Tasty Jerk, Thornton Heath

Yup, Thornton Heath. Look it up.

While the rest of the food world had their eyes on which restaurants would make it into the World’s 50 Best last night, I was schlepping down to a crumbling takeaway in Zone 4 to get me some jerk chicken. I spend much of my time schlepping around London to taste jerk pork or chicken, come to think of it; either that, or I’m sitting in the corner of a darkened room, rocking and weeping gently, mourning the loss of some of London’s greats. The Jerk Cookout  for example (RIP) was one of the best food events ever created, in my eyes, but it stopped a couple of years ago when they (apparently) couldn’t get any sponsorship; to be honest the event was getting too big by that point anyway and thus the quality of stalls diluted until it ended up as just a representation of the state of jerk in London in one place (loads of shit places, very few good ones), rather than a gathering of the very best. The other great loss was Caribbean Spice Jerk Centre next to Peckham Rye station (RIP). That place got taken over by new management who clearly couldn’t care less; when I walked past last night the place was empty. I cry.

And so the search continues. Now I knew Tasty Jerk was going to be good because they won the Jerk Cookout two (or was it three?) times in a row, before they were told they couldn’t win any more because it wasn’t fair to the other contestants. I say: if you’re the best, you’re the best, end of. Anyway, they have branches in spectacularly inconvenient places, those places being: Thornton Heath, Croydon and er, Ghana. So Thornton Heath it was.

We could smell the food cooking from a significant distance. I’d been warned that the place was ‘grotty’ which of course meant that when I entered I immediately fell in love with it. The back wall is basically lined with jerk drums and a massive extractor fan which does try to suck up some of the smoke but fails for the most part, leaving our clothes and hair infused. I’m not wearing the same coat I wore last night. Cooking good jerk is very much about getting a lot of smoke going on, you see. Of course the spicing is important, but a lot of places fall down on the cooking method. Tasty Jerk have it nailed. Here’s a really crap photo that’s out of focus but nevertheless gives an idea of the smoke levels…

A jerk meal will typically come with your chosen meat, plus rice and peas and hot sauce (you should always add the hot sauce). The meal is all about balance; this might sound obvious but the components should not be judged separately. It’s also very much about the build. I want a steady increase of heat and allspice, not a punch in the mouth. I want moisture from the rice and peas. Always ask for gravy on those. Tasty Jerk offered gravy without me having to ask which impressed me and in fact, their rice and peas were excellent; good gooey texture hanging on the right side of stodgy, bit of yellow pepper going on in there for sweetness. Generous with the beans. Their hot sauce deserves special mention too as it was pure searing bonnet fruit balanced with a shedload of sugar that made for a terribly addictive cycle of consumption which ended up with me in tears. The method of dealing with this by the way is, in case you don’t know, Guinness punch.

Tasty Jerk are making some of the best jerk in London right now, along with Smokey Jerkey in New Cross. It’s always the glamorous locations, see? Okay so perhaps none of you care enough about a good jerk pork meal to rattle down to Thornton Heath on an empty train for which you actually have to buy a special ticket. I can understand. For me, that’s what I’m calling a good Monday night. While chefs and food glitterati were sipping champagne and waiting to hear whether or not Noma had won the title of world’s best restaurant yet again (it did), I was drinking warm gin and tonic from a can, on a train. I was uncomfortably full, I stank of jerk smoke and I was in the middle of effing nowhere. I also couldn’t have been happier.

Tasty Jerk Centre (for other locations website here)
88 Whitehorse Lane
London
SE25 6RG
Tel: 0208 653 3222

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72 thoughts on “Tasty Jerk, Thornton Heath

  1. A terrible personal attack? I’ll tell you what I term personal. When someone has their shop in a nasty condition and have nasty habits in how they store food, and lets me buy food from there and smiles in my face and take my money. I’d say it gets personal right there. If they wasn’t nasty people their kitchen wouldnt be nasty would it? Unless you think having cockroaches and mice overrun your kitchen is a normal state of affairs. Cetainly not in mine. I don’t take kindly to having my or my family’s health put at risk either?

    Nope they don’t give a damn about the community who support’s his pockets, but its actually a breach of public trust too. You think E-coli is a joking matter?

    I repeat. THEY ARE NASTY PEOPLE WHO WILL PUT YOUR HEALTH AT RISK. The more people that know this the better.

    1. I said ‘terribly’ not ‘terrible’. I have chosen to publish your comment here but let me tell you something, Jerry. Do not address me in this aggressive tone. E.g ‘do you think E Coli is a laughing matter?’

      Maybe their premises are filthy. I’ve heard stories. I’ve posted this because I’m completely unrelated to them and their business and I publish all comments unless they are spam. I have nothing to do with Tasty Jerk and the tone of your comment is unacceptable.

  2. I can’t belive people were praising this place. Must be people who cant cook because the meat was cheap as possible and the food smelled rancid.

    Nasty people nasty place. Never in a million yeras.

  3. I heard about the fine, thought it was the Thornton Heath branch, and spent the next 24 hours in shock and mourning. Thank goodness I can still eat there… their pepper sauce has to be tasted to be believed.

  4. I was searching google for food bloggers came across yours and I’m hooked!! Loved your post on the Carribean food, I’ve passed Tasty Jerk before but never tried it simply because there are so many (awful) West Indian takeaways and not enough good ones so I just stick to the ones I know…until I found your blog ha! Will certainly enjoy reading all your previous posts. Keep them coming!
    :-)

  5. I used to live on Whitehorse Lane. It was the most miserable six months of my life. I really really wish I’d known about Tasty Jerk then.

    In fact having sampled Tasty Jerk at the Cookout (I still dream about the jerk lamb…) I have found the only reason I would ever set foot on that road again. Get me on a number 50 immediately!

  6. That sounds like the ideal antidote to the 50 best… They look like they have some serious bbq action going on, and forget Thornton Heath, sounds like it’s worth trekking all the way to Ghana for this. Oh yes, btw, Guiness AND condensed milk *swoon*

  7. Great blog! I’m so jealuos, though. We don’t even have the crappy jerk places here in Seattle. The Jamaicans mainly immigrate to the East Coast, especially New York. I will, however, take that train down to Thorton Heath and find Tasty Jerk the next time I’m in London. I love Guinness, but have never had Guinness Punch. What is it exactly?

    1. Hi Gene, it’s basically a very sweet drink consisting of Guinness, condensed milk and spices. Over lots of ice it’s very good at easing a mouth burned by hot sauce…

  8. Negril was very good, thanks for the recommendation! I had jerk chicken with plantain chips. The chicken was very tender but with crisp skin and very tasty and came with really nice gravy and hot sauce (if I’d been eating in I’d have had more of the hot sauce). I’d recommend it with the caveat that I have not eaten that much jerk to compare it with.

  9. Thanks Helen, I shall give it a go. Love the blog(s) by the way! They’re an amazing guide to eating in London for someone who’s not lived here long.

    1. Hey Tom, well Negril is supposed to be the best place in Brixton. It’s on Brixton Hill. I’ve not managed to get there yet so do let me know what you think if you try it.

  10. having left peckham over 7 years ago my belly hasn’t been graced with jerk anything since. the middle of effing nowhere in germany has nothing that would even remotely compare. this post has made me weep with envy.

  11. Eeek very excited that the Croydon one is pretty much down the road from me, I think some Friday night Jerk is in order! Thanks for this, love your writing.

  12. I may have to make the trek over the river to bandit country (South London) to try this. The two Jerk restaurants in Walthamstow are sub standard; mine (yours) is better!

    Your Jerk recipe has become an absolute staple in the Copley household, we have it at least two three times a month. We had it this Saturday, Jerk Belly Pork and Jerk Chicken.

    Are you going to unveil the new improved recipe soon?

    A

    1. I am really pleased to hear you enjoy the recipe so much. As for the new one…it’s complicated. Depends when I can get my act together to test it. Of course the weather is improving so now that’s more likely to happen..

  13. I haven’t made jerk chicken in a while – thanks for the post. I’m gonna have to serve some up soon alongside some black beans, rice and plantains. I’ve never actually made the sauce from scratch though. perhaps that should be my next step. Thanks again!

    Gary

  14. Helen – yes, I’ve made your jerk marinade before and it’s perfect. The excessive sugar really does the trick.

    Becs – where’s the place in Sheffield you’re talking about? Is it Zeugma (the small one, not the bigger one) on London Rd? I’ve had a many an amazing kofte from that place.

    Donald – is your Parisian Caribbean woman from the French islands? If so, you should ask her about poulet boucané. I’m off to Martinique next week and that’s the first stop: it’s kind of similar to jerk, but nowhere near as spicy, and where the Jamaicans smoke their meat over pimento, the French West Indians smoke their poulet over sugar cane. It’s bloody delicious.

    Caribbean food rules.

  15. Brilliant commitment to the jerk! Speaking of which, I marinaded the daylights out of some fowl with your jerk sauce a few weeks ago. Delicious – and sneeze-inducingly spicy!

  16. Awesome! I went to this last night based entirely on your recommendation. Involved cycling around for fifteen minutes in the rain trying to find it, but it was WELL WORTH IT. Thank you for the review.

    I consider myself fairly attuned to chilli heat, so clearly I asked for the pepper sauce. Man, that’s some fiery sauce – took me a while to recover.

  17. Loving the smoky picture! Who needs the 50 best restaurants anyway!
    It reminds me of this amazing Turkish grill we went to in Sheffield – apparently the grill used to be open but they’d put a plastic shield between the fire and the tables. There were black coal burns all over the floor right where our chairs were!

  18. Oh Guinness punch! Mmmmmmmmmmmm!

    When I next come home I’m hitting this place. No good jerk in Trinidad. Every stall here just barbecues their chicken with a bought paste. Not. Good.

    Incidentally, after trying many Caribbean pepper sauces (including lots of home made ones) we have decided that our favourite is Neville Edwards A1 from Barbados. It’s amazing. Sweet, hot, but not searing (which suggests to me they use some sugar – it’s Barbados, after all – and more peppers than just scotch bonnets). Beautiful.

    1. Hey Matt. I use rather a lot of sugar in my marinade, although I’ve recently decided to reduce it. That said, sugar makes a big difference, particularly if you don’t have a proper jerk drum; it basically ensures you get a good hit of flavour. That hit could otherwise have come from smoke, perhaps, or another aspect of the cooking method. If you don’t have that option however, a good whack of sugar is a sure fire way to go. As it often is…

  19. I should really go and have a chat with the lady at the Caribbean stall in my market and ask if she knows anywhere good in my quartier…

  20. I can imagine the business meeting. “Well guys, we have two very successful and very well regarded jerk shops in London. It’s time to expand!”

    “Great! Where are you thinking? Somewhere with more footfall but an eclectic enough customer base to appreciate good jerk. Soho? Camden? Or perhaps somewhere in Brixton Market?”

    “Accra!”

    “That’s….”

    “Ghana, yes. For too long the people of West Africa have been denied good Caribbean food.”

    It may not have actually happened like that but I like to think it did. Brilliant food though, and I’d go back just for that chilli sauce.

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