The annual jerk cook-out in the gardens of The Horniman Museum is one of my favourite food events. I live close enough to walk there but not so close as to be affected by the hugely increased volume of traffic, which I’ve heard is a bit of a nightmare. It probably wouldn’t make any difference to me to be honest, I live on a major junction – I’d feel nervous without the sounds of sirens, beeping horns, road rage and screeching tyres 24/7. Anyway, my point is that this year it was BUSY. The weather was glorious and approximately 10,000 people turned out to laze on the grass and eat, drink and be merry.
As you approach the museum gardens, the wafts of jerk smoke start to reach your nostrils and it’s basically a race from then on in. I literally couldn’t get in there fast enough. The best Caribbean restaurants in London are invited and a panel of judges decide who makes the best jerk, rice and peas and dumpling. Once inside, we were a bit unnerved at the size of the first queue we came across at the famous Cummin Up and so decided to start with one of the smaller stalls, Ramones.
The plan was to try three different places so we started with one portion of jerk pork, rice and peas, salad and a dumpling (£6 I think). The sauce on the meat was quite oily, although not unpleasantly so and the lady serving us spooned extra over the rice and peas without me having to ask. The meat itself was tender and the fat, oh the fat! Crispy in places but melty in others, the best of both pig fat worlds. I’ve been trying to create a jerk recipe I’m happy with for a long time now and so I made careful notes about the spicing; the ground cloves were fairly pronounced and there was a strong smack of black pepper.
As we contemplated where to go next I noticed that one stall in particular, Tasty Jerk, had the most ridiculously long queue snaking right across the park. They were also packin’ an impressive row of barrel BBQ’s. We feared it might take ages to get served and were just turning away when I spotted them – jerk crab claws. We joined the queue.
And then we waited…and waited…and waited and after an hour considered giving up but decided it would be silly to queue for so long without some sort of reward at the end of it. With hindsight, that was a poor decision. We stood in the blazing sun, on a backwards slope, battling wasps and hangovers and moaners for nearly TWO HOURS and I am not exaggerating. What was most disturbing though, was that towards the front of the queue, the whole thing got a bit desperate. There was pushing, shoving and arguments about who was in front of who two hours ago. “Where have you come from?” one man accused. “Nigeria” the other replied.
As we got within spitting distance of the stall, the reasons for the outrageous waiting time became clear – the staff had absolutely no idea what they were doing. Many were just standing around doing nothing. That’s pretty insulting when you’ve been waiting for two hours. By the time we got to the front they had run out of pretty much everything. “All that’s left is pork and lamb.” No crab claws?! We took a plate of pork and some corn.
The spicing was definitely better than Ramones, with a heat that wasn’t just spicy but had fruity scotch bonnet flavour too and a subtle build. The meat however was dry as a bone. They managed to win it for the second year running and I can imagine the spicing would be amazing on the freshest, juiciest pieces likely served to the judges. By contrast, our experience had left a bad taste before we even got our food.
I regret the decision to queue at Tasty Jerk because the event itself is amazing. I’ll be back next year and for as long as it keeps running. There was a real carnival atmosphere inside and next year I’m rounding up a bunch of mates so we can all pile down with a blanket and plenty of cold beers. I definitely picked up some good spicing tips too and I’m so excited about the new recipe I already have a batch of ribs marinating ready for a mates’ birthday BBQ tonight. Watch this space.
You can see all my photos of the day here.