It’s so reassuring when you can look back at certain moments in your life with no regret. While there are many things I do regret (that DIY blonde bob at uni, drinking too much vodka at my graduation, that second DIY blonde bob at uni…), there is one specific moment in my past where I know I made the right choice: to order a burger.
Not any old burger, mind. This specific burger was being cooked in a van on an open flame near a safari park in South Africa. It was a juicy, heart attack-inducing beef burger and it just so happened that I was ravenous. My father, however, was being forced to undertake a strict, unappealing diet by my mother, and was forbidden to eat one. I nearly followed suit, but, luckily, good sense kicked in and I ordered what can only be described as THE BEST BURGER IN THE WORLD as my father looked on and wept. Rich, juicy meat; melting, oozing sauces; succulent, smokey flavours. It has haunted my dad ever since. And provided me with endless joy.
Thus, for me, South Africa has always been associated with spectacular food. Although, if I’m honest, I’m not sure I could have ever pinned down South African cuisine. Are we talking zebra steaks and ostrich wings? Or perhaps minced monkey? It turns out, we are not, but meat is definitely a key ingredient.
Are we talking zebra steaks and ostrich wings? Or perhaps minced monkey? It turns out, we are not
I visited the original Kudu when it launched in 2018. The restaurant was set up by a couple, Amy Corbin and Patrick Williams, and joined a flurry of new openings in Peckham that were set on gentrifying the area.
At the time of that visit, I was about to do what millennials do best: quit my job, go travelling, and eschew all responsibility. To say farewell, my two housemates booked a table there and we devoured a rainbow of small dishes made up of unusual pairings and bold flavours.
Over the past three years, the ambitious founders have added Smokey Kudu (a bar) and Curious Kudu (a private dining room and events space) to their ever-expanding empire (I really wish I could be that productive at work). So when it was announced that they would be launching a new restaurant, Kudu Grill, to the collection, I decided to book the three of us in.
My house is conveniently a six-minute cycle away, which is sure to be a devastating blow for my bank account. When I arrive at my destination on Nunhead Lane, I tie up my bike next to 20 others. That’s one thing you can be sure of when you arrive at a Kudu: you’ll be ticking every category of a yuppy Londoner. In your late 2os or 3os? Tick. Ride a bike? Tick. Wear an eye-wateringly expensive rucksack and trainers? Tick. Welcome on in.
The restaurant is a cute size. Not too small to feel too close to people in these fearful Covidy times, but small enough to feel cosy. The space is a converted Truman’s pub and, naturally, the decor is as you’d expect for trendy Peckham: exposed brick, designer light fittings, banquet seating, Art Deco mirrors. A heavy velvet curtain at the entrance has a masterful effect of transporting you from grotty pavement to first-class eatery.
And the pig tails? Like seriously upmarket pork scratchings doused in honey mustard
Both of my guests are late, so I order an old fashioned and wait. One guest arrives and the other is still late, so we order another round of cocktails. Forty-five minutes later my final guest arrives and I’m feeling pretty merry.
Once we catch up, and the newest, flustered arrival has stopped sweating, we tackle the menu. Unlike Kudu where you order lots of small dishes, Kudu Grill is more of starter, main, dessert situation. However, the waitress gives us side plates so we can still share all the delicious fare.
The premise of Kudu Grill is centred around South African braai, which is essentially the South African version of a barbecue. It’s a type of grill that uses wood and charcoal to cook food, and it normally forms the focal point of an evening as people huddle around it like a bonfire. At Kudu Grill, you can sit at the bar to watch it in action yourself.
The oysters here are mellowed with tomato dashi, a Japanese stock, and topped with trout roe which pop in the mouth
To start we order oysters and pigs tails from the snacks section. Now when it comes to oysters, I’m not the biggest fan. I don’t really get why people choose to bang on about a food that is so gross you have to swallow it whole without actually tasting it. Not at Kudu Grill. The oysters here are mellowed with tomato dashi, a Japanese stock, and topped with trout roe which pop in the mouth. And the pig tails? Like seriously upmarket pork scratchings doused in honey mustard.
Then the starters – a personal highlight. Raw tuna that dissolves on the tongue, grilled prawns bathing in a bowl of peri peri butter and silky soft beef tartare with a surprising crunch of crispy shallots. These three dishes, I decide instantly, will make up my new death-row meal choice. I could eat this selection Every. Single. Day.
We mop up every last herb and seed with that classic British way of sharing by saying, “No, I’ve had loads, you finish it,” while silently screaming: “FOR GOD’S SAKE, JUST LET ME LICK THE PLATE CLEAN”.
For the main course, we go in all guns blazing. If you’re going to live life with no regrets, you might as well do it with enthusiasm, right? So yes, we order the most expensive thing on the menu: dry aged T-bone steak. It arrives melt-in-the-mouth medium rare with our other order, a spatchcock poussin glazed in honey. For sides? All of them. Charred lettuce, grilled carrots, crispy chips cooked in beef fat, and mash that looks like it’s been sieved about 20 times and sprinkled with crispy chicken skins. Just typing it up now is making me salivate on my keyboard. It reminds me of my beef burger in the South African outback all over again: rich, juicy meat; melting, oozing sauces; succulent, smokey flavours.
Too full, too in love and too overwhelmed, there’s no room for dessert. The three of us share one grape sorbet to cleanse the pallet and clear our now hazy minds, which are fogged up with too many cocktails and glasses of Stellenbosch wine.
Bravo Kudu Grill. You’ve really nailed the brief. Just let us know when the next Kudu opens up, we’ll be the first ones to cycle there in our overpriced trainers.