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Negril, Brixton Hill

Despite a legendary Caribbean heritage, I don’t find Brixton the best place to eat Caribbean food, especially in the evenings when the vans in Brixton Station Road are closed. Bamboula isn’t bad, but it doesn’t make me excited about jerk like the good stuff should. The only place that does that for dinner is Negril.

Well worth a walk up the Hill, you must remember to book as this unassuming spot gets packed out in the evenings. In summer this is partly because they have a lovely patio out front to while away a sunny evening, but mainly because Negril is simply great.

From the friendly welcoming reception when I phoned to book for a Friday night to the very end of the meal, I couldn’t fault anything about Negril. And by the look of it, the packed out patio, full restaurant and queue at the door all agreed with me. An unusual place in that it is equally good for non meat eaters and carnivores alike, Negril specialises in ital food and jerk chicken, along with many other Jamaican favourites served in healthy portions with a home made feel while feeling like a bit of a night out. It’s BYO, but also does a great selection of soft drinks and juices and doesn’t baulk at all when you ask for tap water, bringing us a jug of the stuff when we each asked for a glass. This thoughtfulness and willing got the meal off to a great start!

After checking we knew our way round the menu, our friendly and helpful waiter took our order for a half jerked chicken each with festival and coleslaw for me and plantain and rice and peas for my mum and provided glasses for our wine as the place filled up steadily and we got to listen to the world’s most irritating woman at the table next to us ponder why her date hadn’t called her again.

Before we both lost patience with her and told her the answer to her query, the food arrived and distracted us. A mound of crisp skinned flavoursome free range chicken appeared. On my plate there were two enormous pieces of festival, a dish of the best home-made coleslaw around and some rich glossy chicken gravy while my mum had heaps of fried plantain and rice and peas along with some fiery scotch bonnet sauce and barbeque sauce to accompany it.

The food was fantastic. You can really taste the difference that being free range makes to the chicken. Dark, flavoursome meat is complimented by a fantastic jerk rub filled with thyme, allspice and scotch bonnet that tingles nicely on the lips without making the eyes water. The rice and peas were subtly coconut infused and well spiced. The coleslaw is worth the trip alone and the festival made me very happy with its vanilla fragrance and crispy outer and was the perfect way to soak up the delicious gravy. The sauces tasted home-made and added a good kick if you like your chicken on the lively side.

Portions are generous, but that didn’t stop me clearing every scrap off my mine in record time because it was all just so good. My mum struggled more due to the more carb intense nature of her sides, leaving some of the plantain. Our waiter automatically offered her a doggy bag and despite every table now being full, appeared back straightaway with a cardboard carton of leftovers bagged up and ready to go. We couldn’t even think about the selection of desserts that included rum and raisin bread and butter pudding and tropical fruit salad, but lingered to finish our wine before settling the very reasonable bill.

A half chicken with two sides comes to £12.95 each which to me is great value and more worthwhile than the £22.95 sharing platter that comes with a 1/4 chicken each and a smaller, but wider variety of sides. But skip the chips and salad it offers and get stuck into the proper Jamaican offerings like the rice and peas, hardo bread or roti instead as they do them so well. They also do great sounding breakfasts at the weekend such as coconut French toast and Eggs Callaloo that I can’t wait to try.

If Negril was closer to my house, I’d be in there every week. Well cooked, good quality food delivered with friendly efficient service that manages to be helpful without being pushy and a great atmosphere, it ticks all the boxes a good neighbourhood restaurant should. Do yourself a favour and book a table immediately!

Negril
132 Brixton Hill, SW2 1RS
020 8674 8798

Jerk Cook Out, Brockwell Park

I have just returned from the outdoor food event of the year and one of the best reasons to live in South London: The Annual Jerk Cook Out. This feast of Carribbean food has outgrown its previous home at the Horniman Museum and is now hosted at Brockwell Park in Brixton, making it much easier to lure some hungry friends along to get stuck in!

We arrived just after one o’clock and things were building up nicely, but weren’t too packed. A quick saunter round eyeing up the offerings later and we joined the burgeoning queue at the Tasty Jerk Ltd stall. The busiest of all the stalls, we were also drawn by the magnificient jerk spit roast lamb out front and phalanx of jerk drums along the side of the stall. This was serious business.

The queue moved quickly and we just had time to decide on a jerk pork and jerk chicken, plus a helping of the lamb which I have never seen offered before. We got some rice and peas on the side of the pork too as it looked particularly moist and delicious. The pork and chicken was with us in a trice, but we did have wait about five minutes extra for the lamb, while the queue for the stall expanded rapidly.

Finally clutching our well filled plates, we found a spot to sample them and realised how worth the wait it had been. The pork was glorious. Stained as pink on the edges from peppers and sugar as char siu, it was soft and succulent enough to cut through with the rather flimsy plastic fork we were given. Tangy with chilli and deliciously charred and chewy from the barbeque, we loved it.

Jerk pork with rice and peas

The chicken was equally good. Cooked on the bone and roughly chopped into pieces there was a good mix between white and dark meat. It sparkled with the fruitiness of scotch bonnets and our lips tingled in no time, especially when we scooped up some of the homemade chilli sauce on the side.

Jerk chicken

But the star of the stall was the jerk lamb. We’d managed to get pretty much the first serving (thanks to E and S for waiting it out!) off the spit roast and our thickly carved slices were a good proportion of crispy skin and juicy, still slightly pink meat. The skin was rich with fat, musky allspice and sweet chillis, melding beautifully with the luscious meat, dripping sweet juice down our hands as we feasted on slice after slice of the lamb. Not only is this the best jerk I’ve ever eaten, it’s some of the best lamb I’ve ever eaten. I would definitely venture all the way to South Norwood any day of the week for this, especially at the bargain price of £5 per plate without sides!

Lovely lamb...

With empty plates in front of us and a mountain of wet wipes to show how hands on we’d been, we moved on before the the ever growing queue for Tasty Jerk Ltd trampled us. Another wander between the stalls led us in search of jerk ribs, but watching them grown cold and unappealing as we queued put us off. We contemplated trying something totally different with a refreshing shaved ice, but our eyes were caught by a stall advertising jerk brie…

Utterly intrigued, especially by the cute little V for vegetarian beside it, we just had to try it. And since we were getting it, we thought we might as well get some festival and fried plaintain as well to add some carbs to our feast! And we are glad we did! Partly to see how one jerks cheese and partly because it was actually delicious!

Festival of carbs!

Goo-on then!

The sweet creamy brie went very well with the spicy jerk breadcrumbs it was wrapped in before being deep fried. The cheese was gorgeously gooey and molten inside and if it wasn’t so rich, I could have eaten another one! But I wanted to leave room for the delicious festival, which if you haven’t had it, is like a less sweet version of a doughnut. Carbs finished we strolled round checking out the rest of the stalls, debating whether to go back to Tasty Jerk Ltd, but being scared off by how big it had got! Feeling more than replete and with still tingling lips, we decided to avoid the increasing crowds and head home before it all got too stressful for one’s digestion!

I’ve already put next year’s Cook Out in my diary already and will be there bright and early next year to make sure I’m first in line again for that jerk lamb. I’ll also remember to bring something to sit on and a few beers to go with it!

Bamboula, Brixton

The first sunny summery Friday night of the year found my friend L and I hungry for Carribbean food in Brixton. Too late for the stalls and shops around Brixton Village, we decided to try the Brixton institution that is Bamboula. Tucked away opposite the Town Hall, its bright frontage brings a bit of cheer to the bottom of Acre Lane and some home cooked charm to Brixton.

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