The cause and the effect are hard to determine. Is Kentish Town North London’s new hot dining destination because Giles Coren lives there and doesn’t stop talking up his own backyard, or is he riding the wave of incomers and insurgents? The latest venue to fall into this equation is Joe’s Southern Kitchen, right by the tube station.
Unlike Kentish Town’s Dirty Burger, Pizza East and Chicken Shop, all branches of Soho House-owned chains, which attract from far and wide young-and-trendies, vague grown-ups and my parents, respectively, Joe’s seemed full of locals. And not locals to the Deep South of the United States, where its menu comes from, either.
The menu certainly talks the talk. Starting with gravy ‘n’ biscuits is a sign of intent, though whether the intention is towards homage or parody is not immediately clear. Perhaps luckily my friend and I were saved from gooey corn spoon bread with clotted cream and Red Leicester because they had already run out early in the evening; the cream is not the only thing which sounds clotted about it.
Instead, we had the far less fattening artichoke, spinach and cheddar dip, which was what would have been developed if the French had shipped over fondue kits before the Louisiana Purchase. This would have been sufficient for a meal by itself and could not have failed to be delicious. It would have been nice had the popcorn shrimp we also ordered been a crispy contrast to this; instead it was somewhat flaccid and reminiscent of ill-battered scampi.
As my friend and I chatted, I realised something unsettling: we could hear each other. In most bustling restaurants, the music (here, Sixties and Seventies funk, soul and disco) is turned up until it boils your eardrums, which you both resent for the painful intrusion but enjoy because it scorns gentility. Joe’s was perhaps too genteel, slightly at odds with the rawness its menu wants to suggest.
Back to our plates. Their house speciality is sweet tea-brined chicken served fried with ‘lemon dust and hot sauce honey’. Ignoring the trendy dusty component, this turned out to be the moistest bird since those chickens were found drowned in a vat of Evian. It did not have a tea flavour so much as a heightened sweetness, which the accompanying cubes of watermelon complimented. It came with dry waffles and bourbon maple syrup too, perhaps too much on theme.
My friend’s blackened catfish fillet, despite the unappealing appearance as the name suggests, was meaty and nicely enlivened by the Cajun mustard. None of the food majors on looks, one must say, but what it lacks its aesthetic pleasure is more than made up for in the mouth.
At this point, we were (as they say in the South) fit to bust, so we only shared a dessert, which was a sticky, overly sweet pecan pie. Yes, pecan pie is normally overly sweet, but this was overly overly sweet. The pastry was too tough to be so thin and could use a little work: either thicker and as rubbery or thinner and crispy. But by dessert no-one is likely to notice.
I would not urge a road trip to Joe’s Southern Kitchen on you, but if you are local and of a gluttonous bent, then you could do worse than find this corner of Georgia in Kentish Town.