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With an established base in Camden for over 30 years, and a more recently opened outpost in trendy Shoreditch’s Boxpark, Cottons is a firmly established player in London’s Caribbean scene. This more upmarket offering on Notting Hill Gate is the latest addition to the empire.
Food and drink
This isn’t your average jerk-chicken shack. Jamaican-born head chef Nikki McLeod has created a more refined menu for what Cottons are pitching as the ‘flagship restaurant’ of this small chain, with dishes (and prices) to match a smart West London clientele.
The bar boasts that it has the largest selection of rums anywhere in the UK with over 300 available – including their own home-made fruity and spiced infusions. So we start with a couple of long, rum-based cocktails: a Tea Lady – made with black-tea-infused rum, curaçao, cognac and strawberries – and a Red Mojito, with Havana 3 rum and a beetroot reduction. Both are a welcome, cooling start to an unseasonally sultry early-summer evening and help to transport us from London to the West Indies.
The mezze platter starter packed some punch and included juicy creole shrimps and a chickpea and aubergine curry. The baigan chokha wasn’t quite as expected – don’t expect ‘mash’ in any conventional sense. Instead it was a tasty but rather liquid concoction and the doubles (AKA flatbreads) dominated.
For mains we tried the chargrilled amchar masala lamb shoulder and the Cottons signature fish and seafood platter. The lamb was a flavour sensation: rich, rib-sticking, dark and salty. There just wasn’t enough of it for a greedy boy! The generous seafood platter was a plate full of sunshine – what Brits might call ‘holiday food’. Prawns, monkfish and lobster were all bursting with chargrilled flavour whilst clams came in their own curried sauce.
On the side we tried a too-subtly-smoked beetroot salad and an unremarkable potato salad (although, as the waitress suggested, it did compliment the seafood platter). With our mains we sampled a couple of export bottled beers from the short list: Banks from Barbados and Carib from Trinidad.
We finished with a rich chocolate cake with a praline mousse (what is it about spicy food that makes me crave chocolate?) and a zingy lemongrass flan with mixed berries.
Look and vibe
If you’re expecting a retro tiki bar or beach hut aesthetic you’ll be disappointed. It’s more chic than shack. Highlights include the lush, jungle mural which runs along the entire length of the ground floor. A fun multi-coloured bar, clad in painted bamboo, is the only overt nod to a ‘rhum shack’. The rest of the furniture is a let-down; it’s more corporate hotel bar than beachside drinking den. Eclectic lighting includes a froufrou chandelier hanging from the apex of the glass roof to the rear. Best not dwell on the incongruous and sad-looking bonsai.
As well as the main restaurant, there’s a compact private dining space in the basement – sadly without a music licence – which would be better suited to a business meal than a party, although the beach mural continues the sunny vibe.
Service was friendly and knowledgeable (don’t be afraid to ask for the ‘Glossary’ card if you’re not familiar with Caribbean cuisine) and the charming manager Martin Orbons was on hand to answer questions.
Around £50 per person, based on three courses and sides, a cocktail and two beers each, plus service.
The bottom line
A spicy addition to the neighbourhood with fine-dining aspirations – come for the rum list but stay for a Caribbean stew or a sharing platter of sunshine.
Cottons, 157-159 Notting Hill Gate, London W11 3LF, T: 0207 243 0090 / cottons-restaurant.co.uk