition to SE15, is already worth a diversion on your commute home — in fact, if you live anywhere near an Overground line at all you should definitely be putting it on your list. If it lives up to its potential, this could be the start of something quite special.
JOL was invited to review Coal Rooms on a complimentary basis. We retain full editorial control.