When I was a young man, there was a weekday evening TV programme that reviewed computer games. This was back before gaming became mainstream ‘popular culture’ and were just the thing that little boys did after they'd graduated from Panini stickers but before they had discovered Rebecca Burley's cleavage and the intense joy of illicitly obtained cigarettes.
One of the many features I remember from the show, other than the venerable Patrick Moore as the titular Gamesmaster dispensing advice on how to reach previously unachievable levels and slay end of dungeon bosses, was the hilarious Viewer Reviewer section. Each week a pasty faced young limb from the provinces would be given the first play of a new game before reporting back in the way of any normal twelve year old confronted with adults and a TV camera: “I liked this game, it was good.” they'd intone nervously. “The graphics were good and the sound was, um, good”. Warming to the theme, “overall this game is recommended. If you like that sort of game”. Hardly Giles Coren, but then who am I to talk?
The Blues Kitchen on the Camden High Road makes all the right noises, and some of the things it tries, it manages to pull off perfectly. On a Wednesday evening at 7.30pm, it's slick, reclaimed brick and artfully themed interior is packed out and booked out, so much so that we're told by the chipper and efficient front of house that there isn't a table until 9.30. We slink back across the road for another pint before being called with a cancellation.
Staff are universally friendly, funky and devoid of the 'tude one might expect given the locale (and the crowds). Beers from a slim list of US crafts are pricey, but a wonderful set from house singer Katy Anderson and her band the Rumours is as deliciously well done as it is unhyped. In hindsight, I'd have opted to sit nearer, have a couple of beers and enjoy the set more.
The menu is, unlike the bar, a pretty straight summary of good ol' Louisiana stylings. And the selection of burgers, fried or BBQ'ed goods and gumbo certainly fit the design theme. Like the teen reviewer of my youth though, I can't get round the fact it was all good, but ‘just’ good. Despite the potential to be so much better. A shared platter of sliders were fair enough, perfectly adequate support to the band and the beers, though the new house special of deep fried alligator tail fillet could have been chicken or pork given the level of cooking it had endured in it's panko crumbed prison.
The mains were united in three aspects; great ingredients, cooked well but woefully underpowered with their seasoning. My St Louis pork ribs were perfectly juicy and tender, cooked perfectly over (allegedly) aromatic wood chips, but just didn't have any flavour to them. Lovely meat, but someone had totally missed the marinading stage. Cooked nude, without the thick umami kick and spice a good sauce should have brought, they were just ‘nice’, sadly no more than that. The same, even less forgivably, was true of the gumbo… A deep slow cooked stew of seafood, meats and spices shouldn't need to be liberally salted and peppered just to render it edible, especially when otherwise it was so well prepared. It was puzzling though maybe that's ‘fine’ if you're not a big fan of the duurty BBQ experience.
Sadly, despite the stunning rhythm ‘n’ blues and the friendly staff, I can't see that I'd be back in a hurry for the food. It's a great option if you are unlucky enough to find yourself trapped in Camden of an evening and more than adequate for a night of music and drinks, but the food feels very much ancillary to that. “Overall this place is recommended. If you like that sort of thing”.