Joe’s Southern Kitchen & Bar
34 King Street, Covent Garden, London, WC2E 8JD (map)
Joe’s Southern Kitchen & Bar is a US themed diner and bar and the latest incarnation of the tex mex venue. Navajo Joe’s. So why has Joe suddenly got his green card and hopped across the border to the American South? More importantly, does it work?
With a venue in the middle of Covent Garden, you will get more than your fair share of tourists. Restaurateurs in the area tell me that their clientele is 50%+ of the passing tourist trade. So why has Navajo Joe’s undergone an ‘Americanisation’ of their long running venue? Speaking to the management it seems that they felt it was time for a change and that the Mexican cuisine is on the wane. From the success of the London burgers and American style food they have remodeled themselves in the form of a US diner. They even stated that they had visited London street markets to see which food is most popular. Not a surprise, considering that a well known supermarket had already sent staff with clipboards to KERB, StreetFeast and the Real Food Festival to harvest ideas!
So does the food stack up? Quite honestly, (or should I say surprisingly) what I had was good. Maybe it is my old prejudices against any venue in a tourist hotspot, but I am weary of venues which take the sites which I call ‘Aberdeen Angus traps’. I usually make the assumption that the food wouldn’t be that good and they are relying on their location to haul in (non-repeat) clientele.
However, the Jalapeño Poppers were absolutely fantastic. Unlike many examples, this actually had a proper good spicy kick. (Anyone with an adversity to spice, beware!). Although you only get two in a portion they are well worth ordering. In fact, order two!
The chicken wings came on a metal tray complete with a small sauce bottle of honey and Tabasco. If you like sweet wings this is something to try as the ten small winglets you get are served relatively plain for you to ‘season-to-taste’. Personally I prefered them dipped in their lovely ‘Homemade BBQ Sauce’. Just a word for those who like hot sauce, the honey and Tabasco is very mild, the same goes for their chilli sauce which is more sweet chilli than hot chilli. Jim, the General Manager, tells me that they are well aware and are looking to make (or possibly buy in) a more aggressive sauce – great news!
The ‘Beer Can Chicken’ is an entire chicken which come presented with can of American “Huber Beer” stuck up its arse before being carved up nearby. It is recommended to share this between 2 or 3. Probably the most eye-catching serving of poultry since Mark Hix’s Tramshed and their signature ‘legs in the air’ chicken.
The popcorn shrimp are like the tortilla of the menu. They are dangerously addictive. I can envisage people devouring these by the bucketful on a long night of cocktails. The crack-cocaine of the venue. This simple dish should be easy to make but it is surprisingly how many venues produce sorry and exhausted looking, soggy prawns. These were lightly dusted in batter crisp and actually had some good flavour without being over-salted.
Authentic Southern Cuisine? As you may tell, I am not a ‘yee-ha’ American… or any other type of American. So if you want an assessment of how faithful this is to ‘Real-Southern Food’ keep an eye on the blog of Kate Beard, aka asouthernbellein.com (Twitter: @SBinLondon). She is a real life Alabama girl who visited a few hours after me to put them to the culinary test!