Cajun spirit brings new twist to city dining scene
It started with a tweet. '˜Blue Bayou is now following you on Twitter'.
A couple of clicks revealed that a new Cajun and Creole restaurant had opened in town - a first for Preston.
It must be hard to stand out when opening a new eatery, but offering a different kind of food (and making your presence known on social media) is a pretty good way to start.
And so I found myself at a table for two, a few days later.
Blue Bayou is in the corner building on Charnley Street which was once home to arts cafe Korova.
It’s taken a bit of the spirit of Korova, with jazz performers occasionally providing some live entertainment, but has done a much better job on the surroundings.
In keeping with the Deep South theme, the dark red decor and atmospheric low lighting creates a more upmarket evening ambience, and the well-stocked bar means it’s somewhere you could just drop into for a drink if you’re not hungry.
And hungry you’ll have to be to eat here - the portions when we visited were generous, to say the least.
I started with grilled Cajun shrimp and my other half Ben chose crab cakes, though there were plenty of tempting options, such as the oysters.
Both came quickly and were simply but attractively presented.
The shrimp was plentiful and came in a mildly spiced sauce on a bed of fresh, crunchy salad.
The horseradish and paprika mayonnaise, in a little pot on the side, added a delightfully creamy element which blended well with the spiced sauce.
Ben’s crab cakes were a delicately-flavoured combination of seafood and sweet potato and generous enough to have formed a main meal if we’d ordered a side dish.
A lad on his way out had called over to me, ‘Try the gumbo, it’s great’ and I can certainly echo that recommendation for mains from the Creole part of the menu.
When it arrived, I knew by looking at it that I was getting more than one dinner from it!
This amazing stew had slabs of meaty, andouille sausage and hearty hunks of chicken on a big bed of lightly seasoned rice. The sauce was spicy hot and really delicious.
Ben took his lead from the Cajun section of the menu and had jambalaya, a Louisiana style stew with chicken, smoked sausage and shrimp with Cajun spiced rice.
The seafood was again a highlight in this dish, and made me think of the amazing, simple but wonderful street food from holidays past, where everything tasty is thrown in one big pot (though this time it wasn’t prepared on little roadside cart...)
“Is everything OK?” queried the worried waitress when she saw me set my fork down with half the stew remaining.
Thankfully there was only some left because I was so stuffed - and they helped box up the rest so I could enjoy it the following day for a hearty., spicy lunch.
The service was excellent - efficient, friendly and attentive, making sure we wanted to come back.
In fact, in the spirit of thorough reviewing, we returned to Blue Bayou a few weeks later and brought some friends along.
This time, we went on a Saturday night, and were pleased to see the restaurant looking bustling and busy but not over-run.
The aforementioned live entertainment was also in full flow, with a cheery young chap in a tuxedo giving us his best Michael Buble and swing tunes.
He did a sterling job but it perhaps felt like something that would be better enjoyed a little later in the night with a cocktail rather than over a quiet dinner. Nonetheless, it’s nice to see a restaurant trying to do something different to get folk through the doors.
On trip two, we felt the huge portions had been scaled back a little since the initial opening weeks, but I liked that as it meant I was able to finish everything and still be nicely full!
Our table of six shared the three small appetisers, cornbread, pickle chips and olives.
And Blue Bayou achieved the impossible: creating a gherkin I actually wanted to eat.
The pickle chips were delicious , deep-fried slices of the usually much maligned vegetable were so surprisingly good, I’d order them again.
The much-praise d jambalaya remained apopular choice, but this time, with six people, to help out, we managed to stretch to a zesty slice of key lime pie for pudding.
Thanks for the tip-off, Twitter!