Our Caribbean Reporter Kered Clement discovers the most authentic Caribbean dining experiences in London.
It is with great pleasure that I officially announce, Caribbean dining is having a moment! That tummy comforting Sunday dinner I couldn’t wait for granny to serve up. Those homemade crispy fried chicken legs I’d save for leftovers and that juicy Jerk chicken wrapped in foil, I devoured at a roadside stall in Jamaica, is finally being offered on the London foodie scene at these cool spots.
Levi Roots’ Caribbean Smokehouse | Westfield, Stratford, London
When you walk into a Caribbean restaurant, and most of the diners are Afro-Caribbean, then you’re in the right place, because let’s face it, competing with our home-cooking is a tall order (no pun intended). It’s no wonder ‘Reggae Reggae Sauce’ creator Levi Roots decided to partner with Eren Ali to bring authentic Caribbean cooking to as many people as possible.
The setting, similar to a traditional Caribbean living room scattered with vintage vinyl records, antique furnishing and red, green and gold memorabilia, was buzzing and vibrant. Even the huge pot filled to the brim with rice and peas resembled the dutch pots found on the burning stoves of most West Indians on a Sunday. Stepping into Caribbean Smokehouse was rather like stepping into the warms arms of Granny smothered with the scent of slowly cooked Caribbean food.
When our pleasant waitress Charlotte presented us with the menu, we were overwhelmed but in a nice way. One things’ for sure, the Caribbean Smokehouse team haven’t adopted the bad customer service habits that have made Caribbean takeaways notorious. But, be warned! Selecting a side to accompany your main is probably the same feeling an indecisive woman, in a shoe shop with a shoe fetish, gets. We contemplated for quite some time, before settling on the Veggie Food Platter, which allowed us to have a bit of everything from ‘Sweet Plantain Slices’ to ‘Jerk-spiced Mushrooms’. Pescetarians et al. will be pleased to know, that there’s a separate menu with vegetarian, vegan and Ital dishes.
From ‘Barbadian Fish Cakes’, ‘Trinidadian Doubles’ to ‘Martinique Coconut Chicken Curry’, there was a good representation of local favourites across the Caribbean and (queue drum roll), it tastes just like the cooking passed down through generations. What’s more, Levi also takes the liberty of introducing you a bit of patois while you release the ‘Reggae Rum Punch’ in the loos.
If you’re yearning for authentic Caribbean cooking, then Caribbean Smokehouse have got it on lock. The good news is, expansion is on the horizon. And as they say in Jamaica ‘Once You Go You’ll Know’. caribbeansmokehouse.com
The Rum Kitchen | Notting Hill, Carnaby Street and Brixton
When serial restaurateurs with a fondness for the Caribbean region, food and dining experiences open restaurants, you get ‘Roti Pizza’ topped with jerk chicken. And #TeamCoco can’t get enough of it!
Founders Alex Potter and Jonny Boud have cleverly merged the best bits of Island life and dining in London, and plot it under a Caribbean beach shack style roof, to give Londoner’s a place where they can leave their worries at the door. To sum it up they’d say, ‘No rain, no rainbow’.
With over 100 varieties of rum, mouth watering dishes and the latest Soca, Reggae and Dancehall tunes playing over the chatter. Rum Kitchen stands out amongst the rest as a spot that gives you a sense of Caribbean lifestyle and dear I say it, a feeling that it’s all “No Problem”, in the stress-induced heart of London.
Opening the door to Rum Kitchen’s branch in Kingly Court, Carnaby Street is like entering a travel machine that zaps you to a Caribbean rum shop near the beach. The atmosphere was warm; people were smiling, the latest hit from soca mogul Machel Montano was blazing, Jerk chicken was sizzling on the grill, with a box of Bajan beers stacked on the side. We almost knelt down to dust the sand off our feet before remembering we were still in Westminster and not the West Indies.
The menu is easy to understand and reasonably priced, very similar to the uncomplicated chalkboard menus of Caribbean food huts. From ‘Proper Jerk’ with watermelon, pineapple and jerk gravy to ‘Curry Mutton’ with coconut and black-eyed pea rice, each dish flavoured with something to remind you of the tropics. While we nursed a hibiscus and coconut water mocktail and a ‘Zombie’ cocktail served up in a skull glass complete with a flaming passion fruit (we kid you not), we had high hopes for the food. After all, what’s a Caribbean restaurant with all the right aesthetic if it doesn’t nail the recipe that leaves you pining for paradise.
A simple request about how spicy the jerk chicken is shattered all our doubts when the chef gave us a taste of jerk chicken straight from the grill. We got sold after one bite! Not only were we sold, but our mouths and minds had also hoped in the time machine, and as far as they were concerned we were in Jamaica, on a beach, under a thatched roof, experiencing the real thing.
Everything about Rum Kitchen was so spot on, so much so that we ended up interrogating the manager with a raised Jack Sparrow eyebrow. Simply put, if a trip to the Caribbean is a distant memory or a long shot, Rum kitchen’s three cool locations are the place for you. therumkitchen.com
Turtle Bay Restaurant | Ealing | Nationwide
Turtle Bay Restaurant is by far the largest Caribbean chain with 18 restaurants across the country that set out to offer something new and exciting to the food scene that would appeal to everyone.
What stands out the most is their ability to capture the creativity of Caribbean people in a restaurant setting that leaves you gawking at the attention to detail and Instagramming everything you see. When we popped into the Ealing branch, the artistic smartphone snap onslaught began instantly! From the Red Stripe beer cans flattened to create table tops, a mural of old speaker boxes and TV’s, collaged iron containers and our favourite, sinks made of steel drum barrels, it was like entering an exhibition on the resourcefulness of Caribbean people. Turtle Bay Restaurants do a good job at showing dinners how Caribbean people make the most of their resources through up-cycling and transforming what’s available to them.
From Trinidadian style doubles to ‘Jamaican Browned Chicken’ and rums from Barbados to Bermuda, the menu draws inspiration from dishes across the region. The key word is inspiration. Our waiter explained, the idea is not to try to emulate the home-cooking styles of the Caribbean, but offer diners a unique experience and take on Caribbean food.
Our ‘Prawn and Mango Wrap’ sauteed with herbs, spices and fresh mango and ‘Mo Bay Chicken’ cooked in a spiced jerk sauce with sweet plantain went down a treat and served as a great light bite for lunch. If you’re looking for authentic Caribbean cooking, then you won’t find it at Turtle Bay, but if you’re looking for a pretty impressive, artistic setting that transcends you to the dancehalls and block parties of Jamaica, with a wide selection of rum. Then this is the place for group celebrations, after work drinks and any occasion that needs a sprinkle of island vibes. www.turtlebay.co.uk