Decatur’s rise has been one of those meteoric crescendos – from market to residency to permanent home in hardly more time than it takes to say chargrilled oyster. The market was Druid Street, where they still have a Saturday stall doing Creole streetfood, and the residency and permanent home are both Pamela Bar, on the Haggerston edge of Dalston.
Pamela’s an odd but loveable place, if you’re somebody who feels famous Pamelas is an odd but loveable theme. Pictures of Pamelas Anderson and Grier feature largely, along with others we’re either too cool or not cool enough to recognise.
The night we end up there it’s sultry, muggy to a New Orleans degree. Pamela have the front of their bar peeled open; there’s a Louisiana verandah feel to what’s usually an opaque, poker-faced set of windows onto the street. I order the Mitch Buchannon – mint, Applejack, Campari and lemon – refreshing enough to feel summery but also incredibly strong enough that you want to resist the urge to treat this like a verandah pitcher of punch. Or not, we don’t judge at the Arb, just forewarn you. My friend goes for the Beetdown – gin infused with beetroot, stretched out with lemon and elderflower. This is one, to be honest, I’d drink only in a spirit of suspicion but Leila is wholeheartedly into the root-and-fruit thing going on so it’s a pleaser of some crowds. The more sophisticated ones.
Speaking of suspicion. We also order those chargrilled oysters, although neither of us are really convinced an oyster’s a thing that should be hot – but if they’re going to be hot, maybe they should be baked with garlic pecorino butter and Crystal hot sauce. And they’re the main thing that shot Decatur’s market stall to streetfood god status, so we get talked into one each.
When they turn up, it’s pretty obvious that we are idiots and also that Decatur should get to do whatever they want to oysters. At certain points during dinner we float the idea of a retrace and re-ordering a lot more, but we’re kept too busy by a succession of ridiculously good soulfood. The sort that’s pretty hard to find in London, like a cheddar scallion biscuit, a warm scone-like thing with butter scalloping the edges, or a pork belly croquette with sticky rhubarb ketchup. The sort of food that, when you do find it, feels bathed in a holy glow and backed by that crescendo from Carmina Burana. You know, soulfood.
On balance we’re bowled over less by the main courses than the starters. Not a sign that the mains aren’t pretty brilliant in their own rights. The rabbit and smoked sausage gumbo, stewed to the stage where the liquid’s silk but the meat’s got actual bite, still makes me say things like why can’t all food be gumbo with a very not rhetorical wistfulness.
But the things bracketing the gumbo are actually the ones I’d go back for. Good gumbo you can make yourself. Just about. Inexpertly. Charred okra, whipped ricotta and red pepper jelly I would never make myself and don’t have to now, my role is just to wander down Kingsland Road, order a cold beer from Pamela, take over one of their outside tables and let Decatur do all the work.
Decatur @ Pamela Bar, 428 Kingsland Road, London E8 4AA. Tel: 0207 6863212. Website.