Peckover Butchers, formerly known as Brian Roberts and with a distinguishing BEEF graffiti on the roller shutters, is one of Roman Road’s best kept secrets. We talk to owner Gavin Peckover about provenance, cheap cuts and curry.
East London resident Gavin Peckover took over the shop in 2013, after his mother-in-law told him it was up for lease. He had previously been looking at shops in Northwest London but when he heard that his mother-in-law, who lived in East London, had shopped there for 25 years his decision was easy.
Peckover decided to keep the original name. ‘I kept the name Brian Roberts because he was so well known, and had a really good name. It takes a lot of time and money to build up a reputation like that.’
However, Peckover made some much needed improvements such as stricter cleaning regimes and a ban on the staff’s traditional Saturday afternoon beer. ‘It was very old-school’ laughs Peckover.
‘It was hard at the beginning, to establish my own company. The biggest struggle I’ve had so far has been with assistants. It’s a dying trade, and unless you have the time to train your own apprentices, it can be difficult to find people who have the right training.’
Butchery has been in his family for three generations, but there was no family business to take over. He wanted to move away from his home time of Shrewsbury, and decided to move to London with friends.
Peckover had attended college in Shrewsbury along with his brother to study butchery having done a couple of week’s work experience at a local butcher. ‘College was good, but I prefer learning on the job really. I think the best way is to understand the theory and then just do the practical. Before the work experience, I had no idea what I wanted to do, but after those two weeks, that was it!’ said Peckover.
Once you are inside his shop, it is clear why customers love this place. The shelves are filled with condiments and specialist foods, from traditional pease pudding and duck eggs to healthy bee pollen and specialist honeys. You can also buy the fresh vegetables you need for a good soup stock.
Peckover’s range of product is what makes him so popular with both the East End lifers and with the new incomers. Alongside the traditional cheap cuts and salt beef that kept the post-war East End fed, he offers free-range and locally-sourced meat and is passionate about quality. Currently, there is no organic meat on offer, but Peckover is planning to offer this soon.
‘The pork, lamb, and most of the beef is from a farm in Essex. They know my specifications – if they see something they know I like, like marbled beef, they put it aside for me. They keep the good bits for me, and they start dry-aging it straight away.’
‘That’s why I deal with smaller companies. They take more time, do things traditionally and are more user-friendly. It took me time to find out what I wanted from a company, but they came down here and made the effort to bring me some lambs, so it started from that.’
At the moment, Peckover’s most successful product is his ‘hanger steak’. People come back for this time and time again – not only does it taste great, but it is good value for money. Peckover recommends ‘sealing it in a hot griddle pan so it is just medium rare, and then serving sliced across the grain.’ Delicious.
What recipe recommendations does he have? ‘I do like a curry, so I’m always recommending these spices to people,’ he explained, hoisting a packet of Haandibites spices in the air.
‘We get them from a restaurant in Knightsbridge that has been there for 25 years. They wanted to branch out and do something different, so they made the sachets for butchers and other businesses.’
Peckover doesn’t normally make a curry for himself though, and whenever he gets the chance to take something other than leftover scraps home, he will take something a bit different, like a guinea fowl.
It is surprising that he has time to cook anything at all though; on a normal working day, he can be out of the house as early as five. ‘Last week, I was getting up at half four; I had to do the deliveries, get here, put the counter on.’
Maybe it’s his work ethic, or his active role in the community, but people love him. Its evident when you see him talking to his diverse customers. ‘A lot of people go to supermarkets to buy meat because it’s convenient, but then complain it’s expensive and not good’ says Peckover, ‘But what we offer is good quality and affordable.’ And served with a huge dollop of community love.
Now that Peckover has built up his own reputation, with regular customers coming from Nunhead, Lewisham, Leyton, East Ham and even as far as Clapham, Peckover thinks it will soon be time to change the name from Brian Roberts to his own name.