You probably haven’t tried Kurdish cuisine, if so you’ve been missing out. Correct that mistake at Nandine

Lacking a tube station, Camberwell is like a little island state. People have heard of it, but rarely visit. I lived there many years ago and it was cheap, if not particularly cheerful, and filled with arty students from nearby Camberwell College of Arts. It still is.

It hasn’t changed much really, Camberwell Grove, opposite Nandine, is still home to the most wonderful Georgian houses that were worth a fortune back then, and are now worth three times more. On the high street though, you’ll still get approached by blokes asking for spare change.

Nandine is right on that main drag, light and airy and welcoming, it’s very different to the Middle Eastern restaurants of old which were usually dark and unfriendly places full of heavy set men.

The word Nandine means ‘kitchen’ in old Kurdish, and it was founded by Pary Baban in 2016, who came to the UK in 1995 after being displaced from her home by Saddam Hussein (remember him?). His loss is our gain.

You get a sense of liveliness when you walk in; it’s not large, but clever use of space and lots of plywood has allowed for a variety of table sizes and created a cool dining nook that will seat six and with a gallery space above it.

The menu of sharing plates is printed in small type on a brown background, which makes it a bit hard to read, but it is short. A good sign, so many Middle Eastern restaurants have menus that are as long as local feuds and often just as incomprehensible.

Nothing is expensive. A table of four could probably order the lot and spend less than £15 a head.

We are just two, so with some regret we swerve the tasty-sounding Beherat fries (dusted in Za’atar and topped with tamarind, yoghurt and mint) and go traditional with mezze dips to kick off, a retina searing colourful plate served with fabulous warm and oil-slicked bread.

The excellent hummus is green, which I think means it was made with broad beans, not chickpeas. One of the never ending debates in that part of the world is the one about which hummus is more authentic – chickpeas or broad beans. On top pop pomegranate seeds and there is a good citrus undertow.

A Tzatziki yoghurt dish has submerged cool crisp hunks of cucumber, and on top a coating of ubiquitous sumac, that addictive tart spice made from ground berries. That gets ladled thickly onto that addictive bread, best tzatziki I’ve eaten although it’s not something I eat often

We’re not so fond of the red pepper puree, which does rather remind me of eating tomato puree straight out of the tube; albeit with a fiery kick. We run out of bread quickly, but are soon brought some more to scrape our plates.

Stew is such a downbeat word, bringing up (sic) memories of school dinners, but here a dish called Tirsak is more of a broth using split chickpeas, spinach and tomato. On top is fried leek and a swirl of aioli hinted with garlic. 

Submerged in the depths well below sonar range is a vegan dumpling called a kifta, this usuallyis  made with lamb, the ubiquitous meat of the Middle East. The dumpling is quite tough to cut with its rice shell, but not upsettingly so, and the spinach has kept its colour well, a proper rib sticker dish and very homestyle.

And homemade is the spiced sausage that tops another broth, this time of pearl barley and chickpeas that have been cooked slowly in a mutton stock that has really packed in some flavour. Merguez-like, the sausage is gently spiced and we fight over it cheerfully.

Our main dish of  lula kebab is a total winner; some shoulder of lamb stripped from the bone, compressed, spiced and then cooked over hot coals like a giant kofta. Lain lovingly on a bed of bread which gratefully absorbs the juices, it’s edged with grilled vegetables and comes with a yoghurt dip with pickled cauliflower and more sumac and/or za’atar.

We didn’t have the baklava dessert we planned on trying, tempted instead by the novelty of baked butternut squash. Obviously this is usually a savoury dish, but many squashes can be sweetened successfully, think Pumpkin Pie.

Here I wasn’t sure it worked. The skin had been left on and the roasting had made it rather leathery. Lashings of cream helped, but I wish I’d stuck to baklava.

I liked Nandine and I couldn’t fault the prices. For vegetarians there’s a lot to enjoy, but I am not sure if vegans can be entirely comfortable there, but I then am never sure what exactly is off limits for vegans.

Bright, cheerful and packed out early even on a Monday evening, Nandine is a local gem that’s so heartwarming I even gave a quid to the local gem that accosted me outside as we left.

Photos from Nandine PR

Book on 0208 001 8322 or check their Facebook page.

45 Camberwell Church Street, Camberwell, SE5 8TR