If your perception of Caribbean food is casual street food such as jerk chicken served in a beach shack, you will be in for a severe culture shock when you visit Cottons, Notting Hill. If anyone, ever thought about opening a fine-dining Caribbean restaurant, this would be exactly how I envisage the venue to look like. It is smart-looking, confident and colourful: with a stunning jungle mural covering one side of the wall. A multi-coloured bar as well as multi-coloured chairs add to the vibrant atmosphere of the venue.
This isn’t just a restaurant but also a rhum shack: with 375 rums from all over the world, they have the most extensive collection of rums in any one venue, a fact that is certified by the Guinness Book of World Records. Rather meekly, I managed to try their wild tiki cocktail, which had an explosion of exotic taste with pineapple, kafir, lemongrass, aperol, passion fruit puree, maraschino liqueur and of course spiced rum. Surprisingly it was more of a soothing cocktail rather than anything overly fiery.
The titillation of the taste buds continued with the food menu. Having tried a multitude of seared scallops in my time, I can safely say nothing is quite as flavoursome as the Cottons version with passionfruit and lime infusion as well as pineapple and chilli salsa. It is quite the wake-up call for even hard-nosed food critics, to appreciate the complexities in flavours in Caribbean cuisine.
If you are indecisive like myself, their meat or fish and seafood platter is ideal for those who want to try a selection of their speciality. Highlights for me were the succulent lobster meat which was gently charred and well spiced, the clams in a dreamy coconut-based sauce which paired ideally with the rice and even just the fascinating texture of the plantain. What worked less well was being offered a crab cracker when there were virtually no meat in the thin crab legs, although it isn’t something you would complain about given crab isn’t actually listed on the menu and the king prawns were rather more shrimp like in size.
For dessert, I was confused by the passionfruit soufflé, which was in fact a frozen version. Would it not be normal practise to list that on the menu? Nevertheless it was vibrant and fruity and the addition of cinnamon crumbs and candied ginger really showed care and thought had gone into the preparation of the dish.
Completely crushing the stereotype of what Caribbean cuisine should be like, Cottons is an industry leader in promoting this fascinating fare.