A Village Called Camberwell: the South London Neighbourhood Where Community Comes First

The London borough of Camberwell pairs top-notch foodie kudos with a longstanding community-focused outlook. A new grocery store, opening this month, continues the tradition.

the first throws of the pandemic, food stores became our connection to the
community beyond our front door. Timid and tentative, we’d edge
down our street towards the butcher and baker and candlestick maker
(poetic licence firmly engaged) in order to fill our fridges, but
also to reconnect with a world that had become shut off and distant
overnight. Independent corner stores became one of the few public
spaces we could inhabit beyond the four walls of our home, the
traditional grocery shops once dismissed in place of convenience
offering a precious opportunity for human connection.

It was something Stanley Allen and James Dye both noticed. The
south London duo, stalwarts of the city’s restaurant scene, noticed
the change when independent shops became community lynchpins. “We
saw suppliers having a hard time, but we also saw a need for people
to be able to go out and still enjoy some kind of food and drink
experience during the pandemic,” Stanley explains.

Stanley Allen and James Dye, the founders of Gladwell's in Camberwell
The site of Gladwell's, Camberwell's new community-focused grocery store

Inspired, the pair decided to launch their own shop, Gladwell’s,
which opens next week. A grocery store, deli and off licence on
Camberwell Church Street, it will champion small-scale producers
based in the capital. Formerly a bank, then a solicitors’ office,
the building the shop is taking over has been a mainstay of the
neighbourhood for generations, albeit one of the grand old ladies
that south Londoners scuttle past en route to the bus stop without
a second glance. The Gladwell’s team are restoring the space,
making the most of its fine Edwardian features by maintaining the
double-height windows and art nouveau facade.

If you’re going to open a business, you have a responsibility to be part of the community and give back in meaningful ways

Importantly, Stanley and James wanted to build on what they saw
as a strong community ethos in the area. Weekly grocery boxes will
be available for home delivery, with £5 from the sale of each going
to the St Giles Trust’s Pantry, one of the area’s social justice

“If you’re going to open a business, you have a responsibility
to be part of the community and give back in meaningful ways,”
Stanley says. “We wanted to do something that wasn’t tokenistic. As
a food business, helping to combat food poverty and food inequality
felt appropriate.” They landed on the St Giles Trust after hearing
about its pandemic initiative, the Pantry, which works in a similar
way to a food bank, but with people being given a choice about what
they want to go in and buy, at a subsidised rate. In future,
Gladwell’s has longer-term ambitions to work with the trust on
employment training, weaving the shop into the Camberwell
community’s fabric.

FROG Bakery's selection of sweet treats
Oliver and Rebecca, the founders of FROG Bakery

Stanley sees Camberwell as an overlooked south London district;
the quiet crawlspace between the two boisterous neighbourhoods of
Brixton and Peckham. To some, it’s just a stop on the 436 bus. “Out
of all the neighbourhoods in south-east London, it didn’t have an
independent grocery,” he says. “It’s such a known destination for
food and drink if you want to go out to eat, but it didn’t have
that place to buy produce.”

Gladwell’s will stock products from small businesses across
London, with an ambition to offer, where possible, hyperlocal goods
made – literally – just down the road. Bread, for example, will
come from the new FROG Bakery, just around the corner. Cheese and
eggs will be provided by the city’s Neal’s Yard Dairy and Mons

Cheese on offer at Camberwell's new grocery store, Gladwell's
Bread on offer at Camberwell's new grocery store, Gladwell's

You’ll find other community projects popping up elsewhere in the
old borough, too. Camberwell’s residents – a ragtag collation of
art students, historic diaspora groups and young professionals –
has long fostered establishments and institutions that serve local
needs. The South London Gallery, while showcasing internationally
renowned art, remains a local space at heart; beloved boozers
happily accommodate grizzled regulars beside mulleted art students,
offering a sanctuary to all in a city famed for fuelling
loneliness. Well-established mom-and-pop-style restaurants – such
as Silk Road, which serves up Xinjiang cuisine – are just as
popular as the more recent PR-hyped spots nearby. It’s common to
compare areas of London to villages, but for Camberwell, the
metaphor fits. Charming, leafy, and lacking a tube stop, life has a
slower pace, and a friendlier face, in this “Ginger Line”

Where to eat, drink and hang out in Camberwell, London

To Eat

Food and beer at The Camberwell Arms


The Camberwell Arms

London, United Kingdom

James Dye of Gladwell’s had a hand in pushing this
column-fronted pub-turned-eatery to the fore of the area’s food
scene. Portions are generous and dishes rich in Levantine flavours:
think grilled mackerel served on a bed of charred leek with
preserved lemon, and blushing lamb leg steak surrounded by
chickpeas and cime di rapa. Sunday lunch options – served to share
in the family way – include aged Hereford rump, slow-cooked beef
osso buco and crisped up roast pork belly.


65 Camberwell Church St

Food at Nandine in Camberwell, London
Image credit: Grace Lund



This pastel-painted SE5 spot is beloved by food critics and
Camberwell Church Street regulars alike. Run by a Kurdish family,
mum, Pary Baban, is in the kitchen, sending out vibrant mezze
plates. Expect everything from börek to baklava and – in the
mornings – excellent breakfasts.


45 Camberwell Church St, SE5 8TR

Pizza at Camberwell restaurant, Theo's



Pies worth prioritising, those served at Theo’s are
heat-speckled by the wood-fired oven, their crust exactingly
crisped on top, with just-caramelised tomatoes and puddles of
molten mozzarella to boot. Round things off nicely with the superb
tiramisu – a decadent, cream-layered coffee delight.


2 Grove Lane, SE5 8SY

Xinjiang noodles


Silk Road

Camberwell’s beloved Chinese restaurant is best experienced as a
group: step past the steamed-up windows and huddle around one of
the long, wooden communal tables to feast on specialities from the
Xinjiang province. The boiled lamb (a hunk of rich, creamy meat
doused in onion sauce) is a classic group favourite, but we’d
recommend ordering a few portions of the fried noodles and red
snapper kebabs, too.


49 Camberwell Church Street

To Drink

Crullers at Corner Store, in Camberwell, London


Corner Store

Does anyone know where the Peckham-Camberwell border sits? It’s
hazy, but we’re hoping the invisible divide lassoes this laid-back
neighbourhood coffee shop into the Camberwell portion. Coffees,
cakes, coolers and crullers are the mainstays of the all-day menu
at this airy café. What’s a cruller, you cry? A deep-fried,
doughnut-like pastry in various exotic flavour combos, of course.
Come on a weekend morning to sample the excellent breakfast menu.
We’re talking banana bread french toast, and thick-as-Kim’s-hips
lox salmon bagel sandwiches, with lashings of cream cheese.


31 Peckham Rd, SE5 8UH

The interior of Good Neighbour, Camberwell, London


Good Neighbour

Shrugging off viticultural pretensions, this cosy wine bar is
the aperitif stop of choice for bottle buffs dining out in
Camberwell. Squeezed between a low-key sushi joint and a
poster-plastered vacant storefront, the bar’s diminutive window
booths are packed out by Thursday evening. Head in to sample Old
and New World bins, well-balanced cocktails and moreish snacking


21 Camberwell Church St, SE5 8TR

To Do

A musician playing at Jazzlive at the Crypt in Camberwell, London
Image credit: Daniel Devlin / @susakpress


Jazzlive at the Crypt

London, United Kingdom

Every Friday and Saturday, the gothic arches of the crypt
beneath St Giles church reverberate with the syncopated rhythms and
soulful blues notes of south London’s best jazz musicians. Running
since 1995, it’s a regular haunt for some of the city’s top improv
masters, and so beloved across the community that the organisers
were recently awarded “Freedom of the Old Borough of Camberwell” in
acknowledgement of how their work enriches the community.


St Giles Church
Camberwell Church Street

The Joiners pub in Camberwell, London


The Joiners

Famously namechecked in a Florence + The Machine song, this
quintessential London pub is now wrapped up in the folklore of the
area. Carefully toeing the line between an old man’s boozer and an
art-student favourite, it’s the place to come for wood-fired pizzas
and proper pints. The best time to visit? When quizmaster Carl is
on the mic, directing eggheads through his devilish question sheet
every Wednesday.


35 Denmark Hill, SE5 8RS

To Shop



Sophocles Bakery

You’ll smell this popular Greek-Cypriot bakery before you see
it, the morning air filled with the inviting aroma of warm yeast.
Sophocles is a gastronomic temple for a fading Camberwell
community, but grey-haired, coffee-slurping morning regulars
continue to frequent the store, holding the stretched edges of a
once thriving south London diaspora together, as honey binds the
filo pastry in the bakery’s excellent baklava. Shuffle between the
chin-waggers to order a generously filled sandwich – they come
packed with Cypriot ingredients.


24 Camberwell Church St, SE5 8QU

Rat Records in Camberwell, London


Rat Records

Join Camberwell’s musically inclined thumbing through cardboard
sleeves at this secondhand record store, which opened in 1999.
Owner Tom Fisher travels across the country to source vinyl for his
shelves, resulting in an eclectic collection of records that
stretches from 80s cult pop classic to reggae, rock, garage, funk
and more. Ask if you’re overwhelmed – the staff are generous with
their recommendations.


348 Camberwell New Rd, SE5 0RW

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