Everyone likes a party, right? Few come bigger than Carnival, a celebration of all things West Indian in London’s Notting Hill every August. It’s a great vibe and your reviewer, who lives locally, has been going on an off for the last two decades. What the Rum Kitchen offers is not a homage to Carnival – as their website might seem to suggest – but a commercialisation of the Caribbean experience. With three London branches and an outpost in Brighton, the backers at least seem to have hit upon a formula clearly works. If it’s an informal party vibe you’re after at a competitive price, then Rum Kitchen is for you. However, diners hoping for authentic Caribbean food will be sorely disappointed. The group’s Soho branch was packed when our band of four visited on a recent weekday night. This perhaps might explain the somewhat slapdash approach to service that persisted across our time there. Why go out of your way to please the punters too much, when the table can be turned for the next awaiting party? We were asked with alarming regularity whether we wanted to order both drinks and food. Rush rather than relax seems to be the ethos at the Rum Kitchen, almost the antithesis of how this reviewer would think of most things Caribbean. Further, every time our over-zealous server did appear, we had to shout in order to convey our order. Sure, banging tunes from an enthusiastic DJ is part of the venue’s angle, but not to the extent that the volume precludes either meaningful or sustained conversation. Fair enough if you want to crank up the decibels as the evening wears on, but at 7pm, some people may perhaps still want to chat. We did at least manage one round of drinks (rum cocktails for half our group; beers for the others) before being forced to order. We selected three small plates from a list of around a dozen to begin. The prevailing approach seems to be one of sticking protein in a deep-fryer and then adding spice. The saltfish fritters were probably the best of our offerings. Onto the mains and what better to try than the obvious classics? Across our group we tried both the jerk chicken and the curried goat. The former is apparently marinated for 48 hours, while the latter is slow-cooked for 6 hours. If so, it wasn’t evident to us and certainly my goat was characterised more by blandness than flavour. At least you won’t be fleeced by the experience, with our bill (including three rounds of drinks) coming to about £35/head. Perhaps the best – or most damning – summation of the venue was that provided by one of our group. The gentleman in question has Caribbean roots and when asked to give an authenticity rating out of 10, his response was 5½. ‘Nuff said.