The deep south comes to Camden

The Blues Kitchen
111-113 Camden High Street, NW1 7JN
Tel: 020 7387 5277

Cost per person without wine: £25

WHAT is it with fatty food these days? Low-fat dining – dressing on the side, steamed vegetables,“low fat” in brackets next to the dish – seems to belong to some distant era wholly unrelated to the way we eat out now. Chorizo is the new side salad; batter the new lemon vinaigrette.

So long as you don’t ask our arteries, this is a good thing. Fatty, rich food is delicious. And it lends itself so well to the world’s best culinary traditions: French, Italian and, of course, American.

Which is what the Blues Kitchen, a breath of much-needed fresh air on the less than inviting road between Camden Town and Mornington Crescent stations, is all about.

If you can forgive the interior’s resemblance to Nando’s, with its faux-rustic brown and dingy, cheap-looking furnishings, then this is a nice little place to sink some calories. It’s informal (obviously), and has live soul music every night from 10pm. And the menu is peppered with standalone treats such as high quality milkshakes (peanut butter, oreo, and one with whisky) and pecan pie so you can nip in for some snacktime indulgence.

Another notable facet of the Blues Kitchen is its 40-strong bourbon menu. That’s right: a whole list devoted to southern America’s finest, from £3--£10 a slug. There’s plenty of room for exploration here, but it’s worth asking about what you’re drinking or it could all end up tasting the same.

Now, back to that fat. We had some delectable corn fritters, puffy cases of fried corn-bread, dipped into a black-eyed pea salsa. Sticky buffalo wings were a bit gluey and citrussy to pass muster – perhaps we should have gone with jalapeno cornbread or blackened shrimp instead.

For mains, we skipped – somewhat sadly – over the burgers and “po boys” (meat sandwiches that are first and foremost lard-tastic, augmented by lashings of maple syrup, steak sauce and BBQ sauce), and headed straight for the seafood gumbo and BBQ ribs. At £12 each, these dishes were stonking value. My gumbo was a taste-party that included shrimps, mussels, swordfish, tomatoes, okra, beans and pepper and – pant, pant – rice. I only got through a quarter of it.

BBQ ribs were the size of a burly man’s arm and served with coleslaw. They were sweet and sticky and smokey, and a joy to sink your teeth into. The American-style value continued in the side dishes – none of your £6 salads here. No, sides were a spare-tyre inducing landscape of onion rings, baked beans and hash browns for £3.50 and less.

Those with space left for dessert (you deserve a medal – or maybe just liposuction), can go for vintage American classics, such as key lime pie and Mississippi mud pie. Instead of dessert, we sat back with a bourbon and tuned in to the blues effort going on in the bar. We were sated in body and – thanks to laid-back but helpful service, the plentiful array of whiskeys and, of course, the music – nicely sated in soul too.

In a Nutshell:
Well-priced American soul food and blues comes to cheer up grotty Camden Street. For a soul-food restaurant, the atmosphere is somewhat lacking. This is down to the bleak, low-qual interior, rather than the friendly staff, great drinks list and tasty food.