Open Mon–Fri 5pm–11pm, Sat–Sun 2pm–10pm
‘With its roots planted firmly in the Caribbean, Cottons Restaurant & Rhum Shack has been serving the best of Caribbean cuisine to Londoners for over 30 years, and this brand new flagship restaurant in Notting Hill is a stone’s throw from Notting Hill Gate underground. Cottons is now the proud owner of the Guinness world record for the biggest number of rums commercially available—372 to be precise. Come and try them all!’
Warm, friendly, welcoming. From the minute we walked in, on a miserable November night, we felt our spirits rising, after a month of fairly unalloyed gloom. Samantha, our hostess, could not have been more lovely, fun and unaffected, suggesting the most potent of the rum cocktails to start, ‘if you can take the heat.’ Always up for a challenge (and always able—ahem—to take the heat), we accepted with alacrity, taking several seconds to look around the cheerfully decorated room, glorious with tropical foliage.
The wall adjacent to our table mimicked the exterior of a pale turquoise clapboard cottage, with darker blue shutters; the wall opposite was painted with a joyous mural of rainbow Caribbean scenes: pink flamingo skies, azure seas, sunshine yellows, foliage in every shade of green, parrots striped in all these hues and more.
As we took the first sips of our drinks, a musical duo started to play—really well. He was on acoustic guitar, she had one of the sweetest voices I’ve heard for a long time. The music was well judged, non-intrusive, absolutely right—a bit of Stevie, a bit of Bob, a bit of Ray. If that sounds like a cliché, well, maybe it is, but it didn’t seem it, more a happy cocoon in which one could stay for some time before having to face the real world again: sand under bare feet, the insistent chirrup of crickets, bright stars in an unpolluted sky. I suppose the rum might have had something to do with it.
In all honesty, for once I was having too nice a time to intently observe (and bitch about) our fellow guests, but they all seemed perfectly happy too: some couples, some groups, quite a variety of ages and ethnicities, all eating, chatting, laughing and clapping with enthusiasm at the end of every song.
From the starters menu, seared scallops with passionfruit and lime infusion, pineapple & chilli salsa (£8.50) and crayfish salad with palm hearts in a Scotch bonnet, palm sugar and lime dressing (£8.00) sounded particularly appealing, but we went with Samantha’s suggestion of saltfish fritters with tamarind & guava chutney and coconut & coriander jelly (£7.00), and salt and pimiento squid with coriander, lemongrass, lime and green chilli dressing (£7.50). Both were bright and delicious, keeping us firmly in our happy sunshine beach bubble. The light, crisp fritters were perfectly seasoned and a nice textural contrast to both the sweet/sour chutney and blobs of just-set jelly; the squid tender and squeaky fresh, complemented beautifully by its zingy, zesty dressing.
The mains were also good. My curried crab with cornmeal dumplings (£18.00) was a shell-on beast submerged in mildly-spiced coconut-creamy sauce, finger-lickingly enjoyable as I cracked its legs, sucking sweet meat out of the flavour-bursting carapace, humming along to ‘Play That Funky Music’, quite possibly shimmying in my chair. Pleasingly, there was no polite way to eat this enormous pot of fishy yumminess, which was only let down by the heaviness of the dumplings (most of which I left).
Andy’s Guyanese 48-hour slow-cooked beef pepper pot with fondant potatoes (£17.00) was another vast one-pot offering, no less delicious for it, the meat as tender as one would expect it to be after two days’ simmering, resplendent in a dark, glossy, medium-hot sauce. The potatoes were negligible (in number, not flavour) compared to the meat—admirable generosity from the kitchen, but even my mega-carnivore husband found the dish more than a little unbalanced.
Each of these very good main courses could have served two, easily, or three, so if you’re coming as a group I’d recommend ordering a few and sharing—the quantity doesn’t impinge on the quality one iota. And definitely go for a couple of the vegetable sides, perhaps spring greens with garlic butter or calalloo (a leafy green native to the Caribbean) with onions.
To finish, we shared a malted chocolate fondant with tamarind salted caramel and rum & raisin ice cream. It elicited moans of pleasure.
As already mentioned, we kicked off with a couple of smoky, slightly sweet, blow-your-head-off Old Fashioneds, then moved on to a bottle of Argentinian white (Hacienda Los Horarios 2014) and a very decent Malbec to accompany the beef (Andy’s notes say ‘Malbec PERFECT choice’). But really, it’s all about the rum. It’s impossible to list all 372 varieties, but have a look here to whet your appetite.
In a nutshell
If you’re after warm hospitality, a happy, friendly atmosphere, generous portions of delicious, authentic food, great music, and enough rum to sink a ship, then look no further. Highly recommended for a guaranteed fun night out.