Restaurant Review: Cottons Rum Shack & Restaurant, Notting Hill in London
Established for over 30 years in the capital, Cottons has branches in Camden, Notting Hill, Shoreditch and Vauxhall – and in a city where good Caribbean food isn’t hard to come by, they’ve carved out a unique spot for themselves as a place where the good times are strong and the sunshine is on tap, regardless of what the weather is doing outside.
Sure enough, it’s a chilly evening when we arrive at the Notting Hill restaurant but the warmth with which we’re welcomed instantly wraps us up – and that’s even before we’ve felt the haze of that first cocktail suffuse our insides with rum-based goodness. Cottons holds the Guinness World Record for the largest number of rums – 372 of them, to be precise – and while we don’t suggesting trying them all in a single sitting, it’s definitely worth starting your evening with, at the very least, a Mojito. Having said that, however, there are plenty of lesser-known options to tempt you away from the familiar – and the barman is the kind of cool cat who makes them all seem eminently appealing.
Don’t like rum? Go for one of the sparkling options – the Rossini combines raspberry puree and liqueur with prosecco – or if you like rum AND prosecco (and indeed, why wouldn’t you?!) then there are several cocktails allowing you to explore this option. The French Colony is just so sublime – Clement White Agricole rum, Aperol, Clement Creole Shrubb orange liqueur, lime juice and lime marmalade topped with prosecco – that it’s impossible not to have a second one, just to make sure you weren’t dreaming the first. Happy Hour, which runs Sunday through to Wednesday, 5pm to closing time, also facilitates that ‘go on, have another’ attitude, with £5 cocktails and 2-4-1 offers.
Obviously all of this alcohol needs some food to soak it up, but the island cuisine to which Cottons applies a unique twist is far more than just a booze-mop, which calls to mind the unappealing image of a late-night kebab. Starters along the lines of peppered prawns with a lime & paprika dressing and Caribbean duck spring rolls vye for our attention even before our eyes have had time to wander a few options down to the Spiced Pork Ribs with a rum and molasses glaze. It makes perfect sense to order them all – but these dishes are no less generously proportioned than they are delicious and you don’t want to find yourself unable to tackle your mains.
This particular branch of Cottons has recently seen the arrival of head chef Mark Jackman, who has formerly worked with Rowley Leigh and headed up the Landmark London. Jerk flavours unsurprisingly get their fair share of menu space, with Jerk Spatchcock Chicken accompanied by rice’n’peas and a red cabbage, pineapple and mango slaw a particular highlight, but buttermilk chicken pieces and barbecued ribs also stand out, as well as curried mutton – ultimate comfort food. Actually, I could probably pretty happily chow my way through the sides, which include mac & cheese, fried cassava wedges, callalloo&onion and the irresistibly named ‘dumplings and festival’. In the end, though, I can’t go past the seafood and fish menu, which is headed up by a king prawn, red snapper, sweet potato and lime curry – serious sunshine with every mouthful. I can’t pretend to be minutely acquainted with the Caribbean but I went to Antigua a few years ago and could easily believe myself to back there. In fact, when it comes to choosing dessert, I have a vague, confused moment of bikini anxiety, before settling on a zesty raspberry and lime sorbet (my companion, by some power best known to himself, manages to polish off a mango & coconut cheesecake, although even he admits that it was possibly a mouthful too far, bikini wearing notwithstanding).
The restaurant itself does little to burst that holiday bubble for you: any ‘themed’ restaurant tends to wave a red flag warning of naffess, but whole vibe here is tantalisingly authentic, combining bright colours, murals of idyllic scenes and tropical birds, spiky foliage and trompe l’oeil shutters that give the appearance of sunlight filtering in from outside. Live music with Smiles Collective every Thursday and Friday ups the party vibe considerably, but the sunny soundtrack playing on other nights still enhances mood without killing conversation. There’s also a dining room downstairs: seating 16 and decorated as joyfully as the rest of the venue, it’s available for small parties and private hire.
The restaurant has its own loyalty scheme, the Cottons Club, for which sign-up is free; members are entitled to 25% off their food bill from Monday to Wednesday and Happy Hour all day Thursday (dangerous). They also get first dibs on events throughout the year, like masterclasses for those who want to get to grips with the contents of their cocktails, as well as fully certified cocktail training sessions.
Address: 157-159 Notting Hill Gate, London W11 3LF / 0207 243 0090