A breezy, damp, dark Wednesday evening. Spirits low and not relishing the prospect of a damp Autumn I made my way to Telegraph Hill’s Peppeckish.
There’s nothing as bleak as London in the damp. Joy and colour seem washed away.
Entering Hill Station, the daytime cafe which hosts the Peppeckish pop-up each Wednesday and Saturday evening, I was greeted with candlelit tables, an elegantly simple touch which elevated my spirits instantly. Gently funky beats played in the background. The kitchen was a hive of activity with three people bustling back and forth, while at their centre a slight figure was busy at the cooker. Orders were being taken and given.
It felt as though I had walked early into a party about to happen, preparations had reached fever pitch.
I was approached within seconds, warmly greeted and seated. My dining partner was already there. Menus arrived. A sense of occasion prevailed.
Peppeckish is the brainchild and soul-sharing of Giuseppe Cimmino, the slight figure busy at the cooker. Peppeckish has been in and around Telegraph Hill for three years. Peppeckish’s story is one of growth, change and evolution, but also of a private passion shared, generating ripples of warmth, joy, and abundance.
Naples is a city I love and have visited a few times in the last 20 years. Each time I go I’m always blown away by the energy, joy and passion of the city – a consistent spirit in the face of rapid and sometimes disruptive change. It’s not an easy city, and it hasn’t always had a happy history. Naples sits in the lee of a volcano. But it also has vast and generously lavish buildings of all ages and styles which add an air of permanence, alongside a busy cascade and cacophony of colours, and a strong sense of community. The fertile landscape yields a bewildering array of high quality ingredients. What can seem like traffic chaos screeches to a halt if you want to cross the road. The old are given pride of place, while the young are loved and indulged. It’s a warm and generous place, the kind of place you might describe as having ‘soul‘.
Giuseppe is a son of Naples. And it shows. The generosity of spirit his guiding vision imparts to all is evident from the moment you encounter Peppeckish.
You never feel like you’ve been forgotten.
Not only as you are asked what you’d like to drink, whether the menu makes sense or if you’d like to know more about any particular dish, what you’d like to order … more than that.
It’s in the way the cafe has been cleaned, the toilet restocked and made pleasant, the way the lights outside twinkle, the way the lights inside are angled, dimmed, and aesthetically placed to enhance the mood.
The menu is simple, seasonal and designed to work together, supplemented by the best produce from Southern Italy. Whatever you choose here, you won’t go wrong.
We’re not being forgotten, we are cared for.
Our food choices were simple. We opted for two antipasti servings of the Polpette di Elvira – Elvira being Giuseppe’s mother whose recipe this was.
For the main course I had the Carne – a homemade pasta with a white ragu. My partner (seeking to avoid carbs) chose a Monkfish starter with roasted pepper, Coda di Rospo, which was generously offered as a main course portion – gratefully accepted.
We agreed on the red wine, a blend of Montepulciano and Sangiovese, the purple liqourice tone of the former enlivened by the immediate red fruit of the latter. Things were looking up!
You can also choose a negroni – warm burnt orange, vermouth, herbal depth. We didn’t this time (but I have had one before – a barnstormer).
In moments two bowls appeared, a glossy, bright red tomato sauce with firm, herby, flavoursome pork (pork and beef?) meatballs dusted with parmesan which glittered like diamond dust. The brightness of the tomato was more than matched in flavour; savoury, sharp, sweet, tangy, with a glossiness borne of good olive oil. The meatballs were packed with flavour and perfectly cooked – these weren’t flabby, breadcrumb padded blobs boiled in tomato sauce. Each meatball was deep fried till golden and then added to a sauce which had been cooked separately.
The Monkfish was found at 5am that morning at Billingsate Market – we saw the video shared earlier in the day. Served on the plate, on one side sat dry roasted and finely diced pepper, while to the other was a pepper puree rich with southern flavours (and perhaps a hint of smoky late harvest aubergine?). Both worked perfectly with the delicate and lobster-like sweetness of the Monkfish.
Carne came with a fat ribbon pasta – papardelle – home-made, and with a perfect al-dente bite. The pasta was enrobed in a mellow, greenish-yellow olive oil with pale, crumbled pork mince, generously dusted with pearls of parmesan, and a hint of red chilli.
We were stuffed, happily so.
Giuseppe dropped by and chatted. He’s frank and open, generous. His honesty about how hard it is to run a pop-up isn’t self-pitying, instead you can see the challenge inspires him to do more, to do better.
He enquired after us, our spirits.
Something like a charge of positive energy hit us as he stepped away, whispered to a colleague, tipped us a wink and dashed back to the busy kitchen.
We had no room for dessert, none. We didn’t order any. Unbidden came Pear Sorbet, and a profiterole drizzled with glossy dark chocolate – that perfect Italian blend of bitter, sweet, mellow and rounded.
A- HA! Giuseppe’s wink.
The profiterole was light as air. The Pear sorbet seduced with a sweet, comice pear-like flavour before a segue into a lime rind sharpness, followed by a soothing mellow mint, and perhaps even a hint of thyme. Perhaps it was the way the chocolate drizzled over the profiterole had interacted with the sorbet, or the lingering herbal tones of the ragu or meatballs, possibly even the peppers …
What was in the sorbet – lime, mint?
“No.”, Giuseppe assured us, “Just pears.”
A smile and a twinkle.
Peppeckish is magic.
At the heart of the alchemy is Giuseppe – a genius with food.
£ – We paid £40 a head and both thought it worth every single penny.
How to book
Peppeckish pops up at Hill Station, Kitto Road, London SE14 5TY – a cafe in the basement of Telegraph Hill Centre.