Photograph of Aimée Lombaya courtesy of Mahoe
Situated snuggly in a basement at the south end of Bow Lane, Caribbean restaurant Mahoe feels like a City of London secret. It's also a much tastier option for a meal or drinks than so many of the area's slap dash and big chain eateries. With Mahoe having just taken on its first head chef, Aimé Lombaya, and undergoing a soft re-launch which is to take effect in June, we thought now might be an interesting time to have a chat with Aimé about his job and what's going to set his kitchen apart from the rest of the crowd.
What's your background and how long have you been cooking as a professional? Are you from the Caribbean?
I grew up in Belgium, but my family come from Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. I started doing nouvelle French cuisine in Brugge 20 years ago. I’ve been living in London since 1996 where I’ve provided French, Creole and Continental cuisine to a number of establishments including in the West End and the City.
Often in the UK, when people hear the term “Caribbean food” they assume Jamaican. But there's much more to it than that, right? What are the differences and similarities between the styles of cooking in the various islands and countries of the Caribbean?
The cuisine of French Caribbean islands, such as Martinique and Guadeloupe is very highly regarded internationally. It’s an amalgamation of French cuisine with the focus on marinating and spices that is a carry-over from the African population and even the earlier West Indian peoples. The combination is called Creole cooking.
Cajun cooking is also Creole cooking. Cajun cooking came from French settlers who were ejected from Canada and ended up in parts of southern states of the US.
Traditional Jamaican jerking is similar, relying on marinating, although it gets spicier. The jerk method originated in a town called Boston in the parish of Portland on the east of the island. Several spices and herbs are mixed together then ground out to produce a marinade.
What's the most popular dish on your menu?
Jerk chicken and guava glazed jerk wings are definite favourites. We are very excited about the new menu to be launched in June, as we think our customers will find some new favourites there too. But I can’t give anything away as yet.
Londonist loves Mahoe's guava jerk chicken wings! How did this tasty combo come to be? Is it an original Mahoe recipe?
Yes, it’s original. The wings are our most popular bar snack because the guava jelly glaze provides a good contrast to the spiciness of the jerk marinade. It operates like a cooling ingredient and because it is sweet, it is even tastier with the jerk. The dish was one of the first conceived as a special Mahoe recipe before the launch of the business.
Any tips on how to pair cocktails and spirits with Caribbean cuisine?
Our signature Reggae Rum Punch is in our view the best in London and a very popular choice on its own or with food. Several of our food dishes utilize fruit; so pairing any such dish with a cocktail containing the same fruit is a good starting tip.
Although rum is the spirit of choice in the Caribbean, Mahoe also offers other spirits, served neat or in exotic shots and in our cocktails. For example we have a popular Mahoe Sling which is our twist on the classic.
We also offer some wines that pair excellently with the spiciness of our foods and which also work superbly with the new Creole twist, including a Chilean Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot rosé that work very well with mid to very spicy or well marinated meats and fish.
Can you recommend other great Caribbean restaurants in London? How about some retailers selling top notch ingredients from the islands?
The Caribbean food/bar sector in London is really still in its fledgling stages and this is where Mahoe saw a niche.
There are a few suppliers, although only one or two large enough to supply the whole range of what a Caribbean bistro-bar needs. Since working on the Creole spin, things have become a bit easier because obviously continental ingredients are prevalent and we can then enhance these as needed, Mahoe-style, in-house.
There are very few Caribbean restaurants in London offering a quality dine-in option and none other to our knowledge focusing on a Caribbean-Creole-Continental fusion complimented by a focus on atmosphere.
Another distinguishing factor about Mahoe is that people are welcome to come just to use the bar, or to have a snack or even just tea or coffee (or, from June, for our Afternoon Tea), which is unusual in the Caribbean restaurant sector where the focus tends to be predominantly on main course foods. We offer the world renowned Jamaica Blue Mountain coffee (often regarded as the world’s best) and Mahoe has recently been named by The Independent newspaper (20 February 2010) as being among the top 50 coffee-houses.
What's the secret behind making great jerk chicken?
Most people think of jerk as just a marinade, but traditional jerking is actually a method of cooking which relies on the smoke created by a charcoal fire, together with the use of spicy herbs to marinate the food.
Mahoe is located at 74 - 82 Queen Victoria Street (EC4N 4SJ) and on the web at www.mahoecafe.com.