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
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
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: Clinical Lead / RGN

    £40000 - £42000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

    Recruitment Genius: IT Sales Consultant

    £35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT support company has a n...

    Recruitment Genius: Works Engineer

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A works engineer is required in a progressive ...

    Recruitment Genius: Trainee Hire Manager - Tool Hire

    £21000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our client is seeking someone w...

    Day In a Page

    Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

    How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

    Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
    Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

    'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

    In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
    Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

    The Arab Spring reversed

    Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
    King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

    Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

    Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
    Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

    Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

    However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
    Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

    Why are we addicted to theme parks?

    Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
    Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

    Iran is opening up again to tourists

    After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
    10 best PS4 games

    10 best PS4 games

    Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
    Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

    Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

    Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
    Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

    ‘Can we really just turn away?’

    Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
    Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

    Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

    ... and not just because of Isis vandalism
    Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

    Girl on a Plane

    An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
    Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

    Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

    The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent
    Markus Persson: If being that rich is so bad, why not just give it all away?

    That's a bit rich

    The billionaire inventor of computer game Minecraft says he is bored, lonely and isolated by his vast wealth. If it’s that bad, says Simon Kelner, why not just give it all away?
    Euro 2016: Chris Coleman on course to end half a century of hurt for Wales

    Coleman on course to end half a century of hurt for Wales

    Wales last qualified for major tournament in 1958 but after several near misses the current crop can book place at Euro 2016 and end all the indifference