It may be cold outside, but you'll warm up nicely if you slip out of that heavy overcoat and into the cosiness of Cottons says Serena Mackesy

It's odd how cuisines grow up in one part of the world and turn out to be ideally suited to completely different weather conditions. The sun turns blistering, and we chow down on tons of gravadlax-style raw-fish dishes favoured as Christmas starters by the Scandiwegians, and the scent of burning prawns wafts over our cityscapes as we huddle beneath umbrellas and insist on going ahead with the barbie. There are also two nationalities of food that make immeasurable improvements to the damp of the British winter: a nice thick curry with Peshwari naan and a hot hit of the Caribbean.

In a sharp northern breeze on the hill just below Chalk Farm Station lurks the small and cheerful frontage of Cottons, a long-established bar-restaurant that serves food that will make your eyes water, both metaphorically and, in the case of the jerk chicken (pounds 7.95), literally. The friend I ate with grew up in Africa and was still waving his hand in front of his mouth while proclaiming its goodness. (The name, by the way, came from the fact that the spices are meant to be hot enough to make you jerk your head when you first bite in. Much jerk in the UK has been toned down for the European palate and can be a bit disappointing - but not here.)

This old townhouse, very long and very narrow, has been stripped of plaster on some walls and painted in warm Atlantic-clashing colours on others. In the tiny bar at the front, you can while away a happy evening trying out an amazing selection of rum punches, though don't expect to walk very far afterwards, unless you've lined your stomach with some food. Which is not difficult: the menu isn't long, but its choice, and portions, are generous: goat curry with rice in peas comes to pounds 10.90 and is unfinishable by one person, a soup-like prawn and mussel starter, which combines all possible flavours - sweet, savoury and hot - is pounds 13.90 for two and worth every penny. All served with a casual and touching protectiveness (both about quantity and heat) that leaves you glowing, both inside and out.

Cottons, 55 Chalk Farm Rd, NW1 (0171-482 1096)

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