When the legend @usainbolt opens up a restaurant in London, the Man Dem had to pull a few strings to get a table on opening night.
Tracks and Records has taken over a bar called The Pipeline. Located on Middlesex Street between the city and trendyville aka shoreditch, nearer brick lane. The decor is stylish, with an open kitchen, boxed in with corrugated iron to add a slight Jamaican centred theme.
The kitchen is buzzing with activity, sometimes chaotic but exciting to watch. The music is impressive. A wide ranging mix of dancehall and reggae (not your obvious @bobmarley tunes either) with a sprinkling of sweet soca.
Everything is set for a good experience. However, can Usain’s food appease both City workers and Caribbean locals? Based on previous experience from @levismokehouse and @turtlebayuk it is a tough task to keep both sets of diners happy, and thus far, in our opinion, none of the mainstream ‘Caribbean’ themed restaurants are yet to crack it. Can @TracksandRecords change the game for the better?
WHYTE (aka Cheese Lover): Saltfish Fritters for starters (fish cakes to some) – being half St Lucian I had to sample a batch of these, or 2 in this case. Served flat, these fritters were a little oily and the taste full of dough, more fish needed! A bit more fish and 1 more fritter would make this ‘small plate’ value for money at £4.95.
Feeling underwhelmed by my starter the other half of me, the Jamaican side was ready for the Jerk Chicken. Ordered from the ‘Large Plate’ section of the menu. Cold! My chicken was cold. I tried a few pieces of the boneless chicken from the middle of the plate, but it went from lukewarm to cold.
After a 20 minute wait, a new plate arrived. This time the chicken was warm, it will do. The chef and waiting team need to review the length of time it takes to get the chicken from grill to table, clearly taking too long.
The festival resembles a breadstick, long and thin. It did taste like a festival, despite its unique shape.
Plaintain was lightly fried. I am not a big fan of plantain, this serving was sweet and fresh.
Remember I said I picked an item from the ‘Large Plate’ section. Well this portion of Jerk Chicken resembled a small plate! Same size as a @nandos quarter chicken. Rationing? The restaurant was packed, maybe they were mindful of not running out of Chicken. At £13.95 I was expecting more.
Now and again I got a hint of jerk seasoning, otherwise it was your average tasting slow cooked grilled chicken, certainly wasn’t giving me that ‘Jamaican vibe’ as stated under the logo. If you insist on deboning the chicken, please add extra seasoning.
Some staff training is needed. My meal was missing its coleslaw. When asked our waitress at first stated coleslaw wasn’t included. Luckily we kept one of the menus and showed her the list of sides included Large Jerk chicken. A batch of coleslaw swiftly arrived.
Oh and a hovis bread role is not hard dough bread!
RAIN (aka The Manager): Excited is an understatement! After visiting Tracks and Records in Kingston (Jamaica), where the vibe was mad, the food was crazy as in big portions and tasty, blah blah. When I got the call from Whyte telling me we had a table booked, I went on a fast for 24 hours preparing for what was in store at the newly opened Tracks and Records!
Getting a Hovis bread roll instead of hard Dough bread as stated on the menu, is like going to an Indian restaurant, asking for Naan Bread and getting Tortillas…Rain
On entry with Tongo, we were greeted with a glass of prosecco “Don’t mind if I do” said the angel in me, however the real me was screaming “Ah weh di rassss, Bolt come ah h’England and tun posh, WEH DI RUM PUNCH?!” From this point I knew it was going to be an interesting experience.
We seated ourselves as we saw Whyte already at the table, pinky finger extended like he owned the gaff while sipping prosecco. The menu, simple in its construct, was nothing too fancy but had all the Jamaican staples… Bammy, Festival, Jerk Chicken and Pork, Curry Goat and the rest.
Immediately what stood out for me was the Jerk Chicken Spring Rolls and the Appleton BBQ Wings, yes Appleton RUM, BLUD! Tongo and Whyte had some fishy bits but unnu (you all) know I don’t deal with fish as that’s death to me (I’m allergic). For the main I kept it simple, Jerk Platter which consisted of Jerk chicken and pork, festival, harddough bread and coleslaw with a spicy jerk sauce! What could go wrong eh!
Back to the starters, Jerk Chicken Spring Rolls, these were not bad, something different and with that my compliments to the chef. Crisp, the jerk chicken has flavour and the sauces inside complimented the deep fried pastry which forms the roll, my one complaint would be there is also potato in the string roll? It was a veg of sorts but in my view not needed, but as a starter definitely something I would recommend to all. This is a great start, with the service from the waitress with the green or blue eyes, this place will score highly.
Next up, the chicken wings, I’m not gonna lie my spider sense was tingling when I saw the bowl of wings arrive. It was small, contained four chicken wings which looked like they came from a VERY small chicken. Also there was not a mixture of the pieces as in drums and flats, only flats. Now for a 6 quid starter man a man needs more chicken on his wing and at least a drum (the leg looking bit). Anyhow, maybe it’s just me being greedy so I took one of the small wings and took a bite, in my mind I’m thinking the wing should have the same kick as a shot of Appleton Reserve 50 year dark rum. Maaaaaynnnnne! I was disappointed. The wing was fried crispy, (bonus points) thats how wings should be, not soggy and sloppy like some places, but the sauce was bland. I think Tongo expressed it best, “I’m not sure what the flavour is”. Is it BBQ, ketchup, honey glazed or something else. For me there are better things on the menu to try, and better places for chicken wings in the immediate area, frustrating as the “Appleton” tag has potential.
As I took the last bite the main arrived, the JERK PLATTER! I wrote that in capitals to boost it, as in the size, but mate! It was “shy” (shy means not enough). I had so many questions. Where was the rest of the chicken? Why only two pieces of fried plantain? Where’s the hard dough bread? WAIT! Where’s my coleslaw?!?! BLUD don’t mug me off! Luckily Whyte dealt with his and my missing coleslaw calmly, because I was ready to fling a chair towards the kitchen when the waitress try say coleslaw wasn’t included.
Where do I start on my Jerk platter???? Ok, firstly, the Jerk Pork and Chicken, I can’t front it was ok, but I need to point out that these meats were cooked on a grill, like a Nando’s style grill. Jerk Chicken regardless of what @JamieOliver thinks is cooked in a Jerk Pan, at this point I need to shout out @official_Levi_Roots where when we met him he changed my thinking, he said “When you visit my place don’t expect to taste that same thing that your mum or gran cooks, this is my style!” That’s stuck with me, so I now go into restaurants with an open mind, and on this occasion the Jerk was OK. But the amount was tiny, small, minuscule. Worth the money, HELL NO! Tasty, yes, but the Jerk man that used to be outside Stratford Rex tasted better, gave you treble the amount for a fiver, and you got hard dough bread too!
Now let’s deal with Usain’s hard dough bread! In the pics you can clearly see a picture of a bread roll? Hovis? Tesco bakery? I don’t know but what I will say is this is NOT hard dough bread. The Angel in my mind said “Give them a chance, maybe they ran out, or this is their take on it”. The other side said “Mi did warn you bout this rasss place when dem never gi weh rum punch when wi walk in, where is MR BOLT, WHERE IS USAIN?!?”
Let me explain to those of you who may not be familiar with hard dough bread – getting a Hovis bread roll instead of hard Dough bread as stated on the menu, is like going to an Indian restaurant, asking for Naan Bread and getting Tortillas, or going to a Turkish restaurant and asking for their freshly made bread and getting Jacobs Cream Crackers! Come on! What’s going on here!
TONGO (aka Sweet Tooth): Bucking up with Rain outside and met by security at the entrance we are asked “You gentlemen got a reservation?” Being able to say “Yes we do” compared to other people outside who had no reservation made me feel like some kinda VIP. For some reason I was gassed! I walked in and thought “the place looks nice!”, grabbed a glass of prosecco off a tray and made my way over to Whyte at the table. I then caught myself “I don’t even drink” but I was fully caught up in the hype lol.
When the menu dropped I wanted to try a lot of the options but went for the Coconut and Cassava Prawns for starters and the Fried Fish with added side of my usual sweet potato fries for mains as I knew them man would cover the standard wings and jerk options between them.
For those that don’t know prawns are one of my favourite foods so I was H’EXCITED when I read the description “Prawns crusted with bammy and coconut flakes served with a pineapple sweet and sour sauce”… mate! I couldn’t wait! When the plate arrived my face lit up like a kid opening a PS4 box on Christmas morning in their pyjamas still with mampi inna dem eye!! The dish looked so nice I almost forgot myself and got stuck in before taking the mandatory pics for the MDVF blog! I took my first bite and did an imaginary somersault in my seat… di ting nice yuh si! Without hesitation I took a second bite, this time dipping it in the sauce… RAHTID!! This sauce is bad nuh bumbo!!And I’m a man that don’t even really like sweet n sour sauce! The coating was golden, crunchy and light whilst the prawn inside was thick, succulent and well seasoned.
Now for my Fried Fish. When the plate arrived I was fully impressed, it looked so appetising. My mouth was watering! I was taken a back by the festival straw (yes I do mean straw) that was cotching on the top but I wasn’t going to let that put me off. It tasted like a festival but needs more depth to it so you can get more taste to your mouthful. I took a bite of the fish, it was sublime, phenomenal even. I did an imaginary bogle followed by a Usain Bolt lightning pose.
The fish was lightly fried and although there was no coating had a slight crisp edge with soft flesh at it’s core. A perfectly pan fried skin ensuring it was just cooked enough to enable a crunch to every bite. The seasoning was not distinctive but was so tasty. I didn’t need to add salt or squeeze lemon on it as is usually the case when I eat fish from elsewhere. The escovietch pickle was amazing, with a piquant taste and complimented the fish brilliantly. This dish was perfect as it was, the height of excellence. I should call it seafood heaven, it was that good. I would recommend it to anyone. *Sidenote: Rain, I know you’re allergic bro but some things are worth dying for. #justsaying
OVERALL: We so wanted Tracks and Records to be an instant hit. We can see the huge potential and the investment that has gone into the premises, decor and staffing. No corners have been cut.
However, Man Dem V Food are the UKs most honest food bloggers and we cannot get swept up in the fanfare that is Usain Bolt opening up a restaurant in London.
After taking in the electric atmosphere, eyeing up the sexy decor (the basement lounge will be a hit) and applauding the number of staff at hand, even though some need a bit more training, we have to strip it down to the food. Our food experience left a lot to be desired, we were more disappointed than angry.
We visited on opening night, but our experience felt like a soft launch. We are certain Tracks and Records will settle down and improve and look forward to returning with the full team for a second review.
SCORE: 2 out of 6 man dems.