‘Walk good’, says the website for Rudie’s. And we at the Arb are going to selflessly sacrifice our own readership by advising you to walk good away from this review right now, and over to their Dalston jerk restaurant, double time.
Everything that follows is just if you want convincing. But know this: the more time you spend reading about Rudie’s the less time you’re spending with both hands and all of your attention fixed on a bucket of jerk calamari or a plate of papaya-sauce pork shoulder.
Jerk calamari is where we start, and saltfish bakes. And the signature cocktail list. Because despite the call of a Red Stripe it’s hard to turn down the Governor General – Blackwell rum, curacao, dry vermouth and sorrel; like a sharper, rougher El Presidente – or anything called Cool Runnings – Blackwell rum again, with coconut, ginger and tamarind. Both are perfect, and that’s despite neither of us thinking of rum as our spirit animal.
Like the cocktail list, Rudie’s is on-theme without being gimmicky. It’s themed in the sense that the food is Island, there’s a lot of rum behind the bar – and in the cocktails. And in the desserts – and they’ve got the odd Wah Gwaaan and Irie floating around their web copy. But the design is simple and mostly wooden, with a hint of palm tree-pillars and sunbeam-lighting; the music slides across reggae, rock and punk without any obvious bias, and there’s as much Venetian prosecco as Jamaican beer on the drinks list.
By the time our main course arrives the saltfish and calamari are just a beautiful, baking-hot, crisp memory and an explosion of batter-crumbs across my clothes, and we’re fired up with rum and arrogance for what’s coming next. The Ya Man! Platter, chicken, lamb, pork and slaw, smoked over wood chips in a traditional jerk drum. Three kinds of chili sauce.
I’m pretty sure we can handle this. Leonie’s first act on arriving was to give me a bottle of hot sauce she’d been keeping in her handbag as a present. It’s called Who Dares Burns. The branding is flames and steel. Leonie gives out hot sauce as a pleasantry. And I seek out friends who I think will give me gifts of hot sauce. This is the context for my massive – and totally misplaced – arrogance about how much meat and heat we’re a match for.
Two minutes into the platter and all of my attention is narrowed down to two blazing points: the chicken in my hand and the inferno in my mouth. I haven’t touched the chili sauce yet. Across the table Leonie’s holding a slab of charred pork and looking equally shaken. Rudie’s, I underestimated you.
We still make our way through most of the platter, defeated only by the quantity. Like all good jerk, it’s as amazing as it is fearsome, and never actually so hot that you lose the smokiness of the meat or the sweetness of the spices underneath.
So meat and heat, and hubris. That’s what we have for dinner. It doesn’t make me love Rudie’s less. It just makes me want to be a better person.
It’s a struggle to think of anything you’d change about this place. There’s Red Stripe flying the Jamaican flag on the beer list, but apart from that it’s mainly East London craft beer. Arguably way better than a Dragon Stout, but when we’re in the throes of the Ya Man! pork I kind of crave that weird, malty sweetness to tamp down the heat.
Aside from that – it’s small and it’s perfect, so it’s going to be busy, but they take bookings so you can lock down your jerk way ahead of time. Although there’d be worse fates than turning up to a queue and having to while away a few cassava crisps and Katch a Fire cocktails at the bar.
We leave into the Dalston winter, mouths burning. Tongues like licks of flame. It’s irie.
Rudie’s, 50, Stoke Newington Road, N16 7XB. 0207 2499930. Website.