BY PALOMA LACY
South Croydon’s Restaurant Quarter doesn’t get the praise it deserves, perhaps wrongly sullied by Croydon’s poor reputation.
However, a reasonably new kid on the block is quickly changing that and making people sit up and take notice.
The Joker, with a sister restaurant in Brighton, certainly brought a little seaside breeze when it opened its doors last year, and continues to grow its fanbase.
There are many good dining out options in South Croydon but The Joker takes the others by the hand and shows them a little of what people now expect aesthetically from modern dining.
Décor wise, it’s effortlessly on point, offering up tall ceilings, no-fuss fixtures and fittings and lighting that enhances the atmosphere, without being intrusive.
It’s lovely to see the walls have been stripped away to reveal beautiful, almost ornate tiling that appears to have been masked for a very long time, and speedily brought up to its former glory. In short: The Joker has character and bundles of it.
It calls itself a public house but to me looks more like a restaurant with a bar, albeit a massive one, which takes centre stage. No cocktails for my friend and I, with babies at our table, it was the food we’d come to experience.
The menu is provided by Humble Kitchen, which puts on brunch at the weekends and the rest of the week, the main menu focuses on burgers and tacos, with a smattering of US-influenced side plates.
There is no children’s menu, a shame and rather remiss, considering every one of the diners in during my visit, had a little one in tow so we had to improvise.
Sold out of mac ’n’ cheese croquettes (£6.50), the kitchen happily served the aforementioned straight up. Pre-mixed, it arrived with truffle threaded through, which seemed rather decadent but the babies lapped it up.
The grown-ups went down the tried-and-tested burger route. My friend’s Humble Burger was anything but. Dry aged beef patty, beef fat mayo, smoked applewood cheese, bone marrow and garlic butter, red onion jam, pickles was more of a fan fayre.
Further from humble it would impossible to get, apart from the £9 price tag – a good few quid less than the average gourmet burger, these days. Despite the elaborate description, every ingredient had purpose and merit and together worked very well indeed.
Korean chicken burger (£9) is fried chicken purist’s dream, a real lesson in how the bird should be treated. Not a flabby bit of skin in sight, nor a wobble to be found.
Crispy thigh meat, with a sticky glaze and Korean hot sauce, which reminded me of Hoi Sin, a result of a similar bean paste brewing process, no doubt.
Served with kimchi slaw, pickles, mayo, this was a seriously good burger and a nice change from beef. We left the fries in exchange for tater tots – deliciously crispy balls of potato, with a fluffy centre, served with garlic mayonnaise and hot sauce (£5.50).
Some of the sides are for me a bridge too far, namely Cheeseburger Fries – while popular in the US, I can think of little reason to add topping to a perfectly good salted chip. Each to their own, I guess.
One of use should have tried the tacos but neither of us would budge. Under a fiver per taco of three for 12, they’re tacos but not as we traditionally know them.
A choice of tuna, lamb, pork, sweet potato, mushroom and halloumi, all of which I suspect is perfectly usual on the US West Coast.
There are some intriguing sides, including Squid Karaage, with Yuzu mayo, whiskey short rib, with 10 barbecue sauce and onions, and Crispy Hoisin Cauliflower.
We pledged to come back for brunch or perhaps the Sunday roast, both sittings that people are raving about.
Paloma was not a guest of The Joker, 73 South End, Croydon CR0 1BF.