A plain, grey door in a side street a short walk from Vauxhall Cross would not seem the most likely location to go prospecting, were it not for the maniacal laugh and shouts to stand back emanating from the other side. All in a full, thick Texas drawl. Behind the door, you see, lies Trixie Dixie’s mine. This is a themed dining pop-up experience blending Wild West stylin’, Deep South cookin’, good drinkin’, and blues jammin’ – an exciting prospect indeed.
Gold Rush is the latest offering from Django Bango, who have quite the Southern pedigree, having run the successful Po’ Boys last year. Don’t try and pronounce that one unless you’re actually from the bayou, or it sounds excruciating.
Guests are greeted by Trixie, a character played with gusto and enthusiasm from open to close; a hapless orphan heir, inheriting the mine, our protagonist has managed to misplace all that precious gold, sheepishly admitting that some of it may have ended up in the gumbo pot. With the proprietor introduced, and a nod to the musician scoring your night, it’s time to meet your fellow diners. Seated at tables of six, the conversation gets going fairly quickly, and a steady supply of mystery shots, known only as “cactus juice”, builds camaraderie in a way only group booze-downing can.
The fare is soul food straight from the swamps and Bible Belt, and captures the feel of gut-busting, finger-licking excess while remaining stylish. Cookout-grilled bread and Cajun butter gets you started, before pulled pork cornbread doughnuts, hunks of melt-in the-mouth BBQ rib, buckets (literally) of deep-fried gator, and a super sweet, super rich dessert are brought to the table. Some pretty crazy, fun apparatus appears at times but – as IGT so strongly believes in – every course is then available to eat from a real plate with real cutlery, even though it might have arrived on a washing line.
The highlight, though, of the five courses, is the gumbo itself, which is served with arancini, but is otherwise is a pot of honest to God authenticity. It’s a dish which is deceptively specific in its requirements – the real stuff ain’t just any old pot of stew, honey.
Despite my ruthlessly carnivorous inclinations, I did get the chance to have a look and some opinions on the veggie options, which looked tasty and were well received. My dining partner has a lifelong grudge match with wheat, so I got to see the gluten-free too. Good news – it’s just as good, and a lot of the menu is gluten-free anyway, so you won’t miss out on the highlights if you’re not down with the demon grain.
Trixie Dixie’s fears about the bullion finding its way into the kitchen proved correct – in fact, every table was striking gold, multiple times per course. Like bingo, but with fewer numbers and more silly accents, the gimmick went down a treat and became a bit of a competition between diners to come up with the most outrageous proclamation of finding riches. During the night our host interjected with heartfelt and utterly ridiculous tales, which always elicited a chuckle, even when discussing Daddy’s horrific demise in a mine train accident – the train in question is a custom-built miniature which chugs up and down the length of the space all night. At the end of the meal, the most successful miner was brought on up to receive an appropriately-coloured prize, and we were left to another hour of cocktail drinking and music, while exploring the setting, or perhaps taking in the night air, or polluting it with a cigarette, on the lovely little terrace.
The cocktail bar is a purpose-built wooden affair, complete with lizard, cactus and cowboy hat accessories. The drinks which come from behind it are dominated by bourbon – Buffalo Trace to be specific, whose branding is around the place here and there – but there are tequila, rum and gin-based blends on offer. Some are appropriately named rebrandings of classics, including my go-to, the “Gold” Fashioned, which is a very solid rendition. In fact, with the exception of a couple slips leaving longer drinks a bit dilute and wishy-washy, the menu is well-executed across the board. The balancing of tequila and agave flavours where they appear deserves singling out, because it’s a hard thing to do. Even my greatest quaffing nightmares, the fruit salads and Tiffany lamps, proved rather tasty, and, importantly, are utterly stunning in their presentation.
It may have been the sheer number of cocktails I consumed and the rate at which I drained them, but getting the attention of a waiter to take an order could be a little tricky. At our table, a bottle of white wine found itself warming rapidly sans ice bucket, but this was very apologetically rectified – once we got hold of someone.
A couple cocktail duds and service slowdowns were, though, small imperfections in a brilliant big picture. Themed establishments can be a tough balancing act, especially as we’re Brits (I suspect Trixie’s hometown would go for any and all bells and whistles). Overdo it and it’s simply grating, but half-bake it and you look lazy. Gold Rush nails the sweet spot, and does so with a truly commendable food and drink selection at its heart – there’s style and substance here. Sumptuous and supremely silly, it’s a wonderful night out. Django Bango deserve to do very well over their run this summer; they’re already high up my list of favourites and could – dare I say – take the gold.
Gold Rush London, The Yard, 4 Durham Street, Vauxhall, London +44(0)7812571480 firstname.lastname@example.org www.djangobango-goldrush.com Tickets £35. Runs Fridays and Saturdays until 1st October.