Avant-garde or just modish?
Caribbean food tends to be hearty and boldly flavoured, but has thus far been found only in traditional recipes served in casual eateries. Bubbas aims to change all of that with its stated goal of applying Modern European techniques to traditional Caribbean dishes and ingredients.
Bubbas is oddly located right next door to Tulse Hill railway station. Despite being mere minutes away from Brixton, Victoria and other centrally located parts of London, Tulse Hill has a rather suburban feel to it so it’ll be interesting to see if the rather unadventerous-looking locals take to Bubbas. Even more curious is the decor. The white walls, leather upholstery and wooden floors would’ve been quite attractive, if not especially original, if it wasn’t for the horrid purple lighting. When combined with the sound of the cheesy R&B music, it felt as if the place was about to turn into a provincial nightclub at any moment.
There are a couple of platters on the menu at Bubbas which the Euro Hedgie and I used to try out a wide spread of the dishes available. The starters platter was a mixed bag at best. The fresh sardine rounds were lightly spiced, moist and a touch salty, resembling a herring rollmop and wouldn’t look out of place in a tapas bar.
The ackee and saltfish pursettes were disappointing. I’m a big fan of ackee and saltfish, but there was precious little of either stuffed into the small but thick, stodgy, deep fried won ton-style pastry skins.
The oddly described ‘tulips’ consist of a small chunk of jerk chicken on the bone mounted on a small blini. Although the chunk of chicken had a delightfully charred, spicy, peppery and smoky taste to it, the actual meat was bone dry. Swallowing it was a rather unpleasant experience and the soft pancake-like blini added little. It’s as if someone took grandma’s treasured jerk chicken recipe and applied it to a random, cheap and nasty chunk of frozen poultry blitzed to within an inch of its life.
Although visually intriguing, the black sesame and kidney bean fondants were ultimately unpleasant. The black sesame seed exterior was hard, while the mushy anonymous interior was just bland.
Even the quality of the accompanying array of sauces, attractively presented in clamp top jars, was mixed at best. The jerk sauce was more like a peppery tomato chutney, while the papaya sauce tasted like a supermarket-quality Chinese-style sweet and sour sauce. The pickled mango sauce didn’t taste much of mango, but its tart, lightly spiced flavour was quite pleasant in its own right.
No matter what starters you order, you also get a helping of hard dough-style bread which isn’t hard, but soft and airy. The refrigerated slices of bland, Lurpak-style butter are rather lame though.
The mains platter is dominated by a large rose petal tuille basket filled with curry goat. Although the pastry of the tuille basket was bland and thick, the goat curry was much better. The meat was dense, tasting bold and peppery with lots of potatoes and a heavy dose of meat stock. The edible flower leaves add a delicately fragrant touch.
Surrounding the pastry pot of curry was a variety of other dishes. The pollock was firm, moist and meaty with a lightly salty and mildly spicy taste. The skin wasn’t crispy, which slightly befuddled the Hedgie’s European sensibilities although the fish wasn’t worse off for it. The squid ink sauce wasn’t a patch on Polpetto’s version though, while the grilled banana chunk seemed out of place.
Despite the bold, pleasing flavours of the jerk chicken tulips in the starters platter, the main jerk chicken roulades were surprisingly muted in their jerk flavour. The chunks of what were almost certainly breast meat were quite dry – meat on the bone would probably have helped, although that’s no guarantee of moist meat as the tulips showed. The chicken chunks were wrapped in thick and tough pastry that made for poor eating. Disappointing.
Although described as spinach and ricotta tortellini, Bubbas’ filled pasta are completely different from any tortellini I’ve ever had. The pasta shell was tough and chewy, while the contents had been curried. The pasta was just plain bad, but the curried filling was quite pleasing although the spices drowned out the natural taste of the spinach and ricotta. An interesting if flawed experiment.
The mains platter may have been variable at best, but our choice of sides were more successful. The moist and juicy chunks of grilled plantains were made even better by the distinctly sweet and spiced flavours of the orange and ginger dressing.
I’ve never tasted breadfruit before, but I’ve quickly become a fan of this relative of the mulberry. Served roasted, it tastes somewhat like an extra starchy potato while the dense texture is vaguely reminiscent of chicken or fish.
Uncharacteristically stuffed, the Hedgie declined dessert but I plumped for the mango strudel. Although described on the menu as a mango pastry accompanied with banana anglaise and vanilla ice cream, this description proved incorrect. The ice cream turned out to be a mango sorbet, while the strudel itself was flavoured with vanilla. Although the sorbet was pleasing if unexceptional, the strudel pastry was tough and chewy and, at best, only mildly flavoured with vanilla. The ‘banana anglaise’ was nothing more than a slice of unmolested banana with several berries for company. Overall, a disappointing and disjointed dessert.
I was content to wash down my meal with sparkling mineral water, but the Hedgie opted for a zombie. Sadly, this cocktail didn’t consist of pureed undead, but was a mixture of rum and fruit instead. The Hedgie wasn’t impressed with the flat taste though (sorry folks, no photo of this one).
Giving Caribbean food a modern twist is a good idea, but Bubbas doesn’t succeed very well at implementing it. Most of the more successful dishes are those which stick closely to their traditional forms, while the more inventive dishes are either disappointing and flawed or just plain bad. Aside from rethinking the menu, the management would be wise to tweak the decor too – the purple lighting and music choices are more suited to a student union bar or hair salon than a serious restaurant. There were a few highlights, ranging from the friendly service to the quality side dishes, but these aren’t enough to recommend Bubbas.
The Hedgie reckons Bubbas won’t survive more than a year. Unless the proprietors change course, I’m afraid that grim assessment may be right.
Address: 7A Station Rise, Tulse Hill, London, SE27 9BW
Phone: 020 8674 4114
Opening Hours: Monday-Friday noon-15.00 and 17.30-22.00. Saturday 17.30-midnight. Sunday 12.30-23.00.
Reservations: yeah, if you want.
Total cost for one person including mineral water shared between two: £39 approx.