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Friday, 14 August 2015

From Camden to Springfield by way of Bayou Soul!

Now, despite living around the corner from Camden (5 minutes by tube obviously now equates to around the corner because I've been living in London for too long and compared to the average 40 - 60 minute trek, this is but a stones throw away from my bed!), I rarely get too excited about the culinary scene outside of the plentiful, varied and colourful grab and go grub around Stables Markets, Camden Lock and inbetween! Thus far too, this has been entirely acceptable because there are many other weird and wonderful delights worth hitting up here, namely a sand filled, deck chair clad, container chic city beach at Camden Beach on the mezzanine roof of the Roundhouse; outdoor movies at Back Yard Cinema tucked up a side street off Camden Lock, and vintage hair styling at Dappa Boutique to name but a few!

More recently, edible treats have gotten a little more exciting and atop of the pizza slice, chow mein and fajita classics, emblematic of the markets, you can now explore liquid nitro ice cream at Chin Chin Labs, and gorge on some of the nicest burgers outside of the otherwise superior MEATliquor empire at the ever wonderful Hache, hiding discretely up Inverness Street. Hell, even Gordon Ramsey has opened a beach hut at the York & Albany! I've also had a pretty superb night eating crocodile, boar, ostrich, springbok, boerwors and zebra, beating my way through a drum workshop at Shaka Zulu (while this particular restaurant is dark and atmospheric, it's absolutely huge by cavernous proportions and may lack vibes if it's not a busy night, so be warned!). I was most recently in search of soul food though, inspired by an earlier trip to America (see next para), so off I trotted, back to Inverness Street to a self-proclaimed mecca for all things southern comfort. Bayou Soul opened in June last year (2014) as an all-day Creole bar serving up a variety of Southern American chow, tipples and live tunes.

To set the scene and give some context to this craving: in March of 2014, I found myself in the buttsend of Springfield, Massachusetts (don't ask!), and despite the resounding loss of social stability in a town once famed for many an innovation, invention or creation (the first American musket was made here, if you're interested!), there were still a few morsels of sheer joy to be found. GRITS! Yes, you heard me...Double Cheese Grits & Cornmeal Coated Catfish in particular ($12.95). What an unbridled pleasure and how pleased I was to add to the already bulging catalogue of most loved foodstuffs - evidently, it seems that peasant food from around the world is most frequently what I rave about the most and now, who would've thought that mushy cornmeal could taste so good?! British pies, Caribbean plantain, Polish pierogi, Spanish omelette, Italian pasta, French cheese, Canadian poutine, Swedish meatballs, Indian paratha, Nepali momo, and now grits! The list just relentlessly keeps growing! Thank you Big Mamou for broadening my horizons in the least anticipated city I've ever visited!

Incidentally, if you ever happen to very randomly find yourself passing through Springfield, MA, it just so happens to be the national home of basketball, so you might want to visit the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame; it's also the home of Dr. Suess, so a visit around the Springfield Museums would'nt be the worst thing in the world to do either. Suffice it to say though, a culinary hotpot this was not, so the search for anything edible was a challenge. Aside from Big MamouThe Federal in Agawam had the largest dishes of supremely delicious and finely cooked ingredients in the area [that I found], so if Mamou is where you have brunch, this should be where you should eat ALL your dinners!

Back to Camden then, I spied grits in a variety of forms at Bayou, so I was excited to be reminded of my American food porn find! The overall menu is a grand old thing here, oozing with jambalya, gumbo, Creole chicken and crawfish to name but a few delights. The website also screams authentic southern soul, with live blues and Mardri Gras jazz performances throughout the week, so what could possibly go wrong?!

What is going on with the décor please, kind sir?! I had hoped to be transported into a Creole creation in the heart of Cajun country. Instead, what I got, was one part dodge furniture store + two parts "what were you thinking?!" Not at all offensive you understand, but absolutely not what I had expected from one of the very few London-based US-of-A deep south inspired kitchens. Outside was great and promising, but inside was a little confused with a gold Baroque mirror, deep mauve walls, IKEA light fittings and contemporary striped upholstered seating. I'm frowning as I write this...

Décor aside, the cocktail menu was heavy on the Bourbon and suitably awesome! The gin-based Mardi Gras (£7.50) was a mouthwatering combination of gin, sake, grapes, lychee, lime and sugar (delicious, truly), and the New Orleans Fizz was superb (also £7.50). If I liked dark spirits, I would have gone mad for the Bacon & Maple Syrup Old Fashioned, Bayou Julep, New Orleans Dirty Mule and Sazerac. Quite frankly, the booze menu is brimming with enough subliminal perfection to keep you suitably inebriated in a haze of saxophone and piano tones for a week!

Spinach Madeleine (£7)
Spinach, cheese & grits + tomato & parmesan croutons
This may sound ridiculous, but the BBQ Shrimps (£7.50) were a little too fishy for my taste and the biscuits were a too hard compared to others I've tasted in the past, but might I say, everything else I shoved my face into was a delight! Spinach Madeleine (£7) was an epic way to serve cheesy and rich grits, while the Shrimp & Chicken Gumbo (£13 / £24) was wholesome, tasty and supremely comforting; and the Creole Chicken Burger (£11) was generous and succulent - it could've maybe had a little more flavour in the marinade and I wish the fries were either skin-on or sweet potato to add to the theme, but I'm remain relatively ambivalent. As an aside (quite literally!), all side dishes were a triumph at only £3 a pop...Mississippi Coleslaw, Creole Potatoes, Dirty Rice and Gritcakes. Super! The jeans that used to be loose on me can no longer be zipped up (much to my intense horror!), so it would've been one step too far to also try the Lobster & Crawfish Mac n Cheese (£16), but this doesn't stop the immense regret I continue to feel!

Overall, I love the concept of this place and I wish we could see more of it in London! I will be back for the live music, cocktails and aforementioned mac & cheese, but for pity's sake, can you please do something with the interior design?!

BBQ Shrimps & Biscuit (£7.50)
King prawns + garlic, white wine & chilli's + biscuits
Chicken Creole (£11)
Grilled Creole chicken fillet + chipotle mayonnaise + cheese
Vegetable Gumbo (£13 / £24)
Slow cooked casserole Louisana style + dirty rice
Creole Potatoes (£3)
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