About Time You Met: the Food and Drink Traders at Peckham LevelsBy Alicia Grimshaw
Open late last year, Peckham Levels have transformed the area’s multi-storey carpark into an experimental cultural destination, housing affordable workspace for local and emerging artists, designers, makers and creative entrepreneurs.
Travel to levels 5 and 6 and you’ll be welcomed by an exciting and diverse selection of food and drink traders from across South London. There’s some heavenly food being knocked up at Peckham Levels, so we thought it was about time we had a natter with the folks who are dishing up some of the finest street food bites in the capital.
Can you tell us a little more about Kurdish cuisine?
Kurdish food is completely unbeknown to the world, yet familiar in certain ways. Kurdish food is simple with ingredients but bountiful in taste and texture, created from unique methods of cooking and preparation. We have some influence from our neighbouring countries, and we have our own Kurdish take on them. Because Kurdistan and Kurdish culture is so hidden away to the world, our food is also a treasure trove to explore – for those that haven’t had the pleasure!
What’s it like working with other family members?
Working with family is extremely gratifying, we all pull our weight with various background knowledge, forming a strong team between the four of us. Working for my mum is a beautiful experience; seeing her grow from a ramshackle kiosk in Elephant & Castle to having three stores all pushing her food and identity – with great response from customers! She has a story to tell and a bank of experience, she finally has the platform to show the world her talents, and we’re all happy to be a part of that.
What can people expect from the menu at Peckham Levels?
Our main highlight at Peckham Levels is the Mezze, a platter of bites all choreographed to match the next bite. Taste and texture melts and punches one after the other! We also have our stacked falafel burgers or the shifta kebab burger, in our unique buns alongside Kurdish seasoned fries with a pink yoghurt sauce.
Your confit duck buns are mega. Why did you decide to focus on French cuisine over others?
We’re both huge fans of duck and we did a road trip around the Gascon region in France a few summers ago – and confit duck was just everywhere. It was amazing, every place we visited it was served slightly differently and tasted slightly different so we decided to dedicate some of that trip to learning about it, chatting to local chefs and hostel owners. One of the things we loved about the way the French confit their ducks is it’s stored in its own fat to preserve it, which means there is zero waste which is a massive factor for us in our cooking – basically it’s proper peasant food that more than outshines a lot of fine dine cuisine and we love it. When we came back to London it was actually really difficult to find a decent confit duck leg and the idea really spawned from there.
What drew you to open at Peckham Levels?
I (Jake) live in Peckham and have been visiting the car park for years, I was there the first year Franks opened and remember being blown away by how many people came down to this grotty old car park in South East London. It has, since then, become such an iconic building for Peckham and so when Peckham Levels announced their plans to re-develop the site, we jumped at it.
Hugo actually pitched the idea with my name on without telling me he had. We’d been looking for a while and when he phoned me up to say that Peckham Levels were interested in the idea and wanted to meet us, I pretty much quit my job on the spot.
How’s the journey been from initial idea to opening?
We started the idea by running supper clubs from my flat in Peckham and really just recipe and concept testing, once we had our concept locked down we were just on the look out for a space. We were doing some street food markets and working full time so it was pretty exhausting and we just couldn’t find a space that was either right for us or at a price we could afford, so getting the Peckham Levels site really was a game changer for us.
Since then it’s been an amazing couple of months just watching the transformation of the building. The space was seriously grim before and Peckham Levels and Carl Turner architect have done an amazing job to get this building looking the way it does now.
We got the keys in November and that’s when the hard work started; we didn’t have any budget for builders so we basically learnt how to tile walls, lay floors and plumb sinks as we went along which meant we had a series of comedy disasters but we got there in the end, and the space is exactly how we want it now which is amazing for us. Now it’s up and running and people are actually using and enjoying the space, it’s such an amazing feeling of relief and pride that we got here, but also that we are part of such an amazing community project and network of people.
Craft beer has gain enormous popularity over the years – why do you think this is?
I remember the late 90’s when the mainstream media was constantly raving about our binge drinking youth and teen pregnancies. It was all alco-pops and sex! Bloody brilliant. Now that same generation have the lowest birth rate since records began and want good quality locally brewed beer with an interesting brand story delivered by a bearded fella. Madness.
All I know is this: when it comes to booze and food, people are more concerned about provenance, quality, flavour and ethics than ever before. Which is really fantastic as its allowed some excellent small producers to flourish.
What other liquid delights can people expect at Lady Godiva?
Our house wine is all organic or biodynamic and comes from wicked independent producers in Spain and Italy.
You chaps are also behind Made of Dough – what was the inspiration behind you all opening a bar at Peckham Levels?
Made of Dough was founded in Pop Brixton and through working with Makeshift we moulded the business around having a great time, making the best pizza we could, and contributing in some small way to the community through our ‘community give back’. It’s worked well for us so far and when the opportunity arose to start another business in a Makeshift-run site, we snatched it. The bar is founded on the same principles – although we don’t make anything which is a shitload easier! We partner with the Clink which is ace, they provide great staff and support and we serve local independent produce where possible.
Last year you overhauled your menu to a 100% vegan offering – what was the idea behind the change?
Our main reason for turning PickyWops vegan, is because we became vegan ourselves. Being vegan for us makes sense for so many reasons including health, environment and for ethical reasons too.
Favourite pizza toppings are:
Parmigana (tomato, mozzarella, onions, aubergines and parmesan) on a burned wheat base with extra pesto.
If anyone hasn’t ever been to PickyWops – what’s in store for people?
We have been reviewed as the best Vegan Pizza Place in the World, and this is what we proudly offer.
What’s the journey been like since opening WEST?
Busy! We’re learning, building, creating and growing as we go. We are enormously excited to finally have a platform to build from, and we are doing everything we can to seize the opportunity and make it a success.
What’s your favourite dish on the menu?
Jenn: Depends on the time of day… But our chaga mushroom latte and WEST-style Turkish eggs for breakfast. For dinner, our ancho chili squash with umeboshi.
Aneley: our Sassaia orange wine. Ok if you have to chew, then the sea bass tacos. Our tacos are great!
What advice would you give to other female entrepreneurs looking to open a food business?
There are plenty of scientific studies that prove women to be better at determining differences in tastes and are more likely to be super tasters. So right there you have a competitive advantage!
We would say the same to both women and men: listen to advice, both wanted and unwanted, but stay true to your vision and your gut instinct.
In terms of what we found most difficult, it was mainly fundraising. In our case, we knew coming from a non-restaurant background we needed to work extra hard to prove ourselves, so we built a powerful business plan with detailed market research and a strong financial analysis. Every pitch was nerve-wracking but was also a rehearsal to the next one. So over prepare, if that’s even a thing.
Favourite chicken wing coating?
Khamisi: That’s a bit like asking a parent to pick their favourite child. If I had to pick a favouite child, it would be a toss-up between tangy buffalo and garlic and parmesan…but BBQ as well. It’s too hard you know.
Daniel: It’s a tough one. At the moment, I’ve been banging out the BBQ, but buffalo and jerk do it for me every time as well.
Peckham Levels is your first permanent site – how’s it been?
Khamisi: It’s been good to be able to give our regular and loyal customer base a chance to come and visit us.
Daniel: Yeah, it’s been good to interact with our customers on a regular basis. And I think it’s been good for our Drums & Flats team to be able to grow, because they’ve been a great addition.
Apart from wings – what else is on the menu?
We’ve got our blue cheese chips, our freshly cut D&F chips…we don’t do frozen packet chips over here. Fried plantain – which coming from Jamaican and Ghanian backgrounds that had to be on the menu. Then we have our spicy BBQ, buffalo, and blue cheese bagels that we do exclusively on Deliveroo and Uber Eats at the moment, as well as our boneless wing burger!
You’ve been selling your poke bowls across streets and various markets in London – why did you decide on opening your first permanent site at Peckham Levels?
We’d been looking for somewhere to call home as the markets close over winter, for obvious reasons! Not long after we started looking Kiera from Peckham Levels got in touch and before we knew it, Aoife had been for a tasting and we were viewing the site. Not long after that, we’d signed up. Marty’s local to the area and the project seemed like a really exciting place to set up our first permanent location. With so much going on in the building, there promises to be a really diverse mix of people using the space which made us think it would be a great spot.
Describe Lords of Poké in four words:
Fresh Cut California Bowls.
What drew you to these bowls of California sunshine?
It’s exactly the kind of food we both love to make. Fresh healthy food that’s inspired by our travels and love of good food. California’s a melting pot of cultures and that comes through in the some of the different salads and flavours.
First Photo Credit: Baggio Burger
Let’s talk Chinese street food – what drew you to the big Asian flavours?
Being born and raised by our Chinese Hakka mums, we were immersed in how to cook and eat Chinese food from a young age. Our fondest memories are closely connected with homemade Chinese food; from steaming bowls of noodles, pinching dumplings with the family, to the big lavish banquets to celebrate Chinese New Year.
However, years later, after taking a career break to live in and travel around China, we discovered that there was much more to Chinese food than what our families or even the restaurants in London Chinatown offered. The dishes were so varied and distinct across the country, yet so delicious, giving us bold yet balanced flavours that we had never tasted before but immediately liked. We began collecting ideas and recipes from every region we visited, in particular street food, which was abundant on every road. When we returned to London, we eventually opened Hao Hao Chi – to introduce these big Asian flavours to the London street food scene. Our food is inspired by the dishes we loved to eat in China, combined with our own ideas and influences.
What’s been the feedback so far?
The feedback so far has been great. Londoners are an awesome crowd to feed – being so adventurous and on the search for the next new dish. They love that our food is handmade – from the dumplings to the Jiamo breads and sauces and we often get asked how we make the food. Everyone knows and loves dumplings and that’s a big draw for us. However, with some of the lesser known dishes, such as the Jiamo bread pocket or the jackfruit, we have to explain what it is and once people know and have tried them, they’re hooked. But that’s part our aim: to introduce these Chinese dishes to the public.
What’s the inspiration behind the menu?
We’ve taken inspiration from the four corners of China to design and make our dishes. Our dumplings are northern pan-fried Chinese-style but with our own ideas for the fillings. For example, you may not find spicy potato dumplings in China but the idea for this filling comes from a Yunnan dish called “Grandma’s potato”. We wanted to make a hearty, flavoursome vegan dumpling and the combination works surprisingly well. For our lamb and cumin meatballs, we’ve taken influences from Xi’an’s Muslim cuisine which for centuries have used spices such as cumin and coriander transported by the Silk Road. We are looking forward to introducing more items to the menu drawing ideas from our favourite regional Chinese dishes, and we are sure that our customers will love them as much as we do!
For more information on Peckham Levels, visit the website here.
95A Rye Ln, London SE15 4ST