Is Dalston over? Have the new-media types migrated to farther-flung locales to write their articles for Vice about taking ketamine at Center Parcs? I have no idea. I’m well into my 30s and no longer hip enough to gauge these things. If you’re reading City A.M. you’re probably not hip enough either – you probably have a proper job that doesn’t involve designing flyers for a coffee shop that will also fix your bicycle. I bet you don’t even have a beard.
What I can say with at least a modicum of authority is that Rudie’s, a new Jamaican restaurant north of Dalston Kingsland station, is cool. Or at least it’s good. It makes nice food. You should go.
It joins the likes of Brilliant Corners (sushi), A Little Bit of What You Fancy (modern British) and Shanghai Dalston (eastern Chinese) on my list of reasons to go to Dalston.
“So who’s Rudie?” I asked.
“It’s not a person – it’s Rudie, like rudeboy or rudegirl,” explained the manager.
I admire any restaurant that names itself after the disillusioned youth of 1960s Jamaica. It’s one of countless little call-backs to its heritage that never threaten to reduce it to a theme restaurant (another is the framed poster for Jimmy Cliff’s The Harder They Come, the movie credited for bringing reggae to the wider world, which I’m definitely not cool enough to have in my flat). The bar apparently has the largest selection of Jamaican rum in the city, some of which you can buy by the bottle; great news if you’re the kind of person who likes to get absolutely smashed over dinner.
More importantly, the fiery Jamaican food hasn’t been toned down for our delicate European palates. Two gigantic “peppa shrimp” give you a short grace period to appreciate the flavour before a tidal-wave of spice arrives to kick you in the gullet. The “yard classic” goat curry is listed as “mildly spicy”, which is like saying the sun is a little bit hot. It’s fierce, full of pungent, slow-cooked goat still clinging to the bone, earthy chunks of potato and a hint of coconut barely taking the edge off the heat.
The waiter looked concerned.
I waved him away, dabbing at my brow with a napkin. This is exactly how goat curry should taste.
There are other well-executed Jamaican classics: ackee and saltfish bakes, avocado and mango salad, rice and peas. But these are mere warm-up acts for the main attraction, the reason people will come here, and the reason they will come back: the jerk. I ordered a platter, which included chicken, pork, lamb and corn, all marinaded and wood-smoked before being cooked over coal in jerk drums. The pork had a satisfying, gelatinous wobble. The lamb was thick and full of flavour, although it wasn’t the finest cut of meat. And the chicken: the chicken was perfect, glistening under its charcoal skin, subtly smoky, unexpectedly sweet. My only complaint is there wasn’t enough of it.
The air at Rudie’s hangs heavy with charcoal smoke from the open kitchen. It gets in your eyes. You’ll carry it home with you in your hair. It’ll remind you just how good it was.
This should all be accompanied by rum. There’s a cocktail called Dr No (the Bond movie was filmed in Jamaica), which consists of Portobello gin, Blackwell rum and Red Stripe. I know, I know… I though so too. But it works. Then for dessert order the rum cake with rum butter and a shot of rum. Don’t attempt to drive afterwards. The banana brulee is pretty neat, as well; lurking under the familiar brown crust is a grey-ish banana paste, which isn’t at all what you’re expecting but is very nice all the same.
This is not a meal that merely happens to you: you have to work for it, ripping prawns from their shells, prising slivers of bone from between your teeth, frantically waving your hands in front of your face in an attempt to lower your body temperature. It makes you sweat, brings tears to your eyes, makes your fingers sting. And it leaves you satisfied, lazy-drunk, sated. It requires recovery time. Don’t plan a breakfast for the next day.
West London gets all the plaudits for Caribbean food, with the likes of Rum Kitchen and BB’s Crabback. Now Dalston has a contender. To paraphrase The Clash: Rudie’s doesn’t fail.
First published in City A.M.