The unassuming takeaway and caff quietly knocking out belters
Takeaways. While the mere mention of them will bring tears of excitement to many, I became disillusioned with takeaways long ago. In far too many boroughs and high streets across the capital, those crimped foil cartons are the bearers of little more than humdrum anglicised Chinese and Indian food. In others, the culinary quality may be higher – but at the cost of using services like Uber Eats and Deliveroo, whose very existence depends on exploiting restaurants and delivery drivers alike.
Kaieteur Kitchen is one of the few traders to have survived the
social cleansing shutdown of the old Elephant and Castle shopping centre. It’s now located on the upper level of Castle Square, a temporary mini-shopping centre just across the road from the Elephant and Castle mainline station.
While Kaieteur Kitchen does have a few tables in its cosy yet elegant caff-ish dining room, along with a clutch of outside tables and benches shared with the other Castle Square retailers, most of its trade seems to be in takeaway. Its menu of Guyanese dishes, which changes every week and sometimes everyday, has some similarities with other Afro-Caribbean traditions, but it’s still very much its own thing – especially if you’re fortunate enough to nab one of the Friday specials.
Vegetarian dishes from Kaieteur Kitchen
Vegetarians are by no means second-class citizens at Kaieteur Kitchen. Vegetable curry consisted mainly of bittersweet spinach with a deeply addictive savoury undercurrent and dotted with tender potato and sweet okra. A choice of carbs are available with all the mains. The roti is always worth having – thicker, heartier and doughier than either Indian or Malaysian roti, it’s ideal winter ballast.
The same spinach from the vegetable curry is used as a small side to pep up some of the other, less well-rounded vegetarian dishes. While chickpeas were nutty with a yielding bite that was just right, it was still heavily reliant on both the spinach and a helping of mild scotch bonnet-based chilli sauce on the side for much of its flavour.
Fish dishes from Kaieteur Kitchen
While there aren’t any crustaceans or molluscs on the menu at Kaieteur Kitchen, the dishes based around white fish are hardly consolation prizes. Dense and hearty chunks of salted cod, with a strident saltiness that somehow never became overwhelming, came doused in a thin yet moreish sauce and wrapped in Kaieteur Kitchen’s blanket-like roti. If there’s a simpler sandwich out there that’s just as flavoursome, I have yet to try it.
‘Fried curry fish’ are some of the most unassuming words on Kaieteur Kitchen’s menu. The soft and seamless batter resembled the coating found on their fried chicken, but it was far more supple, savoury and with a gentle chewiness too. It was the perfect carrier for the meaty white fish underneath, possibly bream. Daubed with a moreish and slightly spicy hot sauce, it made for an unexpectedly soothing meal. Tomato rice brought little to the party – opt instead for the far more savoury spinach rice if it’s available.
Despite their name, the bakes are effectively deep-fried bread rolls. But that quotidian description really doesn’t do these golden baps justice – evenly soft, fluffy and moreish with not a hint of grease, clagginess or heaviness to give away their deep-fried origins. While you can have them from Kaieteur Kitchen plain or stuffed with almost anything you want, the default salted cod fish is always my pick as it neatly amplifies the bakes’ moreish qualities.
Meat dishes from Kaieteur Kitchen
Some might find the idea of eating oxtail off-putting, either because of unfamiliarity, squeamishness or the marginal hassle factor of separating meat from bone. As always with oxtail though, the textural ‘grapple factor’ of prising away the meat is part of the pleasure. The feathery soft bovine flesh was succulent and bathed in a thin yet sticky sauce that was deeply savoury and lightly tangy, easily outshining other oxtail dishes I’ve had, such as the Jamaican-style oxtail at Thornton Heath’s Yah-So.
As is so often the case with meat stews, the best bits of Kaieteur Kitchen’s lamb stew were the cuts still on the bone – earthier with more sinew and connective tissue, they had bite as well as character. Although the spicy heat of the sauce was one-dimensional, the lamb’s coconut hints were brought out by the citrus-like sweetness of the peppers and sweet potato on the side.
Lamb curry proved to be an even better baby mutton dish. While all the lamb chunks were tender yet dense, the best bites were once again the earthy bits-on-the-bone. Although the sauce was almost more like a dry rub and not especially spicy, it did give the lamb a nutty moreishness which proved to be subtly yet definitively satisfying.
If it’s available, it’s worth having the cook-up rice to accompany the lamb curry. A carby analogue to bubble and squeak, the version here saw meat trimmings mixed in with rice, black eyed peas and spices which were then stir-fried to moreish, fluffy perfection. The cook-up rice will likely compliment many of Kaieteur Kitchen’s dishes, but its meaty undertone was especially apt here.
Chicken curry was similar to the lamb. Although the dry rub of a sauce was more muted, the moist, just-cooked chook made up for it.
Meatballs the size of small planets were coarse and moist, all of which made up for the lacklustre spicy sauce which was totally lacking in heat. My carb of choice from Kaieteur Kitchen, above even the roti, has to be the spinach rice. Its bittersweet and deeply savoury charms were consistently bewitching, time after time, repeatedly stroking my pleasure centres without fail. It’s even better when taken with sweet and starchy stewed pumpkin, neatly complimenting all of the mains and not just the meatballs.
While fried chicken was served on the bone, neither the batter, the chook itself or a bed of stir-fried wheat noodles were anything to crow about. For dishes like this, the fermented fish and prawn chilli sauce can be a godsend. Served on the side as an alternative to the usual scotch bonnet-based hot sauce, it’s well worth having whenever it’s available. Reminiscent of Ghanian shito, it imparted a bristling spicy heat as well as a funky umami. I would almost have the wan fried chicken again, purely as an excuse to slather it with as much of that chilli sauce once again.
Mammoth hunks of beef steak were the least impressive of the meat dishes. While the beef was reasonably tender, the one-dimensional sweetness of the sticky sauce left much to be desired.
Friday specials from Kaieteur Kitchen
Stewed garlic pork doesn’t sound or look very special, but judging food by aesthetics alone is a fool’s game. The mouthfeel of these chunky yet precisely cut porcine slices was exquisite. While all were tender enough to yield at the merest bite, the cuts with attached fat were especially toothsome as they had been rendered just-so. The squidgy reams of gelatinous fat were the crowning glory of a delightful dish fleshed out by tender meat and subtly moreish sauce.
Kaieteur Kitchen’s salmon was cooked just-so, avoiding the curse of leaden stodginess that so often blights this fish when manhandled by other kitchens. Richly meaty with a light tangy oiliness, its savoury qualities were further enhanced by a thin yet golden and deeply moreish sauce that reminded me of fish soup. Dotted with fingers of sweet okra, plantain and filling yet simultaneously light tubers, this special was remarkably well rounded.
Both the black and white puddings were far too grainy for my taste, due to the abundance of rice at the expense of everything else. Both lacked the hearty, earthy charms that I find most enjoyable about other blood sausages found elsewhere.
The words ‘cow foot soup’ will be enough to send the squeamish and the monotonously unimaginative running for their nearest KFC, but everyone else should be lining up for this Friday special. While the thin liquid was most definitely a soup rather than a broth, it was no less fortifyingly hearty. I slurped and guzzled every last drop of the sticky, deeply savoury, sweet, sourly sharp and spicily warm sousse. It was made even better by the helpings of bell pepper, onions, potatoes and the extant bits of cow foot. Unsurprisingly tendon-like in their gelatinous squidginess, their yielding toothsomeness helped round out a sumptuously layered and well-rounded soup.
‘Pepperpot’ is a deceptively unassuming name for such an uncompromisingly bold and hearty dish. Monolithic yet tender chunks of beef glistened serenely in a reddish-black sauce that was so thin, it could be mistaken for soup. It leant the bovine pieces a light bitterness that developed into a deeply woody, cinnamon-like moreishness that lingered on the tongue. The cuts of beef you’ll get will vary depending on the luck of the pot ladle. Rump cuboids were effortlessly tender, but other even less heralded cuts were arguably more enjoyable – the squidginess of tendons, for example, added a textural richness that felt like it was expressly made for the sumptuously sophisticated sauce. Don’t waste a drop of that sauce, either. If you don’t slurp it up, then mop it up using the dhal puri. Despite its name, it was less like a pani puri and more like Kaieteur Kitchen’s roti, but thinner and softer yet with just as many pliable, absorbent layers.
Desserts from Kaieteur Kitchen
Although the jam filling of the pineapple pastry only bore a passing resemblance to the fruit, the thick and crusty egg-glazed pastry packed in a lot of biscuity charm.
If you like Mini Cheddars, then you’ll get on famously with the cheese pastry. The same robust pastry from the pineapple confection made a repeat appearance here, but salted and stuffed with a core of soft, set cheese. I was largely indifferent to this cheese stick, especially as it struck me as a canape/starter that somehow ended up miscast as a dessert.
Salara coconut roll was a weaponised Swiss roll, the sponge almost pastry-like in its chewy thickness and heartiness. Although apparently coconut-flavoured, its sugary sweetness, slight bitterness and lurid red colouring reminded me of sour, acidic varieties of apple. It’s not a pudding for children, or at least not for most Western children, and I enjoyed it all the more as a result.
While perched outside Kaieteur Kitchen’s premises, supping their many dishes while bracing myself against the frigid wintry temperatures night-after-night, I had the opportunity to observe the takeaway delivery drivers doing their rounds at a neighbouring new-build apartment block.
Judging from the branded delivery bags, many of the residents have predictably corporate tastes – Papa John’s, Nando’s, McDonald’s etc. While there’s nothing wrong with turning to the familiar for comfort in uncertain times, the seeming lack of interest in the uncommon deliciousness right on their doorstep was striking.
To be fair, Kaieteur Kitchen doesn’t make life easy for themselves. They close early and some dishes – a few of the specials in particular – must be ordered in advance. And yet this shouldn’t detract from the verve and skilful precision on display in so many of their lip-tremblingly delightful dishes. In a consumerist society, spending habits speak louder than words and platitudes. If we don’t reward local gems like Kaieteur Kitchen with our coin, then we risk losing them forever – swept away by a tide of logo’d, franchised, lowest-common denominator dark kitchen pap. And that’s a thought that just doesn’t bear thinking about.
What to order: Pepperpot, fried fish curry, vegetable curry, sousse, roti, dhal puri, cook up rice, spinach rice, garlic pork
What to avoid: Fried chicken, black and white puddings
Name: Kaieteur Kitchen
Address: Top floor, Castle Square, Elephant Road, London SE17 1EU
Phone: 07752 084133
Opening Hours: Monday-Friday 11.00-20.00, Saturday noon-20.00 and Sunday noon-18.00 (some specials must be ordered in advance).
Reservations? not taken.
Average cost per main dish: £8-10 approx.