Clapham and Chelsea were treated to an injection of southern USA soul for two weeks while New Orleans inspired pop-up, Jambalaya took residence in The Jam Tree this month, between 14th – 28th April. You know we love a bit of soul, and we love a lot of food ’round here, so last week, I went to check it out!
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As I’m not too much of a drinker, I skipped the special themed cocktails and headed straight to the starters. Immediately I knew I’d be breaking my fried chicken ban again upon seeing fried chicken and slaw on the starter menu. The coleslaw was gorgeous – crunchy cabbage and carrots seasoned lightly with fiery spices before being drenched in condiment. The fried chicken wings were quite succulent and coated in a flavoursome batter, but they wasn’t quite as crispy as they could have been. Since being spoiled by Dante’s fried chicken I’ve become a tough fried chicken critic, however, Jambalaya’s wings were a solid attempt.
Looking around at the plates of the Jam Tree’s fellow diners (I’m nosey like that), it seemed that Mama’s Baby Back Ribs – tender pork ribs marinated in sticky barbecue sauce and also served with slaw, was another starter favourite.
I chose Louisiana crab cakes for my main, served with dirty rice (seasoned rice with vegetables) and a generous serving of salad. My friend went for the night’s signature dish, the jambalaya, for her main. A traditional Louisiana dish, jambalaya is a medley of rice, seafood, meats (usually pork and chicken), vegetables, spices and lots of peppers. The rice-based dish was also available as a vegetarian dish, and, in my friend’s case, made-to-order (hers came sans-seafood due to her being allergic to sea critters). Unfortunately she had to leave more than half of her plate behind when the heavily peppered rice became unbearable.
What didn’t get left behind, though, was the biscuits. Warm, crumbly, melt-in-mouth and moreish, the savoury cakes were cooked to perfection and made a nice accompaniment to the meal.
We both skipped dessert – after being stuffed from our starters and mains, the thought of a rich and heavy dessert such as mud pie with caramel ice cream was less than appealing. Beyond that, I don’t like chocolate, and all of the desserts were chocolate based, with the exception of one, which was banana based (I also don’t like banana – I’m not a fussy eater though, I swear!)
Leaving The Jam Tree with stomachs full of tasty food and wonderful service (particularly from Cedric, Jam Tree Clapham’s service manager that night), we couldn’t help that feel something was missing. Such attention had been paid to the menu, ensuring authenticity in the cuisine – The Jam Tree’s executive chef James Browne travelled New Orleans to capture the varied flavours of the South’s Creole capital. However, not enough had been done to the ambient to capture the vibe.
The warmth, colour and vibrancy of the menu just didn’t quite transcend into the venue. We visited on what happened to be Ella Fitzgerald’s birthday; as such I was even more expectant of a New Orleans style jazz experience at The Jam Tree. This year kicked off the first of yearly Jambalaya pop-ups at The Jam Tree; for Jambalaya 2014 I’d love to see the pop-up embody some of the spirit of mardi gras, so diners can leave feeling as if they had an experience, not just a themed meal.