From the meat sword of Grisly Big Chef:
Meat Club Visit Barry’s Pop-Up Barbados
or We Came, We Saw, We Left Again, None The Wiser
A crazy, brilliant evening with some highs and some lows but never a dull moment, notable for being the furthest east that some of our company had ever ventured (at least in a geographical, rather than a culinary sense).
We got off to a flying start at our rendezvous – The Shacklewell Arms. If you are ever in Dalston, it’s a gem of a pub, unapologetically shabby without the veneer of chic that despoils so many old pubs. It has a very good selection of beers that they allow you to try before buying and on the night they seemed to be serving some pretty amazing burgers, special enough to merit a return visit at some point.
The great pub was merely an amuse-bouche though – a boozy appetiser before the main course just five minutes down the road at Barry’s Pop-Up Barbados.
I approached Barry’s house with anticipation but also a degree of trepidation – It’s a very different experience dining in somebody’s front room compared to a restaurant it’s somehow more raw – there’s more at stake and absolutely nowhere for anyone to physically or metaphorically hide if it doesn’t work out. It was also the first time that Meat Club explored West Indian food.
Barry greeted us warmly at the door and showed us in to the front room now converted into main dining area. So-far-so-good.
As the name of his venture implies, Barry is from Barbados. Like many island communities Barbadian cuisine usually includes a lot of seafood but Barry also creates menus from game and various farmed meats. He describes his style of cooking as “a fusion of culture and food from throughout the Caribbean and South America” and the menu he had proposed looked like it would deliver just that:
Pickled Ginger Pig w Organic Date Crackers
Fried Fois Gras Sprinkled w Cinnamon Chopped Figs & Papaya served with Blue Maize Chips
35 Day Aged Beef Fillet Ceviche w Fennel Crackers
Venison Slow Cooked in a Stew of Figs, Blue Berries, Exotic Herbs & Spices serve w Sour Dough Bread
Sweet & Spicy Grilled Lamb Chops w lambs Lettuce & Chard Salad
Carib Style Goat Stew with Coconut Rice & Peas
All Chocolate Cake with Passion Fruit & Papaya Cream
It was a big menu and in retrospect it was probably too ambitious to pull off entirely satisfactorily, particularly as Barry informed us when we arrived that he had just moved house, wasn’t in his usual kitchen and had most of his equipment in storage. In spite of these setbacks he made a valiant effort.
Being comparative virgins to Caribbean cooking, none of us were entirely ready for the heat or the complexity of the spicing of almost every dish. After the initial shock it was a revelation. Not the big chilli hit of some Indian or South East Asian cooking, that tends to numb the taste buds, instead it was more nuanced, evolving with each mouthful, scotch bonnet piquancy against a backdrop of allspice, pepper and clove, fresh and rich all at the same time.
This was a good meal – perhaps not great but with some real high-points, just not any that we could all reach consensus on – which is unusual. Some people liked the pickled pork others preferred the ceviche of beef. The two stews – venison and goat, were virtually indistinguishable but both nice. The lamb chops with lambs lettuce was a welcome respite between the heat and spice. The sourdough was amazing but not made by Barry and neither were the ubiquitous crackers that came with almost every dish – I doubt either grace many tables in Barbados but in hindsight it didn’t really matter.
The chocolate cake with papaya and passion fruit cream was delicious and a great, clean, end to the meal.
Barry is a genial host and an inventive chef, his food is a mix of the recipes he grew up with and the dishes he’s subsequently invented and reinvented here. On the night it was as much sorcerers apprentice as sorcerer but that can probably be attributed to bad timing and a difficult brief. It was a sometimes intriguing, sometimes delicious, definitely memorable evening though that may or may not have been an excellent introduction to Barbadian cuisine.