50 Stoke Newington Road, London N16 Tel: 020 7249 9930
I don't know whether you've been watching the reruns of the 1990s Peckham-set sitcom Desmond's on London Live, but it's worth it for the theme tune alone. Played over footage of early Caribbean migrants stepping on to British docks, "Don't Scratch My Soca" – performed by Norman Beaton, who played the titular barber-shop owner – distilled into four lines the nostalgia of the Windrush generation. "From the long warm nights with an ocean breeze/ To the damp and to the rain of London city/ We come from the sun to live in the cold/ I miss me rum, I want my coconut tree."
Every immigrant community in London remembers its heritage by cooking it daily, my parents included. Some of the more inventive types serve it on plates, give it to others, and charge them for it; this is why London has the most diverse gastronomy of any city today.
Certain cuisines have dominated this collective act of remembrance – what we call "curry" being prime among them. Caribbean cuisine, of the sort Beaton's generation loved, isn't one of them. We have wonderful Jamaican and Bajan takeaways, but not a restaurant that could be called one of London's best. Until now, that is.
Rudie's does Caribbean classics with exuberance, panache and no little technical precision. Plantain crisps (£3) are served with jerk ketchup, the first hint of a Scotch bonnet aroma that will recur throughout the meal. Four tiny vegetable patties (£3.50) are soft, hot and moreish; and cheese and cassava croquettes are, like the other starters, served golden-brown.
An order of small plates are comforting, soulful and profound, much like the Wailers' early recordings. Jerk calamari (£7.50) comes with a zinging lime and coriander dip; bammy bruschetta (£7) have finely chopped tomatoes, coriander, mint, and chunky but not too chewy flakes of succulent salt cod; and the ackee and saltfish bakes (£7.50) are scintillating. On the plate they look like scrambled egg on toast, but the mild fruit flavour of this Jamaican staple lets the fish do the talking. The ingredients taste supremely fresh, which is half the trick with tropical-island cuisine.
Peppa shrimp (£9.75) is broiled king prawns served over spinach in a nostril-flaring chilli sauce. It takes about 10 minutes to feel normal again after biting into this – but any one of a very fine range of rum-based cocktails helps relieve the pain and heat; each comes with a paragraph of colonial history, which I'm all in favour of. The paragraph, that is, not the colonialism.
The mains are better still. There are three grill options (cheeseburger, lobster and swordfish), which we avoid to focus on the main attraction: "Yard classic" curried goat, which comes in a mild sauce with potatoes. I'd have liked double the goat and half the potatoes, but I'm greedy. We also have a Ya Man! Platter, jerk chicken, pork and lamb with red cabbage slaw. My mate Beardy notes that the lamb is just a fraction dry, but the pork is the best mouthful I've had for quite a while. Served with three magnificent sauces – jerk ketchup (mild), banana pepper (medium, amazing), papaya (hot) – it is sloppy, spicy, tender, and perfectly seasoned.
All the sides are great. Sweet-potato fries are served just so: skins on, fluffy interior, piping hot, not over-salted, distinctly sweet. That takes skill, and real attention to detail. Top spot here, though, goes to an avocado, mango and cucumber salad (£3.50), and kale-aloo (£3), a pun on the leaf vegetable callaloo. Think Swiss chard, but under the Caribbean sun.
On the dessert menu is a Jamaican ring cake with rum caramel sauce (£6.75), and a stonking banana-custard crème brûlée (£6.50) that takes me straight back to Bequia, the exquisite Grenadine island where my wife and I spent half our honeymoon.
All night, as if I'm not happy enough, they bang out reggae classics. Affordable, warm, joyful, spicy, diligently attended, technically accomplished, fruity, sublime: this is better than any meal I had last year. Oh, how I wish Beaton had lived to see it. I'd have asked him to join me at the bar for a long, warm night of piña coladas and soca.
Rudie's, 50 Stoke Newington Road, London N16 Tel: 020 7249 9930, £70 for two, with cocktails
Four more foodie notes from the past week
This oily paste made from sesame seeds is a signature of Israeli cuisine. Palomar in Soho does the best I've had.
Banana and chocolate cake
My wife made one of these, from a winning Jamie Oliver recipe. And it was ridiculously good.
Wonderful at this time of year. Healthy, warming, and done nicely at an Italian near my new gaff.
Palo Cortado sherry
Another fabulous winter warmer. Only a tenner from Waitrose, it has a really lovely, nutty flavour.
- More about:
- Norman Beaton
- London Live
- Amol Rajan
- Palo Cortado sherry
- Jamie Oliver