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Thursday, 3 July 2014

Communion, Camberwell

I recall my maiden trip down South. We visited family friends in London. "Mummy! Mummy! Look! Real gollywogs!" I yelled, pointing at West Indian elders got up in their best suits. Away for the very first time from the genteel confines of my white sliced bread Edinburgh crib, Camberwell came on like the Congo. In monotone Scotland, the only black dials I'd yet clocked were on a Robertson's jam jar or singing Mammy! on the Minstrel Show. (Readers under the age of 30, watch and weep at what topped TV schedules back in the day ) To me, Camberwell - with its Little Richard and Cliff Richard lookalikes riding in chrome-finned ice-cream-coloured Ford Zodiacs - was colourful, strange, exciting and deeply exotic. Nowadays, I'm scared to go there. Knife crime? Muggings? Too many fire hazard acrylic weaves and wigs? The latter, possibly - but it's also home to Labour big(bad)wig Harriet Harman, a po-faced PC puritan who would surely have me up before the beak for my unintended racial slur - no matter that I was 4 and it took place back when TV was still segregated into black and white. Tonight, I've been commissioned to review Communion, a live music bar beneath the Church Street Hotel's Hispanic restaurant Angels and Gypsies. Some "Jesus!" stained glass- effect windows aside, the room stylist has mercifully not gone into Hail Mary overload. But the owners have carried the theme through, with wafers and communion wine offered on each table. Musty and astringent, the mass murderous vino might as well be Pope Pius VII's piss. Thank Christ I don't follow Rome! Or wear a yellow hankie in my back pocket. Fortunately, divine intervention presently appears in the form of praiseworthy cocktails from a list that's strong on rum. Shanty town (£8, pictured) is a standout: Gosling’s, Velvet Falernum, ginger, lime, orange bitters and a gloop of molasses in a tiki mug garnished with candied orange wheels and honeycomb. Anointed by the juice of grilled Sicilian lemons, a mezcal and Cherry Marnier martini is a quasi-religious experience and my chum's choices are no less revelatory at around £9. Top tapas and perky tortillas, bussed in from upstairs, are unimpeachable. Not so, another idea that comes in a stoppered vintage lemonade bottle. Grass Arena (after the John Healy novel about alcoholism) mixes whisky, Special Brew and Buckfast tonic wine as drunk by brain-damaged Glasgow NEDs frae Drumchapel. This liquid unholy trinity aside, Communion could yet convert me to the Camberwell credo.
Church Street Hotel 29 - 33 Camberwell Church Street SE5 8TR 7703 5984