Navajo Joe – Covent Garden
Navajo Joe is a restaurant unsettled. There’s a tangled theme of Native American Indian with cowboys, some Mexican influence with its tequila selection (the largest outside of Mexico apparently) and Cuban memorabilia with posters of Che Guevara and assorted rums and margaritas on the bar menu.
The Navajo Nation is in fact a semi-autonomous Native American-governed territory covering around 26,000 square miles and occupying all of north-eastern Arizona, the south-eastern portion of Utah, and north-western New Mexico. Quite how that is reflected here though is a misery, I mean mystery.
My glass of ice (£6.75), oh hang on, it’s supposed to be a margarita, sorry, lacked punch and sweetness and I’m almost certain any liquid residue in the glass was just that of melted ice, of which there was plenty and it appeared to resemble a glass full of translucent dice than a common tequila based cocktail.
Barbecue chicken wings (£5.95) were fine. Over-cooked slightly to create a blackened crisp across the skin, but I actually quite like them this way. They were puny little things from anorexic chickens, or model chickens who paraded their hen run in size zero fashion. A standard appetiser and fine to nibble on.
My main of blackened duck bok choi and steamed jasmine rice (£13.95) was pretty good, but had no obvious link to Mexico or Native Indians, so this overcomplicated fusion of identity and dishes continues with China thrown into the mix. They need to narrow the theme and in doing so create a clear and focused menu, instead of odds and ends from the globe picked from wherever they feel like. There was ample duck sitting on some rather wet rice, sticky only because of the chef’s sweat that had dripped into the dish, or perhaps it was just water residue from boiled rice in a bag? Whichever, it failed miserably and what had been some decent duck sat on a lacklustre bed of ‘steamed’ rice. Steamed into an eventual sweat, as humans do after sitting too long in saunas.
My partner unenthusiastically poked around the oven baked salmon, served with wilted (terrible word) spinach, new potatoes and basil aioli. The meaty salmon fell away easily but appeared to be rather dry and water-based. There was none of that glittering silver, crispy skin and pink fleshy meat. A basil aioli seemed pleasant enough and seemed to add another flavouring to a boorish salmon, or so I was told. The new potatoes were small and buttery, perhaps even the best thing about this dish which is indecently priced at £12.95.
Other disconnected pickings are a varied as tiger prawn tempura (Japanese), tequila lime chicken chimichanga (Mexican) and seared scallops and jumbo gulf shrimps (South American).
Service from our female waitress resembled the salmon, a rather wet fish. She seemed rushed to both present us our dishes and then grab them back once finished. The place was beginning to fill, but only downstairs at the bar with after-work drinkers. Upstairs, in the restaurant area, it appeared half-full or half-empty perhaps sounds better with the tone of this piece. It was as if she was shoving us out with acceleration, but for who to replace us? Maybe they just prefer a clean and empty table rather than an occupied and paying one? This is probably the most disjointed and identity challenged restaurant and bar in London, and one visit is enough.