America’s South inspires the award-winning food menu at The Blues Kitchen. Mark Ludmon reports
Music has been at the heart of The Blues Kitchen since The Columbo Group opened the first in Camden in London over six years ago. From blues and bluegrass to soul and swing, you can enjoy live bands every night at the bars that are now also in Shoreditch and Brixton (pictured). As well as a great line-up of American whiskeys and cocktails, the food is just as authentic, with an emphasis on Texan-style barbecue – earning it the award for best late-night food in the Association of Licensed Multiple Retailers’ Late Night Awards in October.
However, the menu has evolved since the first site, recalls Liam Spratt, creative director for The Blues Kitchen at The Columbo Group. “It was originally a simpler barbecue offering with dishes such as ribs but we quickly learned. It was before barbecue took off in London but now people are very aware of the different styles.”
To achieve authenticity, the Blues Kitchen team have made numerous “pilgrimages” to Texas as well as Tennessee and Louisiana. “All the different parts of the southern states have a different take on barbecue,” Liam adds. “For me, Texan is my perfect style.” This means meat is king, with signature dishes such as beef brisket in the bars’ special seasoning and slow smoked for 16 hours.
With the same menu at all three sites, they source organic and ethically produced meats that are slow cooked in-house using hickory, oak mesquite and fruit woods. Dishes include traditional “burnt ends” – chunks of beef brisket glazed with a beer and hickory barbecue sauce, slow smoked for 20 hours. Also slow-smoked are pulled pork, chicken, St Louis pork ribs and short beef ribs – all available in combinations of up to three meats with sides of coleslaw and fries.
Other southern-inspired mains range from Cajun-style jambalaya and New Orleans gumbo to crispy fried chicken, lobster and jerk chicken salad. Ground brisket is used for the burgers where choices also include a chicken-based Buffalo Bill and monthly specials. The sides are just as American, with the likes of corn bread with barbecue butter, mac ‘n’ cheese, burnt end brisket beans and sweet potato fries. For dessert, treats include Oreo Donuts and an Alabama Mess – salted caramel, ice cream, cookies, blueberry coulis, marshmallow, meringue, pecan and bourbon cream.
Open from 4pm until late during the week, the bars are also proving popular for weekend brunch from 10am. Popular dishes are the Creole Crab Benedict, combining crispy fried crab cakes with poached eggs and hollandaise sauce, and Pig & Biscuits, featuring biscuits – the southern scone-like savoury breads – with pulled pork, poached eggs, hollandaise sauce and crispy bacon.
With food served to 11pm, The Blues Kitchen offers a complete package, Liam points out. “There are not many places that have a live music offering where you can eat alongside it. You can come in after work for cocktails and dinner, see a live show and then a DJ comes in and you can dance till 2am.”
Originally published in the January 2016 print edition of Bar magazine.