By Emily Wight
Since moving to Peckham six months ago my curiosity has been stirred by Il Giardino, the yellow fronted Italian restaurant next to All Saints Church on Blenheim Grove. The warm yellow has provided brief respite to commuters exiting Peckham Rye station during the recent dark wintery nights, and perhaps it was the promise of spring that came with last weekend’s weather that spurred me to finally check it out.
The comfort of Il Giardino’s exterior is matched by a warm, homely atmosphere inside. The red candles adorning each table, dried flowers and paintings hanging from the walls and Lady and the Tramp style crooners’ soundtrack make it all so romantic. Meanwhile, the influence of owner Eduardo’s Peruvian background is clearly felt in the Peruvian straw hats hanging from hooks on the walls.
Il Giardino aims to bring a fusion of Sardinian and Peruvian cuisine to Peckham. One could be forgiven, however, for making the assumption that it’s purely an Italian place. The menu is short and simple: antipasti, salads, pizza, pasta and meat and fish, accompanied by an extensive wine list. The list of antipasti is enticing; had I more of a budget I would perhaps have indulged. Most dishes are between £5 and £6 and they range from “aubergine castle” to filo parcels to the more staple Italian dishes of cold meats and bruschetta.
My friend and I ordered olives and a 500ml jug of house white wine, which was brought to the table in a painted porcelain jug. Something about this seemed taverna-esque and contributed to the comforting, homely mood. The wine, chilled and fruity, went down well.
Our main courses were served less than 20 minutes after we ordered. I ate the tagliatelle al salcisa (£10.65), tagliatelle with Italian sausages and olives in a tomato sauce. It was flavoursome enough, especially with a hearty dose of parmesan cheese sprinkled on top. My friend went for the calzone, and ranked it three out of five. Like many standard calzones, it was huge, plain and lacking in tomato sauce. Inside was ham and mushroom, and a lack of flavour. All main pizza and pasta dishes were around the £10-£11 mark: reasonable enough. But I often find that I’m so used to Italian food that I wish it would bring something a bit unique to the table.
Perhaps I could have gone for one of the meat or fish dishes, generally a bit more pricey between £10 and £15. These included chicken breast, lamb steak and king fish. But it was one of those evenings when I just wanted something a bit comforting. And what’s more comforting than a pasta dish?
Il Giardino adds nothing groundbreaking to the South London food scene, but it has no pretences. It’s a simple, friendly local restaurant, and the service is impeccable. Staff were incredibly attentive and knew exactly what we wanted. My only complaint would be that as it got busier and busier we felt rather rushed. We arrived at 7.30, and by 8.30 we were out of the door. It’s not a place for lingering, but if you fancy good, solid food, it’s worth a visit.