Wednesday, 20 February 2013

JoJo’s Meze, Meat and Fish Restaurant, overlooking the sea

I’ve heard so much about JoJos, my visit was long overdue.
I thought I would give it a try for lunch with my old University friend, Mustafa, who takes the most beautiful photos. We decided he would take a few snaps and I would write up a review.   
I booked two days in advance, unsure about whether they could fit us in and was offered the last two remaining seats at the bar. I have to confess, while I was looking forward to sampling this new venue –I’m a tad nervous about places like JoJos – it’s so well known, with a influx of celebrity clients, DFLs (‘Down from London’) and regular foodies with write ups in the National press. I wonder if I’ll enjoy the experience or feel like a poor cousin sitting at the bar? It could be a perverse hang-over from student days, when lunch at Pizza Express was still a treat, but years later I just can’t be doing the pretentiousness of being ‘seen at the right places’ sprouting some Transatlantic lingo of upmarket joints where they expect you to understand what ‘Fiocco di Spalla’ is. There’s none of that at JoJo’s– I’ve got it all wrong. No hanging around feeling like a spare part either, we’re welcomed and ushered straight to a bar area overlooking the grill, so I can peer in every now and again watch the chefs at work.
There are meat hooks with cured hams and sauscisson, onions, chillies, colourful sprigs of dried herbs. Just behind the bar Sous-chefs prepare the platters with startling efficiency; meats, humus, olives. Sitting at the bar is not everyone’s cup of tea, but I like the casualness of it, the slightly informal feel.
The restaurant specialises in Mediterranean style food; a good choice for a seaside getaway. Its  straight forward, unpretentious - Meze, meat platters, chargrilled sardines, panfried mackerel, home-made focaccia. There’re no assumptions made about the diner’s understanding of food, ‘Lomo’ is explained on the menu as ‘smoked cured pork loin’; Fiocco di Spalla, by the way, is Lean pork air cured and rolled in ground pepper. ’ So no need to be rude about it.

We feasted on olives, warm, crispy pita bread cut into figure length triangles, a tzatziki made with Greek Yoghurt, stupendous amounts of garlic and mint; calamari deep fried in beer batter with a piquant garlic mayo; fresh shrimps lightly buttered in more garlic and finished with the most perfect sticky toffee pudding -  a warm, moist pudding with a life of its own, doused in a syrup that melted as soon as it hit the palate. Fortunately I was wearing a pair of ‘eating jeans’ rather than anything too slick and fitting.
That pudding, with a life of its own!

A meal at JoJos won’t break the bank. Most dishes are under £10, and those over can be shared by two people. There’s no order in which the food might come, its designed to be shared, set out in platters where you all dip in.
The restaurant is family run, the owner, his wife and brother were all on duty, keeping a close eye on the staff. As I’m watching the goings on behind the grill, there’s nothing left to sit. The minute a platter was ready, its out, no hanging around. The food is sourced from the soils and seas around Whitstable. The place is buzzing, packed, with over 70 customers, which is how it operates every day. There’s tables of 10 and more, but everyone gets the same service and the service is impeccable. JoJos deserves to be written about, it’s no coincidence that people who are used to eating well rate it well. I’m told that while its best to book, they won’t take booking more than two weeks ahead to give everyone a chance. I like that.
So, my final thoughts – I will be back for certain, and hope I get there on a hot summer day so I can sit with friends on the terrace, with the expansive views over the estuary and take more time, try more dishes. Right now I need to do something about this garlic and the size of my stomach.

Nothing left to waste

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