Food review: Joe’s Southern Kitchen & Bar, Kentish Town

As Alex Bellotti tries a new ‘jailhouse diner’ in Kentish Town, he asks why we’ve fallen so hard for deep-fried charms from across the pond.

It’s hard not to wonder why grub from the Deep South has invaded London so relentlessly in recent years. Perhaps its wholesome, dustbowl origins resonate in lean economic times; perhaps it’s just the easiest way young Londoners can jump on a gastronomic trend (you hardly have to possess MasterChef levels of knowledge to recommend a good burger, after all).

Either way, the likes of Byron and Five Guys are flourishing, and after establishing itself in Covent Garden, Joe’s Southern Kitchen & Bar has launched another branch next to Kentish Town Station.

The restaurant is situated on the former site of Kentish Canteen, and, before that, a police station – hence its ‘jailhouse’ basement bar. Inside, it wears all the trademarks of an all-American diner – cushioned red chairs, wall-mounted Coca Cola signs and the obligatory cage of assorted beer bottles – but does so without the usual TGI garishness. Its cocktail list is extensive, leaning heavily on bourbon, and should you wish to fully explore its menu, it’s best to just skip any meals planned earlier in the day.

This is food designed to fill you up. When my guest and I visited, we opted respectively for starters of ‘Coq ‘n’ Balls’ (a slightly queasy cutlet of chicken and Monterey Jack cheese) and crispy fried shrimp. At nearly £7, the latter was truthfully underwhelming and in retrospect, unnecessary considering what lay ahead.

For mains, I jumped upon the traditional Joe’s Chicken two-piece. Accompanied by watermelon and waffles with bourbon maple syrup, it could hardly feel more American if it was served on a gun license. The chicken was greaseless, delicately battered and well-seasoned, and while I wasn’t initially convinced by the whole combination, the mild sweetness of the watermelon bridged the sharper tang of the waffles and produced a complementing range of flavours across the plate.

A side order of mac ‘n’ cheese was a masterstroke, deep and goey with a full crust of four quality cheeses. My guest’s dish meanwhile was presented on a prison food-style tray and the combination of pulled pork, BBQ beans, savoury biscuit and a stand-out cheese grits (a cheesy creamed corn which tasted much nicer than it sounds) proved enough to defeat him for the night.

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It’s worth saving room for the pecan pie, which took its time coming, but was dutifully made up of large, chunky pecans and sticky, dark brown toffee. This wasn’t the sort of meal that left you pleasantly sated – it passed that mark about halfway through – and we were barely able to leave our seats when it came time to leave. In a city not short of greed, however, perhaps that’s the true appeal of Deep South cuisine.

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