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Little Kudu: A diminutive space serving small plates

Kudu's latest opening offers small plates in a small space with touches of South African flavour.

In recent years, the vibrant flavours of Capetown have made their mark on Peckham, courtesy of the burgeoning enterprise, Kudu Collective. Established in 2018 by Amy Corbin and Patrick Williams, the collective oversees three distinctive restaurants and a private dining venue, each offering its unique take on South African cuisine.

The latest addition, Little Kudu, occupies an intimate space beneath the railway arches of Queens Road Peckham station, specializing in tapas-style small plates. Notably, each establishment under the Kudu umbrella showcases the rich culinary heritage of South Africa, with Chace Wagenhauser, the head chef at Little Kudu, hailing from the region himself.

'It's nice to have that little bit of connection and to learn more about it all because I didn't grow up around food', she says. She commenced her journey at the original Kudu in October 2020, initially as a demi chef de partie. Her dedication and skill led to her being entrusted with the new establishment when it opened its doors in June 2023.

If you find yourself pondering what South African cuisine encompasses, a quick perusal of the menu will provide a clear picture, with the term 'braai,' akin to a barbecue or grill, featuring prominently. Additionally, there's the tantalizing Kalahari-spiced biltong, crafted in-house at one of the Kudu locations and made available across all their establishments.

'Every South African-inspired restaurant has to have biltong on their menu,' says Wagenhauser. 'And we've got little nods to [the cuisine] all over – definitely anything over fire.'

The Little Kudu loaf takes inspiration from South African mosbolletjie, boasting a texture akin to brioche and a delightful infusion of cumin-spiced onions. It arrives at the table in a wide black dish, accompanied by a spiced melted butter. According to Wagenhauser, 'Cape Malay butter has a very South African flavour profile.'

For a taste of South Africa's version of the classic cheese toastie, there's the braaibroodjie. The chef crafts hers with a sourdough base, generously spread with smoked butter to capture that distinctive braaied taste, followed by a layer of smoked tomato ketchup. To balance the richness, Baron Bigod is paired with pickled red onions. The open-faced sandwich is then crowned with Parmesan and Kudu's signature biltong rub.

The menu at Little Kudu eschews specific section headings, instead presenting dishes in ascending order of size. Among the heartier options are the smoked peri peri mussels, offering a robust indulgence that showcases the influence of Portuguese cuisine on South African culinary traditions.

Wagenhauser injects a sense of playfulness into the menu, evident in dishes like the Fine de Claire oyster, bursting with vibrant colours and intense flavours, thanks to the addition of tomato dashi and wakame oil. The beef tartare surprises diners, as its true nature remains concealed until the first bite, revealing a delightful topping of crunchy sourdough crumb and a dollop of airy onion treacle mayo.

One of the standout dishes is the visually stunning chicken parfait tart. A simple dough, infused with onion powder, is thinly rolled to form a crisp base, then filled with fig chutney steeped in a blend of port, red wine, star anise, and cinnamon. It is then crowned with chicken parfait piped on top. The parfait itself is a concoction of shallots and port reduction, eggs, butter, and salt, steamed at 68ºC, chilled, and whipped into a light cream. A dazzling dash of beetroot powder lends a striking burst of colour, complemented by pickled mustard seeds.

In the dessert section, there are typically two offerings available at any given time – one centred around chocolate and the other featuring fruit. Wagenhauser notes, 'I think that's always a good balance to have.' Presently, patrons can indulge in the apricot tarte tatin, which the chef personally favours. It's expertly paired with an elderflower ice-cream to temper the tartness of the fruit.

She has aspirations to bring South African sweets and nostalgic comforts to the dessert menu, but she's currently in the creative phase of developing these concepts. She explains, 'We've always got something on the back burner – almost too many ideas – and we want to put them all on at once.'

Despite the restaurant's relatively short three-month tenure, Wagenhauser is already focused on maximizing the space and streamlining operations. The kitchen, constrained by its size, only accommodates a standard fridge-freezer, precluding the possibility of a walk-in refrigerator.

'We're definitely squeezed for space, but I think this makes us a little bit more creative with what we do,' she says. Additionally, they're making do with a hand-me-down grill from Kudu, but will soon have a bigger one with more shelves to smoke food. 'We can start hot smoking some things as well, which will be really fun.'

From the menu

• Little Kudu loaf, Cape Malay butter £7.50
• Tempura sweetcorn, miso mayonnaise £7
• Cantaloupe, coppa, honey, Aleppo chilli £10
• Light smoked mackerel, pineapple, tomato, rock samphire £9.50
• Braaibroodjie, Baron Bigod, smoked tomato chutney £10
• Beef tartare, onion treacle mayo, pickled girolles £11.50
• Flat iron steak, chips and red pepper relish £23
• Smoked peri peri mussels £15
• Braaied courgettes, ricotta, spiced honey, cashew dukkha £13
• Dark chocolate torte, kalamansi ganache £9
• Apricot tart tatin, elderflower, crème fraiche ice cream £9