You might not want a lump of coal for Christmas but conversely, a lunch at the Coal Rooms in Peckham is an infinitely more appealing proposition. Peckham’s Old Spike Roastery and Camberwell’s Spike & Earl have long been favourites of mine, but because I’ve been travelling so much this autumn, it’s taken me a while to visit their newest sibling, which opened in August. Occupying the former ticket office in Peckham Rye station, Coal Rooms consists of a series of three rooms, moving from the bakery and take-out-coffee spot in the first chamber, to the stools at the sleek black marble bar overlooking the kitchen in the middle, and the bright, minimalist dining room at the back.
Some fellow south-east London friends and I visited for brunch at the weekend and really enjoyed it. We booked a table (which is always a pleasant novelty), although as we were there fairly early on a rainy, winter’s day, we probably didn’t need to. We had a great table in the corner of the main dining room, seated at the comfy teal benches that skirt the room. The room is light and sparsely, but attractively, decorated. Although I didn’t take any photos, the bathrooms — located in the station’s former public facilities and retaining most of the period features — are well worth a visit even if you don’t need to spend a penny.
The Saturday brunch menu erred on the breakfast end of the spectrum, which is just as it should be. There were three brunch cocktails and I was tempted by the bloody Caesar but stuck to coffee, as I’ve been fending off a cold for the past fortnight. Coffee is from Old Spike, of course, and the menu simply proposed black (£2.25) or with milk (£2.65). Of course they serve espresso-based drinks but in the absence of a piccolo prompt on the menu and distracted by the food choices, I defaulted to ordering a black coffee, which turned out to be an americano. It was pretty nice but had I thought more carefully, I would have ordered an espresso or perhaps a piccolo. One of my friends ordered a flat white later on, which looked rather good.
Most of the brunch dishes sounded great — the hash brown with kimchi and kimchi mayo, and the bubble and squeak with smalec, fried egg and plum brown sauce, in particular — but I had heard such great things about Coal Rooms’ bacon sandwiches (£5), with coffee-cured bacon and homemade ketchup or brown sauce in a custard bun, that I had to go for that. I went for streaky bacon and ketchup, and also ordered a fried egg on the side.
Now, they must have been out of custard buns, although no one said anything to us, because the sandwich came on two ginormous slices of sourdough bread. This was so little of a disappointment — I mean, it was a half-foot-tall sandwich! — that I didn’t even notice until later. I would still like to try the custard bun another time, particularly after enjoying the Dutch crunch sandwich at Spike & Earl. The bacon was delicious and flavoursome and came in a very generous portion. Seriously, this was a very challenging dish to eat, but well worth the effort. I ended up using my knife and fork because I don’t think it’s physiologically possible to eat it by hand without unhinging your jaw. This bacon sandwich definitely merits its rankings among London’s best bacon sarnies, and although I probably wouldn’t have guessed that it was coffee-cured if I hadn’t already known, the coffee did add a rich, full-bodied twist to the meat.
We did almost regret not ordering the full English for two (£30), which came served on a huge platter of deliciousness, but our ‘modest’ main course meant that we had room for a pudding. The pudding was a millionaire’s shortbread (£6), with rich chocolate sauce, brown butter caramel, crumbled shortbread and ‘waste barista milk ice cream’ (yes, we are in Peckham). It came served in a cup with the logo of the premises’ former occupants, Fat Boy, and once all the layers were mixed, it tasted heavenly.
On the way out, we paused in the café room to look at the Old Spike coffee (whose packaging remains one of London’s most beautiful) and merchandise — the Old Spike socks, packaged in a tin, would make a particularly good gift for the hipster in your life. There are a few pastries and sweet treats on offer here, waiting patiently underneath the Christmas tree.
Coal Rooms. 11a Station Way, Peckham Rye Station, London, SE15 4RX (Peckham Rye Overground). Website.