Food review: Let’s take off to the Caribbean
James Driver-Fisher rounds off a busy week by ordering a selection of flavour-packed Caribbean food to savour in the garden.
The sun was shining, so we set up the table outside for the first time this year, poured ourselves a drink and waited for our Caribbean feast to arrive.
It was purely a coincidence that we’d happened to order dishes that seem to bring out the sunshine and brighten up even the dullest of plates.
There’s just something about Caribbean food that makes me feel really happy. The staple takeaways are, of course, fish and chips, Chinese, Indian and probably pizzas – and all are delicious on their day.
However, on my travels – which isn’t very far these days due to restrictions – I have been noticing a lot more Caribbean places pop up around the Black Country. When it’s cooked right, and I’ve yet to taste anything other than a delicious meal from a Caribbean stall, takeaway, vendor or restaurant, I don’t think anything beats it.
My preferences when it comes to food are a lot flavour, plenty of spice, plenty of kick and plenty of zest, to give the tastebuds a real awakening. And, for me, Caribbean food always ticks all those boxes.
I’m a late bloomer when it comes to such delicacies, mainly because there weren’t many places to buy such dishes when I was growing up.
The first time was probably at a music festival, when my brother and I decided to stop drinking so much on the final day and save a bit of cash to buy some decent food.
And come the Sunday, we headed straight to Caribbean vendor to order. For some reason we both ordered purely vegetarian but it was then I fell in love with Caribbean food because even without meat it was totally delicious.
Then a pub over the road from Warwickshire County Cricket Club was taken over and the new owners began serving curried goat, jerk chicken, dumplings and rice and peas. Again, it was beautifully-cooked food.
We still don’t tend to eat Caribbean too often, perhaps because all the takeaways and restaurants near us in Netherton tend to be the usual fare, but perhaps it’s because when we do order such food it makes it all the more special.
Having completed the latest of my half marathon challenges – I’m running one a month to raise money for the John Taylor Hospice, in Erdington, in memory of my dad – the Radox had soothed the aching body, the sun was shining and I’d pre-ordered our food from the Caribbean Kitchen in Stourbridge.
Main dishes on the menu included a curried mutton burger, which came with with mutton gravy, fries and salad; jerk chicken breast; Scotch bonnet and garlic wings; chicken stew; and curried chicken.
Special dishes are served on Sunday, which was lucky for us, and on this occasion included sweet chilli salmon, curried ‘no mutton’, and stewed beef.
There were also plenty of options for vegans and vegetarians too, including jackfruit nuggets, island stew, sweet potato and aubergine curry, and ‘no chicken’ nuggets with jerk gravy.
As Lent was now over, it meant we were able to try some meat dishes for the first time in two months – as we’d challenged ourselves to go pescatarian for 40 days and 40 nights – so we mixed it up a bit.
On the menu for us on the sunny Sunday afternoon in our garden was curried mutton, jerk chicken, and oxtail stew, and from the vegan and vegetarian sections, ackee and saltvish, chickpea curry with flatbreads and cauliflower nuggets.
For sides we had rice and peas, fries, steamed veg, salad, jerk and herb plantain, and vegetable fritters.
Off the children’s menu, Annabelle went for the barbecue chicken, which included an Old Jamaica Pineapple Soda.
We wanted to sample a bit of everything, which meant each of our plates were filled with a wonderful variety of flavours, spices and textures.
Curried mutton or curried goat are always my go-to dishes – and the curried mutton from the Caribbean Kitchen did not disappoint. The meat had been cooked until tender and it had loads of flavour. When eaten with the rice and peas it was a match made in heaven. The sauce was also delicious.
Next I dived into the oxtail stew, something I have never tried before. Again, it was another good choice because the meat was cooked lovely. The sauce was thick and warming, and this one I tried with the vegetable fritters.
The side dishes were almost as good as the mains. I had leftovers the next day, which mainly consisted of the sides – my wife and daughter are no mugs, making sure all the quality mains were lapped up first – but just those alone made a lovely dish.
The fritters were packed with veggies and had a slightly crispy ‘skin’. The only downside to the stew was the amount of bones involved.
This was entirely down to me because, as explained, I had never tried the dish before but should’ve guessed oxtail would involve quite a few large bones.
But I’m sure it all adds to the flavour which, as already pointed out, was very nice.
It was a toss-up between the jerk chicken and the mutton curry for dish of the day because the chicken had also been very well cooked.
The crispy skin is what makes jerk chicken, for me, and the Caribbean Kitchen version was almost like sampling a piece of meat straight from the barbecue.
It had lovely, very slightly burnt taste and the sauce was not overbearing at all. Kelly doesn’t particularly like spicy food but she really enjoyed it.
We were also very impressed with how tender the meat itself was, and that also went for Annabelle’s barbecue chicken.
The two vegetarian dishes were also really nice.
I wasn’t sure what to expect with the cauliflower nuggets but they held their form really well, which gave them a nice crunch inside the light batter.
The curried chickpea dish was arguably the most flavoursome of the lot and packed a nice little punch.
However, the most surprising main was the ackee and saltvish. I won’t pretend to know what the fish substitute was but it certainly tasted like real fish.
It also had a really nice, slightly salty kick to it and again went really well with the rice and peas.
Another dish I had never tried before was plantain, which had been cooked in a jerk and herb sauce.
Let’s just say I’ll certainly be ordering them again because I loved the texture. It had a very mild, sweet taste lingering in the background, which you could just pick up through the jerk seasoning. Very nice.
As the sun began to set, we packed up the leftovers and enjoyed a little drink as we let the food go down.
Ordering in food from the Caribbean Kitchen was certainly the perfect way to round off another busy week and day. Another place we’d recommend.