★★★★☆ / Jamaican/Caribbean

Yah-So review – look beneath the chintz at this Jamaican restaurant in Croydon

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.

illustrative photo of the interior at Yah-So Thornton Heath

The handful of outdoor seats have the delightful view of a roundabout and a shop selling ‘wide shoes.’

illustrative photo of the decor at Yah-So Croydon

Yah-So’s menu uses some… interesting names for its dishes. With an odd mix of actual Jamaican patois and overwrought, over-the-top word-based gimmickry, let’s take a look at some of them.

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.

illustrative photo of the jerk chicken at Yah-So

Weh u a seh, yu ah work wid de jerk.
Google Translate: time to genetically engineer a chicken made up of nothing but thighs.

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.

illustrative photo of the ox-tail at Yah-So

Slow fi cook, quick fi nyam – oxtail. Good thing they added oxtail at the end, there.

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.

illustrative photo of the curry goat at Yah-So

A back a yard ol favrite – goat.

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.

illustrative photo of the Festival dumplings at Yah-So

The sides just go by their standard English names on the menu. So at least that section of the menu is easily scanned by the eye.

illustrative photo of the Festival dumpling at Yah-So Thornton Heath

Partially devoured.

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.

illustrative photo of the plantains at Yah-So

Even the headings in the menu have patois phrases attached. ‘Mains’ are also labelled ‘Ready fi Nyam.’

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.

illustrative photo of the rum cake at Yah-So

Without better thought out typography, the patois strewn about the menu seems a bit unnecessary to my eyes and counterproductive too.

The Verdict

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.

Name: Yah-So

Address: 442 Whitehorse Road, Thornton Heath, London CR7 8SB

Phone: 020 3621 7621

Web: https://www.facebook.com/pg/YahSoGrill/

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.

Rating★★★★☆

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