Let me tell you about the city of New Orleans. It’s bold and loud and full of soul and flavour. It is the Mardis Gras on Bourbon Street and beads and Louis Armstrong and Jazz and alligators and swamps. It is exciting and gritty and sweaty and fun. It is alive and exhilarating. New Orleans is one of the worlds’ greatest cities – In fact, it is said that America has three cities only – New York, San Francisco and New Orleans. Everywhere else is Cleveland.
From the same people that bought us Mythos, a restaurant I very much enjoyed, comes Nola, a New Orleans-inspired eatery and social house tucked away in the bowels of the Armada blue hotel in JLT. Be warned – the entrance to Nola is through the hotel, into the basement, through a darkened parking garage with dripping pipes, past a one-eyed black cat that hisses at you, (probably not a permanent fixture, in all honesty), then through a metal gray corridor inspired from the The Maze Runner novels. It’s quite a trip, but the best destinations often are.
I have always tried to be honest in my reviews, and I am going to be honest here too. I think Nola Eatery and Social House is probably a better social house than it is an eatery. They have created an excellent little space, breaking the room up with little caverns of seating areas, supported by a long bar and tucked into a corner is a small music stage that will create a fantastic atmosphere when in full swing.
Despite being in a basement of a hotel in JLT, Nola has some real character and charisma. Interestingly, they managed the same with Mythos Restaurant and Grill next door, although Greek and Creole restaurants are as far apart as Rihanna and Sarah Brightman.
Like a rescue dog of mixed pedigree and a promiscuous mother, New Orleans food is typically an influence of many different cultures and cuisines from French, Spanish and Italian to African, Native American, and a hint of Cuban. With that much history and with so many layers to the cuisine, it takes an experienced and talented team to re-create the flavours – an ask too far perhaps for the Nola team.
We ordered the oven baked camembert with drunken figs and the black eyed peas empanadas. The camembert and figs were good, the flavour combination is great although not particularly original. However, it is rather easy to melt cheese in the oven, so I would have been more impressed if it wasn’t good. The empanadas were flakey, chewy and quite stoic; heavy dough and a heavy filling.
I had the cornflake chicken, which was a chicken breast in a Cajun cornflake crust. The Cajun spice was there – that slow build to a deep heat that hits the back of your tongue. However, the cornflake crust was a disappointment. Soggy and wet, It slid and crumbled off the meat, leaving the chicken exposed and bare, and me with a fork full of soggy spicy cornflakes.
The Serb chose the Cobb Salad, which came neatly presented with each ingredient separated and lined up in a row. She poked at the dish with her fork, and I knew precisely what she was thinking. Eventually, she leaned across the table and asked: “Why haven’t they mixed it up for me?” First world problems.
The service team were great – but we are hardly a demanding duo, and the restaurant wasn’t busy when we went there. The place can get quite busy, however, and it’ll be interesting to see how they manage the social and eatery aspects at full speed.
Before I finish off, I am well aware that I have just reviewed a New Orleans inspired restaurant without trying the Beignets or the Jambalaya or the Po Boy. I have no excuse for my behaviour, and I blame the Serb.
Head down there with some friends, and enjoy being whisked away to an unassuming, lively little venue. Nola is an endearing little place with a big personality and a lot of charm. I have no doubts this will become a popular spot, and if they can improve their menu execution slightly, they might even win a few awards.