Nandine, Camberwell

Guys, I have a new obsession and it’s a cafe in Camberwell, called Nandine. It’s run by a Kurdish family I first met when I came across Yada’s in Peckham. They opened this place last year and have been expanding their Kurdish menu ever since. It’s off the hook good. I thought I’d share this little piece I wrote for the Peckham Peculiar a while back because I just want everyone to know about Nandine and enjoy it as much as I do.

The mezze is really something else. The mum of the family (they’re all involved in the business somewhere along the line), Pary Baban does the cooking, making her own pickles, dips, borek, dolma and all manner of salads and tasty bits which make up their plates. What’s great about it is that all the mezze taste genuinely different and exciting; familiar but exotic. It’s not like when you order a mezze selection and it’s stuff you’ve had a hundred times before, flat and disappointing… this is new, and the selection changes all the time according to whatever Pary fancies making. She also makes the baklava which are incredible, some of the best I’ve ever tasted and fresh, too, since they’re not ordered in great slabs from an outside source.

What annoys me is that they’re rammed on weekends but dead during the week and one possible reason for this is that Camberwell, Peckham and other south London residents don’t know what they’re missing. So, read this and then go. I demand it. Good food ain’t just for the weekend.

Borek at Nandine. Photo: Nandine

Pary and Rang at Nandine. Photo: The Peckham Peculiar

Pary and Rang at Nandine. Photo: The Peckham Peculiar

On leafy Vestry Road, near the Peckham/Camberwell border, sits Nandine – a family-run café with a Kurdish kitchen that’s something of a hidden gem. It’s owned by cook Pary Baban and her sons Rang and Raman. Pary’s nephew is Yada, who runs an excellent Kurdish restaurant just off Rye Lane, along with Peckham institution Ali Baba’s fruit and veg. Nandine, which means kitchen in Kurdish, has been a long time coming, and it has taken the efforts of the entire family to get it off the ground.

I’m sitting in the bright space talking to Pary and Rang. We are laughing as Rang gently teases his mother about her long search for the right site to open Camberwell’s one and only Kurdish café. “She goes off the rails sometimes!” he jokes, affectionately, of Pary’s extensive search. “She was actually looking around Brixton, at pop-up shops, but a lot of those places are like little kiosks. We found this location – it was a bit of a weird one because it’s on a side road, but it can work. She wanted somewhere to settle down where she doesn’t have to work from 7am until late, although it is quite hard as it is right now.

Mezze at Nandine. Photo: Nandine

The family are all working very long hours, he explains, pouring their energy into making the business a success. “We are waking up quite early and closing late but that’s just the beginning of the business,” he says.“It’s nice because we came together as a family, all four of us. My dad was the handyman, and I’m doing art so I learnt how to weld. My dad put up the walls and tiles, my brother designed the place and my mum helped out a lot as well. She made the seats.”

Pary may have been involved in setting up the café interior but it is the kitchen where her skills truly lie. Almost everything you eat at Yada’s is made by her, including pickles, jams and her excellent börek and baklava.“We focus a lot on the baklava, things that not everyone can do,” Rang says. “There are things that only she does or that are only from our region in Kurdistan. We really want to get it on the map. “The börek we do is very different to everyone else’s – we’re trying to put something else out there. The pastry we use is Kurdish pastry called galgali, which is not normally used for börek. It’s a very flaky pastry and takes skill to make.

“We do brunch options too, like naan pizzas, our Kurdish version of shakshuka, which we call mexlama, and then we have our new menu, which is mezze. It’s a selection of different dishes and we change it quite often as well. The mezze platter is our food, Kurdish food, and we do have a little bit of meat in there but mostly it is vegan or vegetarian. It’s very healthy. In our culture, we eat a lot of grains, lots of vegetables and also nuts.”

You must be tired, I suggest to Pary and she smiles. “I love the job, so I don’t feel I am tired, but last week we had a little bit of pressure, as things were breaking and we were trying to open [Rang chips in at this point to tell me how he accidentally drilled through a water pipe] but otherwise, I love it.”

Making dolma. Photo: Nandine

I ask how she found her love for cooking, and her eyes light up with emotion. “I was 18 years old and my family left me with my granddad. I’d never cooked before and suddenly my granddad had a guest, so he said, ‘Let’s cook, I will help you out.’ “I started cooking dolma [stuffed grape leaves] and it was the first time in my life I had done them. I didn’t put enough water in and I burned them,” she laughs. “All around the pan was burnt, only the middle was OK.

“In our culture, when you cook dolma, you put the whole pan on the table and then you flip it over. I took it to the table and my granddad took the pan and he flipped it. Only the very middle came out, everything else was stuck in the pan! But the taste was good.” It was at that point that Pary decided to teach herself to cook. “Before, it wasn’t possible for a woman to open a restaurant in our country,” she says. “Now it’s OK but back then it wasn’t. I started gathering recipes from everywhere – from my family’s house or anywhere I saw nice cooking.”

A traditional Kurdish breakfast at Nandine. Photo: Nandine

These recipes have been collected from far and wide, some of them offering glimmers of hope and comfort in the face of adversity. “When the first Gulf War began and the uprising started we went to Iran – it took us nine days of walking to cross the border. “My dad’s cousin cooked for us one evening and I loved it so I asked her for the recipe. I thought I had lost it but then something happened. Four or five weeks ago, one of my family said, ‘Oh, they have got your book from 1991’ – it was the little book where I wrote down all my recipes.”

Pary shows me a tattered old book that is falling to pieces, splattered with stains and covered with sketches and recipes. “I am very lucky to get it back.” She tells me about the dishes she will incorporate into Nandine’s menu as she turns the pages. “This is a meat broth, very slow cooked, with chickpeas and potatoes. It’s very nice.”

I am hugely excited for the future of Nandine and what this cheerful, interesting lady is bringing to our part of south-east London. “I’ve lived here, worked here, my kids grew up here,” says Pary of the location. “He was born in King’s College Hospital,” she adds, pointing at Rang. “I always have something in my heart for this area. When we are here we are very happy.”

Nandine is open daily (except Tuesdays). It also offers mezze evenings on Friday and Saturday nights until 10pm – customers are welcome to bring their own booze. They’re on Deliveroo, if you’re local, and they’ll also be serving their mezze at the forthcoming Peckham Levels redevelopment of Peckham’s multi-storey car park.

(This article first appeared in Issue 21 of The Peckham Peculiar)

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