ʽʽHi, I’m Benjamin Nunn – critic, gourmand and author of Ben Viveur. I like to eat and drink. And cook. And write.

You might have read me in an in-flight magazine, or a beer publication, but here on my own blog I'm liberated from the editorial shackles of others so anything goes.

I deal with real food and drink in the real world, aiming to create recipes that taste awesome, but which can be created by mere mortals without the need for tons of specialist equipment and a doctorate in food science. Likewise, I tend to review relaxed establishments that you might visit on a whim without having to sell your first-born, rather than hugely expensive restaurants and style bars in the middle of nowhere with a velvet rope barrier, a stringent dress code and a six-month waiting list!

There's plenty of robust opinion, commentary on the world of food and drink, and lots of swearing, so look away now if you're easily offended.

Otherwise, tuck your bib in, fill your glass and turbo-charge your tastebuds. We're going for a ride... Ben Appetit!
ʼʼ

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Who's the real jerk?

Compared to many foodie blogsters, I'm not usually all that bothered about 'service' in restaurants.

Most of the time, if the food is good it'll take a lot to make me notice that other departments are lacking and even when I do notice, I take a pretty relaxed view. 

So this review of The Real Jerk on Streatham Hill is going to be a bit of a strange one, because stuff other than the food has actually been bad enough for me to actually notice and indeed care about it!

Tings can only get better?

The first time I visited, about 18 months ago (not long after they first took over the premises from a longstanding mid-market Indian Restaurant called Pukka) we had booked a table for lunch, only for the restaurant to not even be open when we turned up on time.

Jerk Combo
Jerk Chicken and Pork combo meal (£18)

Apart from that the service was incredibly slow (over an hour from ordering to arrival) and the food rather good.

Having long planned a re-visit with a view to write-up, we decided to go along yesterday evening to take advantage of the 'Eat Out to Help Out' scheme, which seemed liked a particularly good idea because it's price-point is at the sweet spot where everyone should just about save the full tenner but not have to pay a huge amount over that.

However, while the Real Jerk was very much open this time, the initial disappointment came upon learning that they weren't doing EOtoHO at all, which is a shame because it doesn't cost them anything to participate in the scheme.

So, we're off to a bad start again. And yet, once again, the food was enjoyable. If you're in the Streatham area and have a hankering for any of the Caribbean classics - Jerk Chicken, Curry Goat, Ackee and Saltfish or even just a humble Jamaican Patty - you'd probably struggle to find anywhere better.

Curry Goat
Curry Goat 'side' (with no sides)

Each 'meal' comes with either delicious Rice'n'Peas or plain

rice (why? who? why?) and either salad or coleslaw. For a couple of quid less you can have most dishes on their own 'as a side', without the actual sides, which is confusing as well as being stupidly poor value - you may as well pay for the full meal and have extra sides on the table in case anybody is super-hungry.

My favourite of all here is the Jerk Pork - tasty, tender and unctiously fatty, with a deliciously spicy coating and served in a generous portion. It's comfort- and soul-food all at once, and probably horrendously calorific.

The Jerk meats are served fairly dry, especially the chicken, but with a little pot of hot Jerk sauce that has a slightly sweetish piquancy about it and goes very well with the Rice'n'Peas.

I could probably do with my jerk being slightly hotter, but they may well be dialling it down for the people of Streatham and could possibly have spiced mine up with a bit of extra Scotch Bonnet if I'd asked.

The Curry Goat is delicious, with the meat falling apart, the sauce spicy and tangy and very different to the Jerk flavours, and the little pieces of potato have absorbed huge amounts of flavour.

The Coleslaw is fine, but I suspect comes from a catering-size tub rather than being home-made in the kitchen, while the salad is about as unmemorable as a salad can be, even by saladic standards.

 

A rum do about cake

There were a few other issues too: 

We got separate glasses of Rum Punch having ordered a pitcher. That would be fine if it was a social distancing thing, but the premises had made very little effort on that front in other areas, and it resulted in 50% less punch than expect but still being charged for the pitcher. 

Jerk Pork
They're not stingy with the meat here!


After a lengthy wait we enquired about desserts. They said they only had chocolate or strawberry ice cream? No Jamaican Rum cake like it says on the menu? No, sorry, not today.

Just minutes later on the bar top I noticed a large Rum cake right there. Clearly labelled. With about three quarters of the fucker left. Wha gwan?!?

Then there is the inconsistency of portion sizing and pricing, and having a meal with no sides as a side. For instance, a jerk pork meal is pretty big, but by virtue of containing large amounts of bone, an oxtail stew meal isn't. Fried plantain (£2 for a big portion) is very good value, but other stuff on the menu (£14 for a 'side' portion of Curry Goat or Oxtail) is not.  

We worked out that our party of four could've ordered the same tableful of food in about 16 different ways, through different combinations, many of which would've cost different amounts. Being polite, the ordering system used by our server didn't go out of its way to recommend the best value option. We could actually have paid slightly less and had slightly more food, if we'd gamed the complicated system with more effective ordering!

Rum Cake
The Rum Cake that didn't exist...

It's all just a little bit extremely unprofessional. At the risk of casual racism, I get that there is this stereotypical thing about Jamaicans being laid back and everything, but that shouldn't excuse careless and shoddy service.

It's a shame because the food really is quite good, albeit inconsistent. It's well-made while I'm no expert on the subject, the Caribbean flavours seem pretty authentic. It's the sort of thing you'd eat at the Lambeth Country Show down the road, or from a street vendor in Brixton market. Makes me want to pick up one of my many basses and play some Roots Reggae before smoking a big spliff (Hmm, maybe that's part of the issue somewhere?!?)

But, yeah, if they can up their service game just a bit and do things more professionally they'd be onto a winner, but as it is, the service issues are significant enough to bother me, which is unusual.

The cost of a meal for two here can vary wildly given the pricing inconsistencies, but £50-75 is about the ballpark. If you have a Degree in Advanced Mathematics you can probably work out a way of ordering all the items you want for a lower price!

Meanwhile, I'll probably revisit in a year or so to see if they've actually started serving that Rum Cake yet...


Where to find it...

The Real Jerk

89 Streatham Hill,
Streatham
SW2 4UD (MAP)

WEBSITE / TRIPADVISOR

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