While saltfish and ackee is the national dish of Jamaica, it’s easy to think otherwise, given the popularity of jerk meat — especially jerk chicken — across Jamaica and its diaspora in the U.K. and North America. Classically cooked in outdoor pits and steel barrel drums, many feel that the oven-cooked jerk meats increasingly common to London restaurants simply aren’t the real deal. Across the city, however, a few enterprising individuals have endeavoured to innovate ways of cooking up jerk. Arguments about where to get the best jerk chicken almost mirror the ferocity of football supporters in any given part of London: proud residents will, without doubt, say that their local is the best. Here’s a handpicked selection from all corners of the capital, to help out with an unbiased choice.Read More
Where to Find London’s Best Jamaican Jerk
Whether cooked in the traditional steel drum or ingeniously translated to the oven, here’s where to find the city’s best jerk chicken, pork, or lamb
The Wright Jerk Centre
Situated just off the A406 Motorway junction at Wembley, the hungry with a car have no excuse not to take a foray to The Wright Jerk Centre. The frequent sight of motorbike crews outside the shop with bikes perfectly lined in formation let people know there are many others who savour the road trip to this far reach of London too. For perspective, there are only two seats inside. More space has rightfully been allocated to the wall-to-wall grills billowing smoke up metal chimneys frequently being plastered with cuts of chicken and a very rare addition of lamb rather than pork. With this base chosen or combined, the variations of cuts, sides and additions are in the multiple dozens, all ready to be eaten on the ride home.
Jay Dee's Catering
Stretching from Westbourne Park to Latimer Road and hovering just north of the illustrious Notting Hill, Jay Dees sits in a locale that straddles a wide social spectrum, and manages to cater for all. Hailing from an era where the Red, Gold and Green, soundsystem speakers and jerk drums would have been a common sight in the area, the sizeable takeout feels like one of the last links to an era gone. While the shop has a host of recognisable options from small cups of daily soup to specials such as curry mutton and fried chicken, with the optics of a jerk drum rooted outside.
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The Jerk Drum - Jamaican Bbq
Located in the heart of London in Soho’s weekday food market, Jerk Drum street food stall served shoppers, tourists and nearby office workers alike who would otherwise be hard pressed to find anything even remotely similar for literally miles. Now with central London reduced to a patter of the previous footfall, Jerk Drum has built up enough of a reputation to sustain. Having done his jerk apprentice with George’s in Croydon (see above) it’s easy to see and taste why the flavour here is almost pandemic proof. While boneless curry goat and the vegan Ital curry pot all make completely valid asides, for all jerk needs look no further than the “Mega Mix Box” combining a smoky jerk pork and sweet jerk chicken mash up.
George’s First Jerk Catering @ Surrey Street Market
Everyday is like a lottery at George’s First Jerk Catering, located on Croydon’s Surrey Street market. He doesn’t do jerk chicken everyday, but on the days he does, Croydon’s locals and visitors count themselves fortunate, with hungry office workers not around for now. There’s no kitchen backing the stall, so as Glen likes so tout, “once it’s gone, it’s gone.”
Blessed West Indian Takeaway
For local reggae legend King Atarney, music and food go hand in hand. Swooning reggae tunes — including some of his own — usually provide the sounds inside Blessed. Often cooking alongside his son on their wide furnace, turning chicken and taming flames with a water squirter, all of Atarney’s meals should be accompanied by his son’s all-purpose jerk seasoning sauce, also known as ‘Lightning Blessed!’ The title alone lets would-be eaters know what they are in for.
Ossie's Jerk Chicken
For anyone craving jerk in the wee hours of the day, when most others are tucked away in bed, Ossie’s still cranks out the goods. The £3 ‘chicken and chips’ is a favourite for worldly youngsters seeking an alternative to the scores of chicken shops lining the local high street, a takeaway institution in the area.
Come a Crystal Palace home football game, hundreds of fans — both home and away — pass through Tasty Jerk for an alternative to bang average stadium grub. With the shop lined with jerk drums, it almost seems to have created a Ford-esque conveyor belt, built to whip out as much perfect jerk as humanly possible come Saturday or Sunday. There might be no fans and no games right now, but the production line rumbles on.
Pepper & Spice Restaurant London
One of the few places on this list that doesn’t use a steel drum or pit replica of some sort, but still gets it spot on. Few places also manage to get the entire multitude of Caribbean offerings, but that’s why Peppers & Spice has existed for over two decades. Head chef Tex has perfected his oven technique for jerking meat, wet-seasoning choice cuts before roasting in large ovens for the locals to take home.
Also at: 541 High Road, London N17 6SD
JB's Soul Food
Whilst relatively new compared to some other Caribbean spots in Peckham, this restaurant flies the colours of the Jamaican flag high for all too see. Owner Bill can sometimes be seen to the side of the shop, cooking up jerk chicken in a steel drum he made himself. On the weekend, his jerk pork makes a special appearance, with many lamenting that the shop doesn’t sell it every day. For Caribbean food novices, the shop’s mini meals that range from £2.50 — £3.50 are a fine starting point to take away right now.
Otis Wright’s Jamaican jerk chicken stand in the front yard of St. Augustine’s Tower, off Mare Street in Hackney Central, is responsible for some of east London’s best street food. From 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. every Wednesday to Sunday (subject to change), one of Wright’s lesser-known menu items is the £5 jerk chicken sandwich. He debones a freshly grilled leg of chicken, rose-coloured from marination and smoke, adds some cabbage, carrots, onions, and a touch of gravy. Customers add their own hot sauce and/or mayonnaise.
Unlike most Caribbean takeouts that attempt to sell the entire catalogue of island favourites, Smokey Jerkey is a real rarity: it has focussed on selling nothing but jerk lamb, chicken and pork for the last decade. Cooked on owner Louie’s self-designed furnace that burns on hickory wood, there’s a smoked profile not found on most jerk on the capital. Be careful of the seeming tomato ketchup on the counter: it’s actually a house scorpion pepper sauce. Not for the faint-hearted.
People's Choice Caribbean
Just off Hackney’s Chatsworth road, expect to see proprietor Lenny drifting in and out of his shop, tending to his jerk drum sitting out front throughout the early hours of the day. His slow process of jerking hefty pieces of meat has proved an instant favourite in the area, and that hasn’t changed through recent months.
No-one is ever too far from a Jerk Garden in south London, whichever pocket they reside in. While the mainstream culinary attention in the area is reserved for Clapham and Brixton, with areas like Peckham and Camberwell slowly being broached by critics fearful of being stabbed, the deeper London enclaves further south rarely get a look in. Jerk Garden however, has for long been a champion for these ends. It shys away from the regular optics of a Jamaican jerk outpost in favour of white sleek interiors, plant pots and astro turf flooring, all befitting the garden moniker, which makes visiting the shop a refreshing experience. But while Jerk Garden looks to reinvent the Jamaican eating space, make no mistake: it’s not trying to reinvent Jerk chicken. With ten other options and variants of jerk from salads to coco bread sandwiches and dinner boxes, the advice is to arrive as hungry as possible for something to take away.
59 Beckenham Rd, Beckenham, BR3 4PR
394 Brockley Rd, Brockley, London SE4 2BY
Mama’s Jerk opened in 2009, celebrating the legacy of owner Adrian’s great grandmother Mama Charlotte, and her secret jerk barbecue sauce recipe. Located in several spots across London, Mama’s Jerk continues to innovate with its sweet and tangy sauce, dousing novel fish cakes, veggie bean cake wraps, and a fresh salad chicken wrap that takes the rainbow as inspiration. All available for delivery and takeaway.
Also at: Pop Brixton, 49 Brixton Station Road SW9 8PQ
Rhythm Kitchen E17
Delroy Dixon, a.k.a. “The Jerk Father,” has been on a mission to illuminate the full breadth of the Caribbeans’ beauty to the UK through the vehicle of food and drink for the last decade. Via the open kitchen of the Stratford Westfield mall outpost and the sleek Walthamstow restaurant which hosted a legendary series of Caribbean rum nights that will hopefully return one day, the jerk options of pork and chicken have been winners from day one and are just as good in the takeaway only world. Left to marinate for 24 hours in a family concoction of herbs and spices before being finished on the grill then caressed with the gravy of marination, the experience will make first-timers question their previous jerk chicken experiences. All are served with options of white rice, rice and peas or even Trinidad Roti sourced from the nearby powerhouse of Horizon foods.
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