The Columbo Group opened the Blues Kitchen in May 2014 and brings us a stalwart spot in Shoreditch where you can be guaranteed a decent pint of IPA, ample bourbon and a platform for Cajun-BBQ nourishment. There are jambalayas, gumbos, burgers, tacos, salads and wings with other things mostly fried till you get the compelling caramelisation and the deep flavours created by the maillard reaction, when heat does it’s magic with amino acids and natural sugars and they flourish together famously. I see only hip enhancing things for lunch, is if you’re counting calories, look away. The space once occupied by Bar Music Hall is a converted Victorian warehouse which spreads two floors. There are 150 covers, though the site can accommodate 500 people altogether over a diner, two bars, a dance floor, a stage for live blues, soul or funk and some private events space. It will be open for brunch, lunch and dinner 7 days a week.
The starter of smoked ox cheek nuggets and chipotle mayo brings four sizeable squared-off croquettes of beef that have been slow-cooked until you get a riveting ravel of tangy, smoky fibres, before being breadcrumbed and deep-fried. They arrive white-flecked with crystals of salt against dark brown. The side of mayo, adds an extra burst of smokiness and acidity. They are very tasty, but more powerful, tantalising ones can be had across the road at Smokestak. I am overly enthusiastic about that place.
We then try Szechuan wings with a creamy mango dip – the result is flour coated, what seems to be double fried till crispy and coated in a sweet, sticky glaze. I can hear them clink when tossed in the steel bowl within kitchen. They were ok, I wanted my lips to tingle from the Szechuan pepper corns but it wasn’t meant to be on the day.
The fryer gets involved in cooking most things here, including some crisply coated sweet potato fries £4 that come hot and clink in the metal cup they’re served in.
More fried vegetation comes – this time we get onion rings £3 with pepper flecked batter that cling on for dear life, some make it and some remain in the fryer leaving some of the onion exposed to the oil. The result is a craggy edged product that is crispy, caramelised and could have done with a pat with some kitchen roll. The greasiness didn’t spot us though.
Another thing which once had a pulse arrived in toasted bun. A piece of battered chicken thigh is fried till golden, then is coated in gochujang and other flavourings – the flesh oozes juice when you get beyond the crunchy exterior. One can only assume it’s brined. It’s then piled with mozzarella, kimchi, dollops of tangy, distinctive kewpie mayo, tenacious miso slaw, and black sesame. There is a strong comprehension for the need of acidity, freshness, funkiness and crunch to go with their sauce sodden Korean Fried Chicken Sandwich £11.25. My palate is more the happier for it.
When did I go? Oct 2018
The damage: Expect to pay £25/30 per head with soft drinks.
The good: I can imagine many good nights happen here with live music, free-flowing beer, whiskey and bold flavours. Don’t miss the smoked ox cheek nuggets or the very satisfying Korean fried chicken sandwich. Since we work in Shoreditch, we were given 50% off our meal so we had a whole load of “roll your sleeves up” fun for not a lot of change!
The bad: It’s not a heavyweight of the BBQ world, better wings could be had elsewhere.
Would I go again? Why not.
Address: 134-146 Curtain Rd, London EC2A 3AR