When a friend proposed a one-week trip to Jamaica recently I almost didn't go because of my fears about the local cuisine. I'd only been to the Caribbean once before--to Harbour Island--and the food was so disgusting I lost over a stone. However, Jamaica turned out to be a different kettle of tropical fish altogether. I was particularly taken with jerk chicken--a piece of fowl that's been marinated overnight in various spices and then slow-cooked on a barbecue. I returned to London with a suitcase full of Walkerswood Traditional Jamaican Jerk Seasoning, the Chateauneuf du Pape of the genre.
You can imagine my delight, therefore, when I discovered that Walkerswood owns a restaurant in Brixton. The Bamboula Jerk Kitchen is situated on Acre Lane, within spitting distance of the Ritzy, and can justifiably claim to be the Ivy of SW2. When the West Indies cricket team were last in London, they shunned the food in their hotel and had Bamboula deliver a hamper full of jerk chicken instead.
"There are very few Caribbean Caribbean restaurants in London as opposed to Australian-owned restaurants serving Caribbean food," says Roddy Edwards, the Chairman of Walkerswood. "Bamboula is the real McCoy."
It doesn't look like much from the outside--and, indeed, the first time I passed it I missed it altogether. When the sun is shining there are tables and chairs on the pavement, but it was raining on the day I went and, as a result, all the patrons were crammed into the small dining room. It's so popular that even on a Tuesday lunchtime I had to book to make sure of a table.
Inside, it isn't all that different from one of the numerous jerk centres lining the roadsides in Jamaica. There are palm fronds in the window and banana tree leaves painted on the tables. The food is served from a little bamboo bar and, to add to the relaxed, laid-back atmosphere, various punches are on offer all day, including Guinness punch, a popular tipple back in the home country.
They don't bother with starters at lunchtime in the Caribbean--it's too hot for a lengthy meal--so I plunged straight into my main course, opting for the "Hungry Man" special. This consisted of half a chicken, liberally coated in jerk sauce, accompanied by rice, peas and plantain. It wasn't gourmet food by any stretch of the imagination, but it was a good, hearty meal and, at less than £6, excellent value.
The first time I tried jerk chicken I was worried that it might come back to haunt me a few hours later. This has always been my experience when I've ventured into Nandos and opted for piri piri chicken. But jerk seasoning is surprisingly mild, the Caribbean equivalent of a korma. Admittedly, the spicy taste stays with you long after you've digested the chicken, but I quite like that. As for my stomach, so far I've had no complaints and, much to my wife's annoyance, I now slather everything I eat in jerk sauce. It's taken the place of tomato ketchup in the Young household.
On my return from Jamaica, I decided to try the local fast food chain--Island Grill--in Kingston Airport. I hadn't ventured into one of these places before since they looked a little too modest. However, the bucket of chicken I opted for turned out to be one of the best fast food meals I've ever had and it came as no surprise to learn that Island Grill owns 20% of the Bamboula Jerk Kitchen.
This unassuming little gem has been serving up delicious Caribbean food to the people of Brixton for seven years now and it's about time the rest of London had a chance to sample it. Chris Blackwell, if you're reading this, please take note. Bamboula could fill the gap left by the slow decline of Kentucky Fried Chicken. At the very least, it would knock Nandos into a pork pie hat.