Bring your loved ones – and even your frenemies – to this Thornton Heath restaurant
We all, at some point or another, have to break bread with people that we’d rather spend less time with – not more. Although there’s always the distant hope that it’s *this* meal that will finally help put that fractured relationship back on the road to civility and perhaps even normality, you just know – in your heart of hearts – that it won’t.
These peeps usually fall into some hoary old archetypes. There’s Slightly Racist Nan, to whom you’ve never introduced any of your better halves. Then there’s Fretting Dad, who bought you a palette’s worth of surgical masks and hand sanitiser as soon as the first headlines about Covid 19 (and SARS and avian flu and ebola…) hit the airwaves.
Perhaps one of the most relatable, though, is Loudmouth Colleague. We’ve all had one at some point in our working lives. In my case, Loudmouth Colleague doesn’t have an indoor voice, speaking at just one tinnitus-inducing volume – all day, every day. He automatically assumes his time is more valuable than yours, no matter how frantic your day is. He engages in so much Chekov-ian ethnocultural tub-thumping and boasting, I suspect it’s actually a defence mechanism for some complex underlying psychological neurosis. Then there’s his ready acceptance of almost any tinfoil hat conspiracy theory popular on the danker corners of YouTube, so much so that he’s become my benchmark for postmodernist gullibility.
Even so, to grease the social wheels that keep our workplace turning, Wind-up Merchant and I humoured Loudmouth Colleague’s request for a meal. He had been ranting, frothing and propagandising about Yah-So for so long that I was beginning to suspect he was secretly on their payroll.
Although Yah-So’s clientele seems to mostly consist of locals from in and around Croydon, this Jamaican restaurant is decorated with so much island-themed chintz that it almost feels like a Caribbean theme park designed to lure in neophyte tourists. Except this is Thornton Heath, with precious few tourists to speak of.
Despite its resemblance to a branch of the wretched Turtle Bay chain, its food was neither hot air nor wasted calories. The loose, supple skin of a whole jerk chicken was tangy and peppery. Inevitably though, the thighs proved to be juicier and more moreish than the breast and drumsticks.
Despite rabbiting on about the stewed oxtail for days on end beforehand, Loudmouth Colleague resolutely refused to share any of his. While he hoarded his bowl, cowering over it like a hirsute Gollum frantically fingering his precious ring, Wind-up Merchant and I ordered another. The most ballyhooed oxtail was… fine. The bovine rings were more than tender enough to slip off the bone and had a subtle moreishness to their name. There was a bit too much filler veg though, while the stew itself had a mild tanginess that was easily forgotten. Even so, the tenderness of the oxtail was undeniably pleasing.
For my money, the curry goat was easily the best of all the hearty mains. Tender and sinewy meat on the bone came bathed in a mildly spiced sauce that was nonetheless deeply moreish. Goat and sauce tasted as if they were made for each other.
Festival dumplings are one of Wind-up Merchant’s favourites and with good reason – thick yet soft, doughy and yielding, they were markedly moreish. Their peculiar resemblance to English-style doughnuts, but of course savoury rather than sweet, only enhanced their charm.
Fluffy medium-grained rice came dotted with what were almost certainly gungo peas, but the real side to die for were the fried plantains with their sweet, soft and starchy bodies.
Rum cake had all the charm and edibility of a stale Tesco sponge husk wafted through the vapours of a rum-doused alcoholic’s breath. The accompanying ice cream was little better.
The surprising thing about Yah-So isn’t that the Jamaican dishes are eminently satisfying and reasonably priced. It’s that the service wasn’t as painfully sclerotic as I had feared. From his initial reconnaissance visits, Loudmouth Colleague reported painfully sluggish service. While the front of house was slow out of the gate with our menus and drinks, despite the restaurant being far from full, the pace and efficiency soon picked up. That gives me hope that the waiters have some idea of what they’re doing.
The menu is an oddity too. Alongside the tried-and-true jerk chicken and curry goat were space-fillers such as burgers and mac n cheese, but no sign of salt fish and ackee.
Even so, if you find yourself in this part of southeast London then Yah-So is most definitely worth your time – whoever you happen to be dining with.
Address: 442 Whitehorse Road, Thornton Heath, London CR7 8SB
Phone: 020 3621 7621
Opening Hours: Friday-Saturday noon-02.00, Sunday-Thursday noon-midnight.
Reservations? Highly recommended on and around weekends.
Average cost for one person, including soft drinks, when shared between three: £35 approx.