Coal Rooms by Peckham Rye Station is part of a growing empire of south east London business ventures with both style and substance. As well as cool loos. Co-founder, Richard Robinson tells us more…
When reviewing a restaurant, rarely are the toilets referenced. But Coal Rooms is not like any other restaurant. For a start it’s literally next door to Peckham Rye Station, which makes travelling this festive season minus the car very handy (especially if you need the loo); then there’s the fact that it is housed within a long forgotten, Grade II listed part of the station.
It’s an eerie experience stepping into those loos, like stepping back in time. The cubicles even boast health awareness messages from yesteryear.
‘The whole site itself has not been opened since the 1930s, with the front element where our café/bar sits being used as a betting shop in the late 90s,’ says Coal Rooms’ co-founder, Richard Robinson.
‘During the restoration, the entrance to the toilets was fully bricked up and only after knocking through the wall from the main room did the team fully realise what was there. Although a lot of the original toilets were damaged, the architect painstakingly searched across the UK to find reclaimed pieces that matched the original features.’
Despite being new, Coal Rooms is also key to the beginning of Robinson’s business venture with Cemal Ezel. ‘Although Coal Rooms is our latest opening, it was actually the first site we secured the lease for back in 2014,’ he explains.
During the restoration, the entrance to the toilets was fully bricked up and only after knocking through the wall from the main room did the team fully realise what was there
Thanks to some false starts, however, their first opening was the Old Spike Roastery, also in Peckham, which had the unique ethos of employing homeless people to be the face of the café.
‘Homelessness is a growing issue here in the UK and we felt there was an opportunity to take a product that is consumed on a mass scale and deliver something that ticked the box on both quality and social impact.
‘By training our beneficiaries to work in our café and our roastery, we were confident that the idea your daily cup of coffee could go some way to helping someone in need was something that would resonate.’
It certainly did: Old Spike Roastery soon evolved into Spike + Earl, which opened in Camberwell. During that evolution, Coal Rooms continued to burn bright.
‘The location and historical aspects of the site were obviously the main draw when we first saw it on a cold autumn afternoon,’ Robinson recalls. ‘The restoration work had been carried out by Benedict O’Looney, a local and very passionate architect in Peckham, so most of the hard work had been done for us!’
The result, today, is fabulous. From the bright café/bar, where they have an ‘honesty box’ for those in need of a quick coffee and dash for the train, walking past the on-site butchery and on to the busy dining area out back, there’s a really warm feel to everything.
The restoration work had been carried out by Benedict O’Looney, a local and very passionate architect in Peckham
‘One of my favourite features is that there are four distinct areas that all offer different experiences,’ Robinson nods appreciatively. ‘The front bar/café for a more casual environment, sitting at the kitchen counter to watch the chefs in action, or a more formal setting in the back dining room. We also have a new 12-seater private dining room opening.’
The on-site butchery is a rarity for a restaurant and crucial to the Coal Rooms’ ethos. ‘As with every ingredient, we want to keep waste to an absolute minimum, and by butchering the meat ourselves, we can ensure we use every element of the animal and nothing goes to waste.’
The pork belly I sampled certainly suggests we, the diners, win too. My pescetarian wife enjoyed her crab shell curry, which shows that although this may be a meat lover’s paradise, there’s plenty else to enjoy. ‘Some of my favourite dishes on the menu are the non-meat options,’ Robinson insists, ‘like the coal-roasted cauliflower and buttermilk fried mackerel, so we feel we have a good spread to keep everyone very happy.’
There will be plenty of Christmas cheer going round, with an indulgent Christmas Feasting Menu being lined up for parties of eight and more. And although many of us want to avoid trips to the toilet as festive overindulgence takes hold – sorry – do make sure you spend some time in the opulent washroom of Coal Rooms: it makes a real splash.
11a Station Way, Peckham Rye SE15 4RX; coalroomspeckham.com