Summer in the city may not guarantee sunshine but if it’s the feeling of being on holiday you crave, Cottons is well worth a visit.
Although there are branches in Camden, Shoreditch and Vauxhall, it seems only right to head to Notting Hill, home of the Carnival, for our Caribbean experience. First impressions don’t disappoint: think warm welcomes, wide smiles and a beguilingly sunny decor, where bright colours, spiky plants, and faux shutters through which sunlight appears to filter set a realistically tropical scene. Live music every Thursday adds to that holiday vibe; on other nights, a fittingly upbeat soundtrack provides a feel-good background sound without overpowering your conversation. There’s also a large mural, depicting a beach scene: squint, and you can just about 3D it enough to fool yourself into thinking that sand lies just beyond your table.
Actually, squinting – squiffily, if not against a bright sun – may well be something you can’t help but do on a night here: the cocktail list is almost as dazzling as the barman, added to which is the fact that Cottons’ selection of 372 rums has earned it a Guinness World Record. Happy Hour runs Sunday through to Wednesday, 5pm until close, offering £5 cocktails and 2-4-1 offers; taking all of these factors into consideration almost certainly means that even if you start the evening with something as familiar as a Mojito, you’ll end up exploring a least a few other options on the list. The French Colony – which combines Clement White Agricole rum, Aperol, Clement Creole Shrubb orange liqueur, lime juice and lime marmalade topped with prosecco – gets my vote not just once, but twice. If you could serve up a holiday in a glass, I’m fairly certain in would taste like this.
Rum is, of course, one of Cotton’s selling points, but it would be a mistake to overlook the food which, at this branch, has recently come under the auspices of head chef Mark Jackman, who has formerly worked alongside Rowley Leigh, as well as heading up the Landmark London. Island fare with a contemporary twist is the order of the day: the likes of peppered prawns with a lime & paprika dressing and Caribbean duck spring rolls jostle for our attention with the carnivorously alluring Spiced Pork Ribs covered in a rum and molasses glaze. As tempting as the full range of starters is, be aware that the portion sizes are anything but petite: if you want to go the distance, you’re either going to have to limit or pace yourself.
I don’t take kindly to limits, personally, unless they’re related to health or safety, in which case, okay, fair enough. Here, however, it’s all the holiday feeling with none of the attendant “how will I look on the beach?” anxiety, so I’m more than happy to go for the pacing option to ensure that gorging on starters doesn’t impact on our ability to do the same with our mains. Besides, lingering over food in these surroundings is scarcely a hardship.
Jerk flavours are, unsurprisingly, abundant on the mains menu – Jerk Spatchcock Chicken accompanied by rice’n’peas and a red cabbage, pineapple and mango slaw particularly grabs our attention, but buttermilk chicken pieces and barbecued ribs are also appealing, as is the earthy comfort of curried mutton. Sides like mac & cheese, fried cassava wedges, callalloo and onion and dumplings and festival (just the name is enough to make you smile) should be enough to break the will of even the most carb-conscious diner; in the end, it’s the seafood and fish menu that draws me in and won’t let go, and I don’t regret a single morsel of my king prawn, red snapper, sweet potato and lime curry.
The dessert menu is characterised by zesty fruit flavours – raspberry and lime sorbet, for example, and a mango & coconut cheesecake – but the mains are a hard act to follow and I think that next time, I’d probably choose to end the evening with another cocktail. If only all I had to do tomorrow was laze on a Caribbean beach.
Cottons Notting Hill has a private dining room on its lower floor; it seats 16 and is available for small parties and private hire. Signing up for free Cottons Club membership entitles you to 25% of your food bill from Monday to Wednesday and Happy Hour all day Thursday, as well as letting you know about various events throughout the year, like art exhibitions, cocktail making courses and rum masterclasses.