Brunch is an unusual meal. Born out of the weaknesses of modern breakfast – on-the-go porridge pots, cereal bars, Pop Tarts – brunch is less of a mealtime, more of an aspirational lifestyle foible, a whimsical rebellion against the weekend’s brevity.
Enjoying a brunch Pedler Peckham Rye style (or better yet, a late brunch) is the bourgeois equivalent of scrawling graffiti or parking your car across two spaces: take that, life. Your ordered regime of structured mealtimes is so over.
But we should take brunch seriously. By adding alcohol to the usual roster of fresh fruit juice and coffee, it holds a significant advantage over breakfast, especially for the hungover diner seeking relief. And by sneaking in sweet treats like waffles and doughnuts, it can one-up lunch. Perhaps that’s the whole point: because brunch has no set time, the implicit message is one of untroubled abandonment. Who cares what time it is? It’s the weekend and we’ve got platefuls of smoked salmon and a Bloody Mary the size of the actual woman.
Pedler, Peckham’s latest and trendiest cafe-bar-restaurant, shouldn’t be solely defined by its brunch menu, since it serves plenty else besides. Initially, it might be difficult to rouse yourself to the news of its opening: infamously gentrifying yummy-mummy district of south London gets yet another trendy cafe: colour me shocked.
But Pedler Peckham Rye is different. Yes, there’s an eclectic mix of electro-swing and vintage hits on the stereo, from Belle & Sebastian to Ella Fitzgerald. A giant cockerel sits atop the period bar. And the all-day breakfast costs £9, which a few years ago would have bought you the whole cafe in this part of town. Yet Pru Clarke and the team, all of them Peckham locals, have created something far above the typical hipster hangout in this cafe & coffee shop Peckham Rye.
Let’s take that signature breakfast as an example. Elevated by some ingenious touches that leave you in no doubt as to Pedler’s ambitions, it overtakes your typical full-English with the insouciant, arrogant grace of a Spanish wonderkid jinking past Phil Jagielka. Pedler have created this breakfast as though affronted by the suggestion that the fried breakfast is a cheap, easy, greasy mess of a meal.
Pedler’s ace is marvellous: they put maple syrup in the butter. Not since the time Auntie Gloria (not really my auntie) ordered too much mint sauce from Ocado have I had such an unusual condiment with my breakfast. It acts as a multiplier, a power-up which adds a new dimension of flavour to everything it touches. It brings out notes of sweetness in the chargrilled bacon, it leads the potato rosti into waffle territory, it galvanises the home-made kidney beans into something surprising and full of intrigue. What might have been a humdrum fry-up becomes a experimental voyage into speculative combinations of sweet and savoury.This is how it must feel to form a coalition government.
Since it’s so packed, we’re squeezed in beside a young couple (X-Factor quiff haircut, ripped jeans) who seem to enjoy the breakfast as much as we do, apart from the homemade beans. The girl prods them with her fork.
“The food’s great, but I’m not sure about these beans” she says. “I don’t like these ones here. They look like kidneys”
The boy peers over. “Oh, the kidney beans?”
“…Is that what they’re actually called? No way!”
Moments later, it’s my turn to be humiliated by the beans: ferrying a forkful across to my partner (always a risky move), a whole kidney bean falls into her glass of water. With the solemn air of a priest performing an ablution, I apologise under my breath, extract the renegade bean and swap her water with mine, stealthily sipping from her cup thereafter.
But Pedler Peckham Rye are clearly on board with the whole putting the food in the drink thing: their sausages are infused with Little Birds Gin, and as far as I can tell my partner’s milkshake is basically a blended vanilla cheesecake. There’s a seasonal selection of health-kick smoothies. There’s loose-leaf tea. And the coffee is simply excellent, coming with an additional Antipodean touch (“How would you like the milk, hot or cold?” the waitress asks; “Just…in the coffee?” is my immortally embarrassing reply).
In between fishing my bean out from her drink and eavesdropping on our neighbours, my partner enjoys her formidable Eggs Benedict, with a couple of tweaks typical of Pedler: roast ham is replaced with the grilled bacon, spinach brings a rejuvenating freshness, and toasted slices of sourdough supplant the muffins. Eggs Benedict lives or dies by the Hollandaise, and here an almighty kick of vinegar brings it to life.
Pedler Peckham Rye is a lovingly realised, bustling little cafe with a cosy, communal atmosphere. It feels like it’s been around for ages, even though it only opened a couple of months ago. Mismatched china crockery, vintage sugar holders and an eclectic playlist might be common these days, but the menu is memorable for its quality, breadth and originality. And maple syrup butter.
Pedler Peckham Rye review by Chris Zacharia.
Pedler Peckham Rye is at 58 PECKHAM RYE, LONDON, SE15 4JR. For more information click here