Way down yonder in New Orleans is where I thought I was for most of the night in the Blues Kitchen eating gumbo, cornbread, pumpkin pie and everything else that was on Elvis Presley’s last supper wish list, writes Michael Holland.
Myself and Janet were there to celebrate Thanksgiving in this American diner, without a clue what Thanksgiving was or how we should be celebrating it. Fortunately for us there was a fixed menu with a fixed price, so we didn’t have to trouble ourselves too much other than to say to a wonderful procession of cheerful serving staff, ‘Bring it on! And bring it on they did.
Who knew that gumbo was a delicious stew of tender meat in gravy, with okra and rice involved, or that the cornbread that we’ve heard Americans talk about in films for years is just like the cake they used to hand out for school dinners. However, in Blues Kitchen they liven the cornbread up with a little jalapeño, which I thought was a stroke of genius. It was that small addition that exposed Janet as someone who can’t handle a little bit of chilli. Through weeping eyes she asked the waiter ‘Can I have the recipe, please, but without the hot stuff included…!’
We were both impressed with that opening number. And equally impressed with our wines. I opted for a nice, full-bodied Malbec, while my dining companion had a sauvignon blanc. ‘Ooh, that’s nice,’ she said.
As we chatted about old friends, work and all that stuff, murals of John Lee Hooker, James Brown, Leadbelly and other old Blues legends looked down upon us. Returning the look I noticed that most of the tables had Reserved signs on them. A big night was planned. A band warmed up and quite quickly the place began filling up with young people who may not even know who these Blues maestros were but appeared to like their music playing through the sound system.
All of a sudden there was a flurry of staff with plates and cutlery, and a large sharing platter of food appeared between us. Wow! That was a lot of food. And a lot of it was unknown to our English eyes, but with the menu and our taste buds we eventually worked out what it was we were eating. The deep-fried turkey was nice and juicy, the mac & cheese seemed out of place, the stuffing worked, as did the cranberry jelly, but the crispy onions were not something we thought we would order again. – Too crispy and not oniony enough. But we both thought the green bean dish was exceptionally nice. Overall, this was a night for friends to gather round tables full of food and drink to catch up and give thanks to being young and in Brixton. And that is a winning combination because the Blues Kitchen was full of young people having a good time. What’s not to like?
After doing our best to work our way through this platter the point came when we could not carry on. Plus, there was a dessert to deal with…
Another glass of wine each was called on, a few more Blues and R&B tracks played out, and two Pumpkin Pies landed, loaded up with mini marshmallows. Janet steamed in, with a yelp of, ‘I’ve never had pumpkin before,’ and quickly finished if off before declaring pumpkin a winner.
This was the food of the American heartland rather than the east and west coasts where they count the calories of air. This was traditional food. I don’t know how close it was to that first dinner of Thanksgiving when the Pilgrims sat round a table and felt good about their new life, but it was good enough for us.
I had some of that lovely turkey boxed up for a carry out, so I can once more give thanks to turkey and the Blues, and think of that Mayflower crew who, like Janet and myself, came from Rotherhithe.
Blues Kitchen, 40 Acre Lane, Brixton, SW2 5SP
www.blueskitchen.com – 020 7274 0591
Mon-Thur 5:00pm-12:00am; Fri 5:00pm-2:30am; Sat 10:00am-3:00am; Sun 10:00am-10:30pm
TFood 3 Stars
Value 3 Stars
Ambience 4.5 Stars
Disabled Access Yes
Disabled Toilet Yes
Photos: Justin De Souza