Something of a no man’s land between Waterloo and Borough, and definitely not somewhere on our gastronomic map of London, on a rainy week day in January, Southwark is the absolute antithesis of the Caribbean. Nonetheless we braved the London drizzle and went in search of bold flavours at Antillean restaurant, which is serving up modern food from the Antilles (Cuba, Jamaica, Puerto Rico Haiti etc.).
The restaurant is hidden in plain sight on a busy Southwark street, unnoticed by the hundreds of commuters walking and cycling by. The building was a warehouse in a previous life and structurally had a cool look (think exposed beams, vaulted roof and lots of light). We walked in to find a well stocked, huge, but empty bar and we couldn’t help but think that this would be a great place to throw a party or, with a few more people, sink a few cocktails after work on a Friday.
Seated at a banquette table in the middle of the old warehouse section of the restaurant by a very friendly Algerian head waiter, we ordered cocktails from an interesting sounding list. Sticking true to Antillean terroir, all were rum based – the standout being a rum old fashioned which was sweet with candy-like dehydrated orange segments and punchy and spiced from the rum. The wine list, unsurprisingly, was not true to Antillean terroir and so we ordered, as you would from a North-African sommelier in a Caribbean restaurant in Southwark – a Vinho Verde! It was bright and fun, with a zip of minerality and did the trick with spicy food.
In keeping with the ups and downs of the evening (cool building, lovely staff, empty bar), the food had its flashes of colourful, modern, adventurous brilliance and also some more muted, grey Southwark-y moments as well.
The raw plates we had were uneventful, scallops served too thickly cut, lacking any fire from the chilli and crying out for more zingy citrus. The grouper was texturally confusing and maybe only permissible if eaten 40 metres from the sea in Guadeloupe.
Rather disappointed with the unavailability of the Oxtail patties with Bajan hot sauce (we’d clocked these on the online menu days before our visit), we confronted our friend from Algeria. He recommended two small plates and noted our penchant for hot things. The mango and papaya salad was a real hit… Used to having this laced with Thai chillies in a som tam salad, this was a very good twist on that. There was plenty of heat from the (extra-added) scotch bonnets, tempered nicely by fresh tomatoes and brightened by herbs. The next dish however was the absolute winner, and I would go back to Blackfriars Road again just to eat it; Octopus with a mango salad and a scotch bonnet mayonnaise. Technically this dish was a real accomplishment, having been cooked sous-vide, then grilled, then deep fried. The octopus had a real char and crunch to it from the charcoal and the fryer, however its long soak in the water bath had ensured that the inside was yielding and unctuous. The mango salad did a good job as a palate cleanser and scotch bonnet in mayonnaise should now be made mandatory. What a dish.
Reeling from this, we tried the crab claw curry which was a bit creamy and lacklustre and the braised oxtail which was more pub lunch in Kingston-Upon-Thames than Kingston Jamaica. Oh well. You win some you lose some.
We were sent home with a thick slice of homemade carrot cake which was really appreciated for breakfast the next day. The rest of the desserts aren’t worth returning for, although very generous, but the octopus really was one of the best we have ever eaten. We’ll be going back again for that soon.
74 Blackfriars Road