★★★★ | Harlem Soul, London

Harlem has come to Old Street – kind of.

When one thinks of restaurants in Harlem you think about soul food – food that can’t be found elsewhere in London. Food that is rich and delicious, southern comfort food (for example catfish, grits, cornbread, BBQ ribs, collard greens, buttered corn, okra, etc…). Well new restaurant Harlem Soul, on City Road and minutes from Old Street Tube Station, bills itself as ‘urban American dining to share a celebration of urban America with London.’ Their menu, based on American classics and NYC inspired fusion, is as close to Harlem-style food you’re going to get unless you hop on a plane to NYC and go to the holy grail of Harlem Soul food – Sylvia’s restaurant.

Harlem Soul has a massive menu that’s sure to satisfy your craving for this type of food – their menu has a good variety of typical Americana dishes that will, almost, make you feel like you are dining in Harlem. As you walk in you are instantly mesmerized by urban wall graffiti paintings by several artists, including world-famous NYC born Enrique Torres who used to, illegally, spray paint NYC’s subway cars. The murals are a sight to see; bold, colourful, ethnic, and just beautiful.

And now the food. If you are a fan of hamburgers, well, you won’t be spoiled for choice. Any and all combinations of hamburgers are at your selection. Their signature burger – The Harlem – is a doozy. Grilled beef patties, shredded short rib, mac & cheese, house pickle and thousand island dressing – it’s definitely a mouthful. And at £14 it’s a relative bargain considering all the food you’re getting. There are nine other burgers on the menu, so there is definitely something for everyone.

I, however, had to try the Buttermilk Chicken and Waffles. This dish seems to be appearing on lots of London menus – and having never tried it, it was the obvious choice for me, and I was not disappointed. The chicken was crispy, soft and moist (delicious), while the waffle was just about perfect after I drenched it with two cups of syrup. I would highly recommend this dish at Harlem Soul – and at £12 a bit pricey but worth it. My lunch companion wanted chicken wings, and boy she got them – 12 of them (£12). There were four different flavours; BBQ, Buffalo, Hot Harlem Sassy (hot sauce with onion and coriander), and Gochujang (red chilli paste with seven spice blends). Not a bad deal – at a £1 each – and they all come with delicious coleslaw.

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We had to have several starters (all part of the job!). My friend really loved the Crispy Soft-Shell Crab – a substantially large portion served with lime creme fraiche & pickle chilli relish. I loved the Blackened Cajun Popcorn Shrimp – they were not quite blackened and could’ve been fried a bit more – but nonetheless, the large portion was very good, but the roast red pepper ketchup didn’t seem to be a perfect match for the shrimp. The Mac & Cheese Bites were just that – bites – five of them in little rolled up balls with the mac & cheese inside. All the above £7.50 each.

Tacos are not quite Harlem soul food, but this restaurant has them on the menu. We had the Braised Short Rib Taco – and the three we got (for only £8.50) were excellent value and they were excellent tasting. Served with BBQ sauce (a little dribble), and topped with a mixed bean salad and crispy onion – they were delicious as the short rib was tender and flavorful.

There is so much more to the menu – Mac & Cheese dishes, three types of nachos dishes, and salads, that multiple visits still wouldn’t get you through the menu.

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Plus there is that all important drinks menu. There are cocktails that include all sorts of alcohol, from gin (The Harlem) to whiskey (El Barrio Fashioned), and scotch (Lodge Negroni), to rum (96th Street Mojito), and of course tequila (Soul Side), it’s a plethora of drinks that, after two, will make you tipsy. I wish I would’ve had the Jungle Iced Tea (Harlem Soul special mix, with sugar-lime and lemon) but I stuck to the non-alcoholic drinks menu (the New Yorker was just about perfect – Lime, Apple, Mango, Mint and Ginger Beer). Also, their Southern Quenchers (Fresh Lemonade, Classic Iced Tea, Arnold Palmer) look nice for a hot day (if summer ever arrives in London). Milkshakes are also a must – again in several varieties.

Harlem Soul is a two-story complex, with the main restaurant on the ground floor, and downstairs another bar with a large room that will be used for private parties, community events, all set to a soundtrack to urban rhythms of soul, funk hip-hop, jazz and R&B. They also host live music comedy, DJ’s, and urban poetry events.

Harlem Soul is as cool as its name, it’s food is delicious, and its central location means it’s worth a visit after work, and definitely on a weekend where you can try all of their delicious sounding cocktails.

About the author: Tim Baros
Tim Baros writes film and theatre articles/ reviews for Pride Life and The American magazines and websites, as well as for Hereisthecity.com, Blu-RayDefinition.com and TheGayUK.com. He has also written for In Touch and TNT Magazines, SquareMile.com and LatinoLife.co.uk. He is a voting member for the UK Regional Critics Circle and the Gay & Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association (GALECA – of which he is the UK representative). In addition, he has produced and directed two films: The Shirt and Rex Melville Desire: The Musical.