I live in the sometimes dirty, smelly and er, ‘lively’ area of the capital and I love it. Right now, I’m living in Peckham, and you’ll often hear me sticking up for it. The high number of African and Caribbean people living here means we get some damn good grub, which by its nature is heavy on spice. Many restaurants here lack the polish and presentation of more Northerly establishments, which to be honest, is part of their charm.
Over the last few years I’ve become increasingly interested in Caribbean food, which started with a trip to the annual Jerk Cookout in the gardens of The Horniman Museum in 2007, on the off chance that it might be a nice day out. I would now never consider missing it. Holidays will be scheduled around it. I’ve picked up a few tips along the way and tried out my own recipes for jerk chicken and curry goat but as I’ve realised, these recipes are something which take a long time – years, generations even, to perfect. In the meantime I’ve dedicated my days to visiting as many Caribbean restaurants as possible and I’ve learned that you are on your own trying to work out the secrets of the good places – ask and they clam up completely; heads shake firmly and eyes widen in disbelief.
It’s not all good of course, there are always some howlers. When I was planning our recent Peckham restaurant crawl I planned to take everyone to a Caribbean place a few minutes from my doorstep: ‘God Bless Caribbean Restaurant’. Thank goodness I decided to check it out first. The jerk was incredibly bland, as was the curry goat (which was mostly bone anyway). Strangely, the rice and peas were the best I’ve ever had but not even that will make me return to sample their dry, tasteless, spiceless meat ever again. Shame, because it takes all of three minutes to get there. Lizzie on the other hand, is more fortunate. Literally a few minutes walk from her front door in New Cross stands the unassuming shack that is Smokey Jerkey. When she told me of the tantalising wafts of grill smoke she endures on a daily basis and the surly woman who turns out some of the best damn jerk she’s ever tasted, it was a done deal – I had to try it.
“Is it shut?” I asked as we approached, with more than a hint of desperation in my voice. It wasn’t – it just always looks like that. A padlocked grill covers the front and inside there are a couple of chairs and a counter where you order the food. That’s basically it. We ordered the jerk chicken with rice and peas (£3 lunch special), and scurried back to eat it.
The portion was generous and not too rice and pea heavy as can often be the case. The chicken was succulent and chopped into hand manageable pieces in the way that Caribbean places always do. And the jerk seasoning? Brilliant. I found it pleasantly sweeter than other jerk I’ve had, sticky with caramelised crusty bits and infused with a smoky char. The flavour was fruity with scotch bonnet chillies and the heat started as a little numbing tingle on the lips and slowly built to good ‘n’ hot. We also doused on some hot sauce for good measure. The heady mix of spices was not too powerful and the extra sweetness prevented that dusty wallop that can happen when it’s a case of too much spice and not enough everything else.
All in all, this is some of the best jerk I’ve had in the South East and I highly recommend you try it if you are passing through the area. By the way, if I’ve missed any SE London bloggers, then please do reveal yourselves – it’s always nice to find some more locals to share tips, drinks and maybe even restaurant crawls with. Also, I know I’m asking a lot of questions at the end of my posts right now but if you have some favourite jerk places anywhere in London then I’d love to hear about those too. I do venture North of the river occasionally you know…
158 New Cross Road, New Cross
London, SE14 5BA