Monday, 5 June 2017

Jackson and Rye Kingston: Review


It's been a very stressful and hectic few weeks, with very little time for relaxing and socialising - in fact I've often been so busy I've forgotten about meals. So when I received a message asking whether I wanted to experience an evening of eating and drinking courtesy of Jackson and Rye in Kingston it really perked up my week and gave me something to look forward to, while ensuring I made up for all the missed meals of late. Better yet they were kind enough to let me bring Si, who with his passion for cooking (and eating) would be a perfect contributor to this review.


I live in nearby Weybridge, and have done for my whole life (minus the three years at university). It's green and lush, littered with lovely riverside pubs, with speedy access to London and great historial landmarks just short drives away. It was even christened the Beverly Hills of the UK by a one of the tabloids. However, as lovely as it is, you can't help but feel a bit out of heady London loop. Luckily Kingston has always helped to bridge that gap and offer up destinations that make us feel a bit more cosmopolitan. 

When I was younger, it was the trendy shops that drew me to the town - the likes of Topshop and Tammy girl (yes I'm THAT old) and Natterjacks. Then as a sixth former it was the sweaty gig venues (The Peel and The Fighting Cocks) that lured me away from the straight-lace safety of Weybridge. Then as a student it was the clubs (Volts and Oceana) which were close enough to home to mean that we could just about afford to share taxi's home at 2am, covered in burger sauce and remnants of kebab. 
As a working adult in a relationship, it's the impressive row of riverside restaurants, the Rose Theatre and cinema complex within the Rotunda that encourages our regular visits to Kingston town. 



The Riverside has gone through dramatic transformation over the decades I have been visiting. It's now feels like a haven. Whenever I visit to this part of Kingston on a sunny day, I immediately get that wonderful feeling of escapism that you usually rely on a holiday to gift you. People and boat watching a-plenty, it's the perfect place for al-fresco dining, and has a restaurant to cater to every taste and craving.


I've visited most of the eating/drinking establishments by the River, so I was suprised that I hadn't been aware of Jackson and Rye's presence on the strip. Perhaps I haven't acknowledged it in the past because it wasn't a name I had been aware of, therefore didn't have any sort of loyalty or reputation to encourage me to pick it over some of the other nearby eateries I know, and frequently enjoy. I wonder whether it's position first from the bridge eentrance, slightly tucked in and set back from the others, means that it goes slightly unnoticed. The al fresco dining appears slightly smaller than the other restaurants too, so maybe that's why this trip was my first experience of the American chain.
The Decor 


Most of the outside area was being used so we decided to sit inside, we also thought that safer with the unpredictability of the UK summer. However, we did miss the fantastic views of the river, which is obviously one of the main selling points of these particular dining destinations.
The interior harks back to 1920's American, with pannelled leather seating, dark wood, low lighting, art deco mirros, and classic alcoholic drinks displayed in glass cabinets. We could appreciate the retro styling it was aiming for, but the overall effect was a tad oppressive. The restaurant was suprisingly empty for a Friday, which we felt drew attention to the lack of pizzaz when it came to the decoration. 
It feels like they're confused about what they want to be. Do they want to be sophisiticated and slightly more luxury than the rest of the chain restaurants situated nearby? Do they want to be fun and themed?
I personally feel the space could benefit from some attention to detail. There's too much of the same at the moment, rows of the identical mirrors hang on the wall, and dark wood and brown leather on  repeat. Other era-befitting furnishings could make it feel more polished - perhaps there could be more artwork on the walls, or furnishings (like the lamps) that could really scream the 1920's.

As a blogger I should let other bloggers know that the lighting was not very Instagram-friendly. It was extremely dim and yellow making it quite hard to capture good imagery in the evening without a flash (and I didn't want to annoy other diners). I do like low warm lighting as it can help to create a romantic or sulty vibe, but in a space that's fairly empty it can make it feel a bit depressing.


 Drinks
Jimmy did a fantastic job at guiding us when it came to which drink to pick off the cocktail menu. When I expressed that I don't usually drink he immediately offered a virgin version of the Mojito I had inquired about, even though it wasn't on the menu. Nothing was too much trouble. Si finally settled on one of his favourites, an Old Fashioned, which felt apt for the setting. He said it was one of the best Old Fashioned's he'd ever tasted, which allowed him to temporarily transform into a Don Draper type character as he sipped away. They regaulrly checked in with us to see if we wanted another drink and we never had to flag anyone down to get their attention.


Perhaps because I don't really drink (apart from the odd Shandy) I found this Mojito fairly strong. I'm used to ones that are more on the sugary/minty side. I guess a proper drinker would be pleased to know they got their money's worth though. Despite it not quite hitting my spot, I have no doubt that if I'd asked for more sugar or mint they would have obliged very swiftly.


 Appetizers

Knowing that I'd have a delicious but dauntingly large feast in front of me, I decided against getting any appetizers. Si on the other hand likes to live in the 'now' (and worry about inevitable pain later), so he decided to get some Mixed Olives with fennel seed and orange zest. He really enjoyed the citrus element and said the Olives had a lovely flavour.


 Starters


Truffled Mac and Cheese Light truffle and Parmesan sauce with Crispy Kale Topping.  
Mac and Cheese is one of our all time favourite comfort dishes. Not only is it a regular choice when dining out, we often come up with delicious new spins on the classic dish while experimentingin the kitchen at home. I'm not a huge fan of the strong flavour of Parmeson, so I was slightly apprehensive about that particular element, but thankfully the chef delivered a perfectly subtle flavour. The sauce was rich, creamy and indulgent, and caused more than a few happy noises to sound from both of us. The Kale was perfectly crispy and served as the ideal contrast to the thick but smooth sauce. We generally like our Mac and Cheese to have a crust on the top, but the addition of Kale meant that we didn't feel too bereft in it's absence.


Buffalo Chicken Wings - smoked wings with three homemade sauces - BBQ, peri peri, Blue Cheese

Chicken wings are another thing Si would have every right in stating he was an expert in. While on his many tours in American with his band Young Guns, they would sample chicken wings at every stop, even taking part in numerous gut-damaging hot-wing challenges. 
The batter ticked all of the required boxes. It made a crunch that made a sound so satisfying it was as if we had a oscar winning foley artist sitting next to us. Sadly for the accompanying trio of sauces they wings were seasoned so well that they were redundant. Simon was so impressed with the flavour of the wings he felt it would be a travesty to mask it with the taste of the sauces, so he opted to devour the majority completely naked (the chicken, not him - just to clarify). I'm all about sauces though, I'm known for always wanting to add an element of wetness to all of my meals, so I was more than happy to get dipping and have the tasty sauces to myself. 

 The Service


I always try to be completely honest in my reviews, which invarably means there will be some negatives - usually small and hopefully always constructive. However. I really want the overriding feature of this review to be in praise of the service we received while we were there. As soon as we arrived we were greeted with the widest of smiles. and asked where we would like to sit. Within moments we were asked if we'd like water on the table, something which is something American restaurants have always done , but UK ones are just starting to get better at doing.
Jimmy was able to strike to perfect balance of binge chatty and jovial, sharing stories and laughs, but without encroaching on our alone time too much or interrupting the flow of dinner. He's such a naturally warm host, I'm sure he'd make everyone feel relaxed and welcome at Jackson and Rye. 
Jasmin(e) was also extremely patient with us as we struggled to make our minds up and offered up great menu advice when needed.

Before any of you sceptics think it, we did watch the service delivered at other tables, and it was consistently attentive and cheery.

The Mains

Baby Back ribs - Full rack of 6 hour smoked pork ribs, BBQ sauce, green slaw and fries. 

A lot of the restaurants I have gone to for ribs completely drown them in BBQ sauce. Yes, BBQ sauce is a gift from god, but why put in the effort of smoking the pork for 6 hours if that is just going to be smothered with an overpowering flavour that will completely hide that hard work. 
Jackson Rye have come up with the perfect solution. They deliver the impressive rack of ribs on a wooden chopping board, which also houses the fries and slaw, as well as a pot of BBQ sauce with a brush so you can decide how you wish you to enjoy it. I always think little details like this make a dining experience a bit more novel and fun. We enjoyed the fact that I was given a bib style apron to wear too - it's as if they knew me and my inability to get food from plate to mouth without a mishap. 
The sweet potato fries were exemplary, crispy on the outside and fluffy on the inside.


Si ordered the New York Striploin with a side smokey rye sauce, with gem lettuce wedges, ranch dressing, bacon crumb and blue cheese, and a baked Sweet potato, with creme fraiche and bacon crumbs. I think he was a bit alarmed when the steak came, not realising tat 400g was 16oz in our era's language. One thing you can rely on with Si is that he will finish his meal, however daunting, and he managed to clear the plate, a task made more manageable thanks to the tender (and delicious) nature of the meat.


Si said that his succulent steak was cooked perfectly and the choice of the gem lettuce was a wise one as it contributed a much needed fresh element to the dish.


Baked Sweet potato, creme Fraiche and Bacon crumbs.


This chioce of side supplied a natural sweetness to the savoury dish, and the potato was wonderfully soft inside.

 The face of a man that know's he's eaten too much.

Dessert

Despite feeling horrifically full to the point we were groaning and Simon feeling compelled to tell Jimmy that he felt like he was about to give birth, we decided to get a pudding. We rationalised our foolish and frankly irresponsible desicion by recognizing that we wouldn't be doing a thorough review of the restaurant if we didn't sample the Dessert menu.


If we had been less grotesque and gluttonous when it came to our savoury courses, we may have had room to go for one of the amazingly indulgent sounding Sundaies or the Pecan Pie, but to avoid having to actually roll Simon home we decided to opt for the Peanut Butter Fudge S'mores (£4.95). Visually the dessert was extremely appealling, covered in icing sugar with an aroma of hot salty chocolate flowing out of it. I loved the crunchy peanut buttery Graham cracker base, and the warm sauce was to die for . The only problem with the pudding was the popcorn on the top. The idea was good and would have added an enhancing texture to the dessert, but unfortunately the popcorn was a bit stale and chewy. Minus that slight negative, it was delicious. If we are striving for perfection though, in terms of personal preference I would have loved the marshmallow to be a bit warmer and slightly more gooey and melted.


A few other things worth mentioning that we both felt during out evening at Jackson and Rye.

As an American restaurant we thought it was odd to hear numerous tracks by British and Australian bands soundtracking our meal. We both agreed that we'd rather they opted for 1920's American Jazz  (to fit with the aesthetic), than a random mixture of 80 and 90's songs that you may normally find on a compilation album. If they don't want to alienate people with Jazz - which can be quite a polorizing genre of music - then just a mixture of well known American music would work well too, and successfully enhance the brand ideals. That said with the success of La La Land and The Great Gatsby, Jazz and the 1920's has definitely seen a resurgence and may go down well even with the younger generation.

There also felt like a bit of a disparity between the bar area and the eating areas. The bar looked far more contemporary and fresh, lit well, and decorated with lots of beautiful plants. There were some plants punctuating the interior of the dining area, but as a whole where we dined didn't have the visual impact of the bar.


We WILL be returning to Jackson and Rye, the service we recieved from Jimmy, Jasmin(e), and the rest of his team, guaranteed that pretty quickly.  I really do hope at some point some further attention will be given to the design/interior or this restaurant, because it's a shame that the slightly dingy feel of the environment lets the staff, the chefs, and the people-pleasing menu down. This could be a great restaurant, at the moment it's just the service and the food that has earned that description.That said in summer, if you can get a seat outside with a view of the river  I don't think you'll be able to find anything negative to say about your experience.


Riverside Walk
Kingston Upon Thames
KT1 1QN

Opening Times
Mon - Fri: 8am - 11pm
Sat: 9am - 11pm
Sun: 9am - 10:30pm 
Many Thanks to Jimmy and his team at Jackson and Rye to treating us to this review meal.
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