King Creole

RESTAURANT A soul star on the horizon

Located in an unfashionable backwater of Maida Vale, Fats is a tiny restaurant with a great big soul. Opened two months ago, it proclaims itself a purveyor of "Cuisine: Cajun - Creole - Caribbean". With only five tables inside, most of its trade at the moment is take-away, but they are soon to open a new basement extension. An effort has been made to turn this simple storefront with its wooden tables, blue-painted armchairs and red paper napkins into a relaxing venue for lunch or dinner. The place is jammed nightly with locals who queue up at the steel counter for some of London's most "soulful" home cooking - delicious chicken creole, "reggae ackee", seafood gambo, rice and peas, vegetable dumplings and Chef Sam's onion loaf.

Most large cities in the United States have at least one restaurant that serves "soul food" - sometimes called "Southern cooking" or in other areas (Kansas, Texas) "barbecue" - to a mixed clientele of black and white customers. Its signature dishes include fried chicken, barbecued spare ribs and "smothered" pork chops, deep-fried okra and sweet potato pie, and it has always been cooked best by black Americans. Although similar, it is not the same cuisine that became trendy in the mid-Eighties under the label "Cajun", not the "blackened" fish and steaks, the rice-based, spiced stews called gumbos and jambalayas popularised by some leading white New Orleans chefs. Indeed, while Cajun cooking was quickly adopted by white middle-class Americans, the popularity of true soul food remains largely restricted to the black American community.

In London, there are a couple of so-called Cajun or Creole restaurants, although many have closed in recent years, having failed to sustain a loyal following with their pallid versions of a spicy regional cuisine that has great difficulty surviving away from its bayou roots in southern Louisiana. There is, however, a substantial Afro-Caribbean community in Britain and there have been a number of Caribbean restaurants founded here over the years (London has Smokey Joe's and the Brixtonian). If this country has true soul food, then it must follow that it be Afro- Caribbean in character.

The chef at Fats, Sam Antoine, is from the island of St Lucia. He worked as a chef for the Cunard Line for more than ten years and brings to his Cajun and Creole dishes a wonderful combination of traditional knowledge and innovative skills. I believe Sam Antoine is a potential new star on the horizon of the British culinary world; don't be surprised if, in 18 months' time, he's got his own television programme.

"A lot of restaurants open and are fine for three months," he says. "Then they start to slip away. I am very fussy about quality. When I go to bed, I am thinking about cooking. When I wake up, I am still thinking about cooking. I want the food we serve here to be the same at all times." To this end, the small kitchen at Fats is absolutely stuffed full of fledgling chefs in immaculate white uniforms and hats who are being trained by Mr Antoine to produce the same high-quality cooking "so that I can take a day off once in a while. At the moment, I can't leave my restaurant."

The night we ate at Fats was one of the hottest August evenings in London's history. As a result, none of the delicious and intriguing-sounding soups were on offer: pumpkin, cow heel, callaloo and vegetable. "When the weather changes, I'm going to cook some wonderful soup for people," Mr Antoine promises.

We went straight to the main courses, eaten with numerous side dishes. I had lamb Debullion which was "smothered lamb chops" in a rich dark Creole sauce studded with spinach, carrots, celery, onions, garlic, rosemary and other mystery spices. The lamb itself - Antoine uses only Halal meat and no pork products in his kitchen - was tender rib chops that had been marinated, then broiled, then casseroled so that they were packed with flavour, not at all greasy, and the meat fell off the bone. Moreover, I had about eight chops in my dish! My wife ordered chicken St Lucia which turned out to be a huge platter of boneless chicken in a thick curry-like sauce composed of ginger, garlic, thyme, cinnamon and coriander, laced with coconut milk and rum. It wasn't Indian or Thai or Malaysian, but it was worthy of all three cuisines at their very best.

To accompany these dishes we ordered a plain roti: a large sheet of unleavened bread which Antoine fills with the spicy split-pea powder called dahl puri. He traces this bread to Trinidad and Guyana, and also serves it wrapped around fillings (beef, mutton, seafood, chicken), much like a Caribbean burrito. The yam side dish was glutinous and heavy, almost like tofu, and a good counter-balance for spicy sauces. I had an order of vegetable dumplings; dense white boiled dough torpedoes covered in a tasty melange of mushrooms, tomato and other vegetables. Finally, we had a dish of steamed garden greens, emerald in colour, finely chopped, cooked just enough to avoid a soupy consistency, at once refreshing and very healthy. In American soul food, these would have been flavoured with bits of ham hock. I missed that smokiness in their flavour, but there are enough fireworks in the rest of Mr Antoine's cooking to stop it being a major loss.

If there is failure at Fats, it comes with the puddings. Mr Antoine acknowledges this and says he intends to replace the current selection of rather lacklustre bought-in pastries and pecan pie with his own desserts. At the moment, the one original sweet you can order is a corn meal ponnie - a steamed tube of corn meal drenched in honey. It should satisfy anyone with a craving for nursery puddings, although it is a bit heavy for the summer months.

Fats is not yet licensed to serve alcohol, but there is an off-licence next door and you can bring your own without corkage. A fascinating range of fruit punches is served, many using milk and exotic soursop juice. The service during our visit was awfully pretty and sweet, our young waitress could not have been more helpful if she had had five year's experience in a Swiss hotel. As it was, I think she was just starting her career. Finally, there was the cost. Dinner for two, not including drinks or service, came to pounds 23. That is more than it would have cost us to take Fats' food away, but it still sent a shiver right through my soul

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Life and Style
Powdered colors are displayed for sale at a market ahead of the Holi festival in Bhopal, India
techHere's what you need to know about the riotous occasion
Arts and Entertainment
Larry David and Rosie Perez in ‘Fish in the Dark’
theatreReview: Had Fish in the Dark been penned by a civilian it would have barely got a reading, let alone £10m advance sales
Details of the self-cleaning coating were published last night in the journal Science
Approved Food sell products past their sell-by dates at discounted prices
Life-changing: Simone de Beauvoir in 1947, two years before she wrote 'The Second Sex', credited as the starting point of second wave feminism
peopleHer seminal feminist polemic, The Second Sex, has been published in short-form to mark International Women's Day
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Finance Assistant / Credit Controller

    £16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are an award-winning digit...

    Ashdown Group: Senior VMware Platform Engineer - VMware / SAN / Tier3 DC

    £45000 - £55000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior VMware Platform En...

    Recruitment Genius: Purchasing Assistant

    £10000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A distributor of specialist ele...

    Recruitment Genius: Sales Ledger Assistant

    £17000 - £19000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A distributor of specialist ele...

    Day In a Page

    Homeless Veterans campaign: Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after £300,000 gift from Lloyds Bank

    Homeless Veterans campaign

    Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after huge gift from Lloyds Bank
    Flight MH370 a year on: Lost without a trace – but the search goes on

    Lost without a trace

    But, a year on, the search continues for Flight MH370
    Germany's spymasters left red-faced after thieves break into brand new secret service HQ and steal taps

    Germany's spy HQ springs a leak

    Thieves break into new €1.5bn complex... to steal taps
    International Women's Day 2015: Celebrating the whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

    Whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

    Simone de Beauvoir's seminal feminist polemic, 'The Second Sex', has been published in short-form for International Women's Day
    Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

    Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

    Why would I want to employ someone I’d be happy to have as my boss, asks Simon Kelner
    Confessions of a planespotter: With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent

    Confessions of a planespotter

    With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent. Sam Masters explains the appeal
    Russia's gulag museum 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities

    Russia's gulag museum

    Ministry of Culture-run site 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities
    The big fresh food con: Alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay

    The big fresh food con

    Joanna Blythman reveals the alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay
    Virginia Ironside was my landlady: What is it like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7?

    Virginia Ironside was my landlady

    Tim Willis reveals what it's like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7
    Paris Fashion Week 2015: The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp

    Paris Fashion Week 2015

    The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp
    8 best workout DVDs

    8 best workout DVDs

    If your 'New Year new you' regime hasn’t lasted beyond February, why not try working out from home?
    Paul Scholes column: I don't believe Jonny Evans was spitting at Papiss Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible

    Paul Scholes column

    I don't believe Evans was spitting at Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible
    Miguel Layun interview: From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

    From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

    Miguel Layun is a star in Mexico where he was criticised for leaving to join Watford. But he says he sees the bigger picture
    Frank Warren column: Amir Khan ready to meet winner of Floyd Mayweather v Manny Pacquiao

    Khan ready to meet winner of Mayweather v Pacquiao

    The Bolton fighter is unlikely to take on Kell Brook with two superstar opponents on the horizon, says Frank Warren
    War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

    Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

    Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable