Thursday, July 17, 2014

The Bayou Soul, Camden

I make a pretty big stink on this blog about how I'm an American. Well, it's my right as a freedom-loving, red-blood-having, flag-waving American to make a big stink about it, damnit. Ever hear of freedom of speech? It's my blog, and I'm going all the way to Washington DC to take back the White House!


Anyway, I miss the USA - I consider it my home, obviously, and I think it's fair to miss home sometimes. So whenever I see something opening up in London that seems authentically 'American', I get excited. Our cuisine isn't so hard to mimic, put cheese on this, put hot sauce on that, but yet it still often is missing that certain je nais se quoi from back home. Whether it's a lack of certain ingredients, something being considered not to UK tastes, or what have you - even the most 'American' of dining establishments here are doing one or two things pretty wrong. I'm sure it's the same for Italian, Spanish, and Korean restaurants when serving elsewhere in the world - and I can personally tell you that anything calling itself an 'English pub' in America ain't an authentic experience.

The interesting thing about The Bayou Soul though, is that they're not doing the 'classic' American fare from my region (the middle): stuff like burgers, hot dogs, ribs, macaroni & cheese, things you would immediately associate with the USA. They're actually specializing in a style of food that I loved in America, but never really expected to find much of here: Cajun! I'm not talking about a 'blackened Cajun' burger, although those are fine too, but stuff more like jambalaya, gumbo, etouffee, Louisiana grub. Now, I'm from Indiana - not exactly Creole capital of the world, but we have a restaurant back home that I adore called Yats.

Take a look at that menu and transport yourself to Middle America. Imagine you're a teenage girl, chubby with a passion for food. Who eats peppers on a dare without breaking a sweat, and who has on multiple occasions mowed down entire bags of Flamin' Hot Cheetos. Who loves starch & chicken, and trying foods that are different...That teenage girl is me, and the restaurant you love to go to is Yats. It's the place for me in Indiana, even now. So, have I had Cajun food in Louisiana? No, but I have had it in abundance in another iana, and that means something - hey, the owner of Yats is from New Orleans. It's just so good. So once I heard a Cajun place was opening up here, I was off like a match.

I was lucky to be able to attend the soft launch of The Bayou (Soul?), as I read about it in Hot Dinners. 50 percent of food, so I won't speak to prices except to say that they seemed reasonable for London. The service was also great, which isn't always the case on a soft launch - I'm sure they'll maintain the friendliness!

 The drinks menu was very cool, lots of interesting cocktails. I tried two, but only seemed to remember one (heh heh, funny how that works) which was the first. I can't recollect the name, but it was sweet & strong with popcorn on top.  Okay, maybe I don't remember the first one either.

I remarked multiple times to my dining companions that I would be having the biscuits & gravy with ham, as if they were disputing me. I was just so passionate about seeing 'sausage gravy' on a menu that I went nuts. Unfortunately, here is the only problem we ran into at The Bayou Soul, and it's one that I think only an actual American who loves sausage gravy like I do would care about.

The biscuits were great, soft & milky just the way I remember having them as a kid, and the ham was lovely - pink & smokey. Here's the problem...that gravy wasn't what I'd call sausage gravy.

This is what I call sausage gravy. It's a thick, white, buttery roux made rather disgustingly from the fat off of crumbled up breakfast sausage. However, it is the tastiest thing on Earth. Savory, thick, meaty, salty - perfect with slightly sweet biscuits. What was served alongside the biscuits here, however, was salty, meaty, and thin. Not bad by any means, a better gravy than most with nice bits of English sausage - but it wasn't traditional sausage gravy.

 Don't get me wrong, I ate it and enjoyed it, but I was surprised. Looking back it's even more surprising considering how accurate everything else was. I know you can't buy American breakfast sausage here, but I think you could make it. Buy ground sausage meat, add the traditional spices, fry...I feel it could be done, and I'm planning on trying it myself someday. Regardless, a tasty starter that was 2 outta 3 on the authenticity scale.

My sister in law got hush puppies alongside fried calamari, and they were more authentic. Fried spiced cornmeal, soft & tasty without that unpleasant polenta tang you get with faux puppies. I appreciated that, as polenta is an easy-to-find substitute when cornmeal is actually much nicer!

I forgot to mention another nice aspect of the soft launch, we were given lots of extra food! There was a tasty bread appetizer that was topped with a savory olive mix & then some fried chicken. The fried chicken was great, moist & well seasoned fry atop. Felt authentic, and very plentiful - also a sign of authenticity in an American restaurant, haha.

My main was the andouille sausage & chicken jambalaya and we ordered extra cornbread. Again, the cornbread was great - they're clearly using cornmeal in the kitchen and I really commend them for that. It's the basis of a couple of different American staples that otherwise taste completely different. I'm looking at you, polenta substitute propagandists. It's totally different.

The jambalaya was delicious, perfectly cooked rice that was well seasoned & incorporated beautifully into the sausage and chicken. It was just the way a good jambalaya should be - different textures, meat more flavorful, but everything having one unifying tasty flavor. Spicy without lots of heat, just right. I loved it. The only thing that made me chuckle a bit was on the menu it says 'often referred to as creole paella'...Yeah, they are very similar dishes, but I've never heard that phrase so I don't know how often it's actually being said, haha.

My husband had the shrimp etouffee, which was thick and well seasoned accompanied by rice - a nice seafood broth with plenty of large shrimps in it. I only had a little bit, but I might choose it as my main next time.

My sister in law had catfish but I'm not a huge fan, so I skipped trying hers - she seemed to like it, though!

We managed to have enough space for ice cream - well, I had enough space for ice cream and I think I spotted one of my buddies take a spoonful...but it was mostly me. I was looking forward to trying the root beer ice cream, however it wasn't available that night (d'oh!) thus sealing fate that I will be back. Instead we opted for two scoops of the Jack Daniels & Coke and the chocolate & cream. The JD&C ice cream was really nice, a sweet vanilla cola flavor with just the tiniest hint of alcohol. It was a bit like a coke float (the foamy half ice cream/half coke portion, AKA the best part) with a splash of Jack Daniels. Really great! The chocolate & cream was surprisingly tasty - I'm not usually a chocolate ice cream nut but this had a strong flavor to it where most other chocolate ice creams are quite dull. It was a nice combination!

That was my experience at Bayou Soul - the drinks were lovely & strong, the food was amazing and mostly authentic, and the service was super! It must be mentioned again that the staff was really nice, accommodating, and didn't mind that I took so many photos. Being so smiley & pleasant, they really made me feel at home too. I'll definitely be back again sometime. If you'd like to check out their menu, and I suggest you do, they uploaded it to Facebook. If you download the image you can open it up and zoom in to your heart's content.

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