Soul Foo Cooking up a Storm in Brighton’s Foodie Scene
Last Friday I stepped into the devine world of soul food with the two positively energising and talented brothers Brian and Aaron George Moyo and eventually left dancing to Marvin Gayes ‘How sweet it is’.
Soul Food originated from the African, Afro American and Caribbean dishes. Food was for your soul to survive during a dark period in black history when ingredients were scarce and it was so important to put love into each recipe to lift people’s spirits. This love and heartfelt emotion continued into family cooking and the name was adapted in the 1960’s, around the same time that soul music took the world by storm and everyone was hopping aboard the soul train.
Soul food has been enjoyed by many cultures for many years and has been evolving as a cuisine. However, this type of food is often thought of as fried, fatty and unhealthy, yet truly gratifying. Having been engrossed in the city’s green juice, gluten free health conscious frenzy this summer, I was intrigued to see how the Mayo brothers could introduce me to the healthier versions of authentic soul food recipes. I must admit I have been craving comfort food since the temperature started to fall and so it seemed like the perfect opportunity to experience this new cuisine.
As the brothers say ‘Soul Foo, is so good’ and since opening in July this family-run business has been producing traditional freshly cooked, warm spicy food. Soul Foo is a place of emotion, fun and love and you immediately sense the love vibe as you walk through the door.
Brian Mayo was previously the Head Chef at Brighton’s much loved and still talked about Momma Cherri’s Soul Food Shack which sadly closed due to the economic climate. Brian then took some time out before joining the well regarded Hotel du Vin kitchen where he continued to cook his heart out. However, with a gift like his it was only fair that he shared the love with his own family recipes and so Soul Foo was born.
George Mayo, the salsa dancing guru, runs the show from the other side of the oven and is possibly the most welcoming host I have ever encountered.
When I arrived I genuinely felt like I was being welcomed into their family home. This dynamic duo have managed to create a casual dining experience that produces warm home cooked food, full of flavour, nourishing, but most of all cooked with soul.
The venue is understated, yet cosy. George shares his other passion in the form of art work which is adorned on the walls and his incredibly intricate wooden carvings are quite simply inspired. His creative talent is endless, but as he was telling me everything he does comes from the heart and this was most certainly the theme for the evening.
I arrived as the dainty food reviewer, yet after one bite of my Suya chicken wings (a west African dish with a mild kick), I dropped my knife and fork and simply got stuck in. The chicken was succulent and the spices teased my tastebuds with a light tingle on the sides of my mouth. Brian was telling me that the dishes he prepares are all made with local ingredients, including the spices which he collects a few hundred yards up the road. Keeping things local is very important to the Mayo brothers as it helps to build relationships and encourages a family friendly vibe that goes hand in hand with the cooking.
The dishes are traditional, but the flavours are more refined with cleaner cooking techniques and healthier preparation to drain excess fats. The flavour dimensions are soul-satisfying. Given this was my first soul food experience, I was hooked before I even tried the famous Mayo Ribs cooked with the chef’s best kept secret (which of course I tried my hardest to find out and all I could gather was the inclusion of lots of fresh herbs and earthy flavours).
As a regular to the Caribbean I have never quite understood why people love plantain. That is until I ordered Soul Foo’s Plantain bites and discovered that this popular food that dates back to 500 B.C is actually delicious when prepared correctly. Deep fried and with a sour cream dip and a touch of honey, these moreish bites were light and crispy and worked in perfect harmony with the sharp and sweet dipping sauce.
As George continued to produce delights in front of my eyes, the drinks flowed and the scent of herbs and spices filled the air. It was at this moment I found myself feeling happy. A feeling of being revived with love and laughter and for once in my life I was not concerned with counting calories. I was simply enjoying every mouthful and getting so involved that at one point I even had a piece of chicken in my hair!
The menu in Soul Foo is simple with the best soothing comfort food to warm you from the inside out. The prices are reasonable, with the most expensive item being the mighty combo at £22, but from what the locals were saying this combination of wings, ribs and corn is fantastic for sharing with a group of friends. Most dishes average at £8 but the portions are substantial.
I was reluctant to have dessert, yet George and Brian insisted on presenting a slice of their sweet potato pie. I insisted on a take away box as I was adamant I only wanted a mouthful to try, but to my surprise and their delight they won me over and once again I chowed down the entire piece of pie and had to hand the unused box back.
I love the local community vibe in Soul Foo and guests are encouraged to stay as long as they like. The emphasis is on feeling good and being in a happy environment. Keep your eyes peeled for special events in Soul Foo and with October being black history month, George and Brian will be paying tribute to the rich cultural history of soul food, so pop along and soak up the happy vibes.
This restaurant is incredibly new to our city, but it has something unique – the Mayo brothers! Spending time with George and Brian is uplifting and addictive and I am excited to pop in again very soon.