Levan and Llewelyn’s: two of London's best kept culinary secrets

These local gems in Peckham and Herne Hill attract visitors from far and wide

Levan in Peckham is chef Nicholas Balfe’s second restaurant after Salon in Brixton
Levan in Peckham is chef Nicholas Balfe’s second restaurant after Salon in Brixton

I recently moved out of south London after nine years. The things that first attracted me to it are also those I miss most: the village-like feel and the area’s strong restaurant game. The proliferation of diverse dining experiences – street food stalls, cafés, supper clubs and restaurants – brings pride and joy to locals and attracts visitors from across the city. 

Starters at Levan include Comté fries with saffron aioli, £6.50
Starters at Levan include Comté fries with saffron aioli, £6.50

Two restaurants I am particularly fond of are Levan in Peckham and Llewelyn’s in Herne Hill. The first is inspired by French bistros and contemporary European cuisine; the second focuses on British cuisine with Mediterranean influences. Both share a sustainable, seasonal approach to cooking, attentive and knowledgeable service, and exceptional wine lists. Who wouldn’t want to have them at their doorstep?

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Levan is the second restaurant by chef Nicholas Balfe (with partners Mark Gurney and Matt Bushnell), following the success of Salon in Brixton. While Salon retains a “market deli with tables” feel, Levan is more polished, with deep-blue walls and candlelight in the evening. A shelf divider filled with vinyl records and wine bottles – Levan focuses on natural wines from Jura – separates the dining room from the bar and open kitchen. The menus (Levan serves breakfast, lunch and dinner) show a commitment to sustainability and responsible local sourcing.

Levan’s regularly changing menu might include caramelised celeriac ravioli with dashi butter, parsnip and nori, £12.50
Levan’s regularly changing menu might include caramelised celeriac ravioli with dashi butter, parsnip and nori, £12.50

I return regularly for the croque monsieur with Flock & Herd ham and béchamel cream (from £5.50 for a half portion), which turns into one of London’s most glorious breakfast dishes when you add a fried egg on top. 

Llewelyn’s dishes include roast cod with romanesco, anchovy dressing and buttered almonds, £17, and whole Cornish lemon sole with langoustine beurre blanc, £22
Llewelyn’s dishes include roast cod with romanesco, anchovy dressing and buttered almonds, £17, and whole Cornish lemon sole with langoustine beurre blanc, £22

Though the menu changes every week, the perfect lunch or dinner starts with Comté fries with saffron aioli (£6.50). It continues with caramelised celeriac ravioli with dashi butter, parsnip and nori (£12.50) – I urge you not to make my mistake: one plate is perfect for one person, and not too filling. Share the main course instead, if you must: I recommend the Belted Galloway short rib with carrot, miso and shiitake (£16.50) or the roast cauliflower with kale, Parmesan and truffle (£12.50). Finish with the tarte tatin (£6.50): it’s too good to miss. 

Pear and almond tart with clotted cream, £7, at Llewelyn’s
Pear and almond tart with clotted cream, £7, at Llewelyn’s

If Levan is all about a few signature dishes, it’s the daily changing menu created by head chef Warren Fleet at Llewelyn’s that draws me there again and again. I also love the refined yet informal atmosphere. Llewelyn’s overlooks Herne Hill Station Square; on a good day, the sunlight shines through the Victorian front windows, bouncing off white walls and ivy-green banquettes and filling up the room with an appealing glow. 

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High-quality ingredients shine in seemingly simple starters, such as broad beans, peas and mint on toast (£6.20) or a plate of English asparagus (£6.20) with melted butter that I polish off with sourdough bread (£3.50). On a recent Saturday lunch visit, my brother and I were tempted by the Hereford beef lasagne (£29 for two) ordered by our neighbouring diners. But a refreshing glass of Landron Chartier Naturlich Pet Nat (£8 for 125ml) from the Loire put us in the mood for seafood: the roast cod with romanesco, anchovy dressing and buttered almonds (£17) was lovely, and the whole Cornish lemon sole with langoustine beurre blanc (£22) outstanding. Puddings, such as pear and almond tart with clotted cream (£7), are consistently great: take your pick, as you won’t be disappointed.

You don’t need to be a southeast Londoner to appreciate these gems. Just don’t forget to book well ahead – they’re no longer local best-kept secrets. 

Giulia Mulè is a food and travel writer based in London who is passionate about sharing food photography on her Instagram feed (@mondomulia) and blog Mondomulia (mondomulia.com). Originally from Rome, Mulè has spent over a decade living in London and travelling the world. In her spare time, she organises brunch meet-ups with @IGBrunchClub and fundraising events with @CreatingForGood – a collective of Instagrammers who share their creative skills to raise money for selected charities.

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