Kudu, 119 Queen's Rd, London SE15 2EZ
Kudu: Another reason to fawn over Peckham
I know, I don’t give a heck about people’s birthdays either but honestly, but this one was, hands down, the best one in my 34 years of being a drain on resources. As a relative newcomer to London, I’ve felt myself increasingly gravitating towards Peckham when finding somewhere exciting to eat and particularly thankful that the station is slap-bang amongst it. Kudu had been on the radar for a while as we waited for restrictions to lift and so my Editor was first out the gate when the time came.
The pulse quickened whilst it still could, when seeing just how much emphasis Kudu placed on their bread and not just one, but two butters, as a course.
Arriving in two sizzling cast iron pans, the butter still gently foaming around the infusions, the choices are chunklets of smoked bacon and sage or seafood complete with schools of baby shrimp. The bread resembles a four-piece segment of a chestnut-brown Chesterfield, in the other. It tears steamily, the crumb yawning apart and isn’t not over-sweet, despite resembling brioche (I’ve no idea of the recipe and can’t seem to find it, maybe rather obviously). Both exhibit salt’s role in a surf ‘n turf context, to which double-dipping seems like a natural progression. Despite my death row meal being good bread and cold, unsalted butter cut thickly from the broadside of the block, Kudu’s opening volley is unabashed in its glory because of its emphasis on salt and heat in the celebration of fat.
I know this might seem absolutely elementary to you, but melted salted butter doesn’t do it for me often.
Parmesan churros and miso mayo on paper looks like a ballsy follow-up then, but tempering it with crisp sips of chilled white, it’s a Mangé à Trois. Interlocking loops give the impression of a freshly made funnel cake- the coils being without that traditional rifling on the outside and is instead smooth, like Jalebi. There’s great control on the miso ratio in the mayo, allowing for acidity upfront and umami in the back, making for two bold and skilfully navigated courses right off the bat.
The chicken liver parfait encased in a choux bun with a spiced pineapple is a thing of unrelenting beauty. Not only does it simulate the sweetness of the ‘Hovis’ biscuit in the Jacobs cracker box, which was my favourite with pâté especially, but as a lover of pineapple maligned reputation when paired with meat, it’s pure, satisfying confirmation bias.
The outer is frangible and crystalised, the parfait bites like gelato, texturally speaking and the pineapple is warmly spiced and jammy- the caramelisation allowing a good half-life to keep up with the creamy, fatty lingerings of the parfait.
One of the finest summer dishes I’ve ever had, that shifted the way I saw peas, was at the Bulrush in 2018. English peas, pea granite and smoked junket. A spectrum of near minus and below, it had everything I love as antidotes to the oppressive summer heat; that blood-cooling rush of plunging baked limbs into a paddling pool whilst someone’s doing the lawn, evoked by the shavings of frozen chlorophyll. The plump dimpled peas, varnished in pea shoot oil- each orb popping with dewey, turfy sugars. Then the lotion, the aftersun- a chilled wibble of junket. Whereas this dish rejoiced in the antidotes of heatstroke, Kudu deliver a dish that beams with sunshine.
Deftly hemmed purses of glowingly fresh warm ricotta agnolotti are tucked in between huddles of fresh peas, in a pea veloute pooled with British racing-green oil. Slivers of pickled violet artichoke give that zip of balance with the broadly sliced pods cooked last minute still with that fibrous, almost aloe vera-type crunch. My Bulrush experience turned on its head, by another hemisphere.
Onglet is the ideal cut for when two diners have opposing ideals about how they like their beef cooked. Grading from medium-well through to verging on blue and pooled in its own fat and resting juices, the ability to pick and choose is a departure from committing to having your beef just one way. “It’s cooked with a lot of love” says the waiter, with a genuine twinkle in his eye and he’s not having us on- these blushingly lithe slices arranged like waves in the pan are hard proof of a loving touch indeed.
But it doesn’t simply stop there- alongside is a truffled pommepuréedusted in cep powder that leaves behind the scoops of the spoon for a moment, before oozing in to fill the void. A tassel of enoki mushrooms that’s been caramelised into a tangle of bronze sits semi-submerged in the glossy potato emulsion. But next to all of this still, is a wedge of hispi that’s been hard-seared on one side to resemble charred pages of a book, doused with lemon and chilli that’s been lovingly applied between each leaf. It gives this bitter, bright, acidic warmth that brings balance to the entire affair, giving this sense of a Sunday lunch wittily reimagined.
Complete with a candle that grasps me somewhere between my solar plexus and tear ducts, is a salted chocolate ganache, sesame ice cream, chocolate crumble. Rarely will two dishes in the same sitting remind me of stand-out dishes from the past, but here we are again. The way in which the ganache in combination with the ice cream washes like a chocolate milkshake has me back at the late No Man’s Grace, where a milk and honey sorbet and chocolate cremeux did exactly this. The sesame seed brittle is imbued with nutty, toasted caramel and incidentally, echoes the peanut brittle of its forebear.
Memory lane is usually riddled with potholes and wrong turns, but this is going swimmingly.
I’ve always looked at birthdays as a reason to take a day off and eat alone, to absolutely immerse myself in a solo dining experience and it became a late-blooming tradition in my very late twenties. Mostly because I’d been flat broke up until that point, I saw it as making up for lost time after years of night shifts, serving those a pre or post-dinner drink whilst overhearing all the culinary experiences of punters between long, luxurious drags of their cigarettes and cigars.
My walk to work would see the day-walkers just clocking off, striding with purpose to go home and change or straight into the fray to the closest watering hole. People walking into you and tutting upon contact, just to recognise their faces later as you took their order, while you remain totally anonymous to them, which issues a unique of pang of loneliness. Sitting here with Antonia, our nook now rendered moody in the glow of Peckham ablaze in the day's refrain, it confirms just how far away those days really are, and I couldn’t be more smug.