Where: Cottons Rhum Shack, Boxpark, Shoreditch, London
When: A summer evening (June 2013)
Why: 21st Birthday celebration
Having moved back to London in the early hours of the morning I relied upon loyalty and a tonne of concealer to motivate me to leave my house and not sleep all night long. But owing to my love of my friend and the occasion I ran off to Ladywell station and began my journey to the venue.
The restaurant is located at the über cool boxpark in hipster heaven, Shoreditch. It is therefore a very intimate venue that houses additional seating on the outdoor area of the decking. We had a table just inside the enclosed restaurant area, placed within close proximity of the DJ booth that played old school hip-hop for the evening.
The first striking feature of the rhum shack is the authentic, stylistic décor. Diners are transported to the warm hues of a Caribbean cabin with the wooden panelled walls and rustic features. The walls are mounted with shelves displaying ingredients and vintage posters that maintain the retro feel. The vibe is instantly chilled with the restaurant attracting a cross section of Shoreditch locals and travelling Londoners. Its hidden location makes it a nice change from the more generic restaurant chains on the high street.
Our group of 8 ordered a range of cocktails that were all delicious and reasonably priced. The table was laid with baskets of heavenly soft hard dough bread and butter that we annihilated immediately. With most of us opting to just order mains the birthday girl decided to try their saltfish fritters as a starter. Saltfish fritters or bakes as bajans call them, are my aunty’s signature h’or duerves at our family functions and are something of a main event. The golden capsules of sizzling saltfish feature finely chopped chillies and are lightly fried until crisp on the outside and fluffy and smooth on the inside. Biting into the Rhum shack fritters was instantly disappointing; it was more like a dumpling with the subtle memory of fish that occurs when you prepare two meals on one surface. Whilst the price of saltfish has risen steadily, there is no excuse for passing off dumplings as fritters. Needless to say, I was offended.
I ordered the BBQ chicken served with rice and peas, coleslaw, plantain and salad. We all sat with grumbling stomachs for almost an hour before our food made an appearance. Considering it was a Friday night in summer and the restaurant was filled to capacity I could understand the wait and hoped the food would be worth it. Heart wrenchingly, it was not.
Now the presentation was impressive, the quarter chicken glistened with the BBQ glaze that was served with an accompanying gravy boat for extra marinating. I appreciated that the rice was separated from the rest of the food for the all the people with OCD-esque eating routines. Sinking my teeth into the chicken I could have cried, sobbed, wept. It looked so good but unfortunately it was a mirage. The seasoning had not had enough long time to penetrate the flesh which meant that the glaze gave way to thick, chalky anguish.
With the kind of dryness that would give turkey a run for its money, I turned to the rice in hope of salvation. The rice was similarly disappointing. Rice and peas are meant to be beautifully aromatic and contrast the chicken. In this case the chef obviously didn’t use any creamed coconut and perhaps not enough water. The rice was the sun to the chicken’s desert. In a very weird turn the coleslaw was on the matte side of juicy too, with only the salad and the plantain redeeming the dish. I could have happily eaten a pile of the plantain as it was cooked exactly how I like it; soft, sweet with crisp golden edges.
The meal was dismal but I had a good time celebrating my friends birthday. The atmosphere and waiters were welcoming and the music was a good backdrop to the night. The volume of the music meant there was a lot of awkward shouting going on which made us all a little more attentive. Ultimately, if this is your first time sampling Caribbean cuisine, for the love of God, do not go here. For a deliciously affordable meal, the Black Hummingbird in Forest Hill is incredible while The Mango Room in Camden offers gourmet Caribbean dishes in a stylish artistic venue.
While Cottons has a lovely vibe my tastebuds were urging me to swing by the nearest McDonalds on the way home, which is never a good thing. Whilst I’m a religious woman, I don’t think the valley of the dry bones should be strolling into my mind mid-meal. Great drinks, bad food.