London and its little pockets. Pockets of expertise and joy. One moment you're strolling through the Portuguese cafes of Stockwell, then two streets on you're flirting with the gay scene in Vauxhall. Diversity is its delight.
One pocket that's crying out for a dalliance is Bermondsey St., which hides away behind London Bridge. Its niche is its restaurants: it is so overflowing with a stunning and varied selection of eateries that it qualifies to be a foodie pocket of its own. Here are four of my fave.
José - Sherry and Tapas Bar
José is the kind of place to try and always pop to when within a half mile radius. The culture of a quick sherry and a jambon might not be totally ingrained in British psyche just yet, but give it time and I can see this trend taking off. (Kind of).
It's 100% more elegant than popping for a pint and a packet of peanuts, and offers up dishes like lentils with chorizo, baby chicken with romesco sauce and crispy duck eggs, with around 20 sherries by the glass to work through. All priced around the £6 mark, which makes over-ordering almost obligatory.
Casse-Croûte - Old School French Restaurant
Casse-Croûte commands the kind of arrogance you would expect from an exceptional fine dining French restaurant. And deservedly so, for it is an exceptional French restaurant, minus the fine dining. It's exceptional because I genuinely don't think it is trying to be. It's so laid back it's like a horizontal péage - you rock up, it dictates the rules, it runs to time, and everyone leaves happy.
The rules are three dishes for starter, three for main and three for pudding. Changing daily, that's the deal, no exceptions. No real way of knowing what the dishes will be when you book, but they release a daily TwitPic of the menu that day, so if you can cope with living on the edge, go for it.
Expect seriously old French classics that have been driven out of the Dordogne by Little England locals, like Colin Barigoule, a traditional Provençal dish made up of artichokes, onions, garlic and carrots, topped off with some Pollock and happily re-homed in SE1.
The Garrison - Contemporary Gastro Pub.
The Garrison is the kind of pub I would imagine Mary Poppins to whip out of her bag upon a request from the kids one day. Everything about it is perfectly mismatched and smoothly run, from staff with booming smiles and a "let's squeeze you in somewhere" type attitude, to a range of choreographed chinz that adorns every pillar, pole and post. It's even got a bloody cinema in its basement for Christ's sake.
The food is continually impressive in a hearty traditional pub food kind of way (think lamb rump and crushed potatoes or rib eye steak and chips) with a few twists that keeps it on its toes, like a coley fillet with Jerusalem artichoke puree or a dressed crab with lemon aioli.
It's the atmosphere of the place I love most though. It somehow mixes being the in-demand gastro of the south with the pop into your local down the road kind of vibe. Jane and Michael Banks would bloody love it.
Village East - Slick, European Bad Boy.
Village East is undoubtedly the coolest of the kids on the block. It's a come here, kick your shoes off and have a cocktail kind of place, and as a result is seemingly packed most of the time.
They encourage sharing in a big way - two of us munched through three starters (crab mayonnaise, Moorish lamb and a brilliantly bizarre parmesan custard dish) balanced out by just one main, which was a dinosopic-sized confit turkey leg. With its seriously slick fall off the bone and melt in your mouth type effect, this leg could lead the revolution in re-forming public opinion towards turkeys, for it was the juiciest bit of bird I've eaten in a long time. Sorry mum...
As for those cocktails, end the meal on a Mango and Coriander sorbet slipped down with an Old Fashioned Courvoisier cognac and you can almost pretend that you're slipping out on to the Lower East Side and off in to the depths of Manhattan.
Bermondsey St., I heart you. And the best bit about this London pocket? You don't even need deep pockets to eat there.