A report by Isabelle Aron for Time Out.
There’s way more to Caribbean food than just jerk chicken – and a new book celebrates the diverse Afro-Caribbean food culture across the UK. ‘Belly Full: Caribbean Food in the UK’ is a celebration of culture and heritage through food, showcasing more than 60 cafés, butchers and takeaway joints across the country and the people behind them.
The book’s author and photographer, Riaz Phillips, shares his favourite London spots from the book.
When pressed as to what a first-timer should go for at True Flavours in Brixton, owner and head chef Junior gleefully responds, ‘my peppered steak!’, which is slow-cooked and simmered with chillies and a synthesis of spices in a classic Jamaica Sun Dutchpot. The golden fried fish cooked with precision also stands out. Luckily, for those who can’t choose between the two, an ‘off-the-board’ surf-and-turf option is available if you ask nicely. Open from 11am to 11pm, there’s hardly a quiet moment – and with only a few seats either side of the venue, expect to have to stand your ground to get your order heard. 101 Acre Lane, SW2 5TU.
At People’s Choice in Hackey, owner Lenny has perfected a two-hour slow-cooked jerk, starting early in the morning. The result is highly crispy skin on top and a jet-black coating of marinade that many agree is the best part. Beyond jerk, fluffy golden fried dumplings and sweet cornmeal-based festival dumplings rest in wait next to trays of green callaloo, luminous yellow plantain and ackee dotted with red peppers. 51B Chatsworth Rd, E5 0LH.
Smokey Jerkey has been a secret favourite for locals for nearly a decade. But after the restaurant suffered an unfortunate fire, the crew were forced to strip the shop back to its bare bones, so it doesn’t have all the colourful flair and ritzy that Caribbean food stops are usually known for. With this, the restaurant has solely focused on one element of the cuisine, jerking. Owner Louie boasts: ‘My birth place is the home of jerk’, giving props to his native Portland in Jamaica. A simple choice, stew or jerk chicken, lamb or pork with rice and peas or plain white rice – the jerk is easily some of the best in London. 158 New Cross Rd, SE14 5BA.
Ital N Vital
Whilst many places such as the legendary Scandals in north-west London became known for their Ital soups, stews and drinks, very few Caribbean eateries in the UK continue to hold the value of Rastafarian Ital cooking at the core of their business. Owner and chef Ramses uses every inch of the restaurant’s walls to promote his Rastafarian and Ital idols, while Ital ackee and tofu, soya chunks and steam veg all make welcome and refreshing departures from the usual Caribbean favourites. 134 High Rd, N15 6JN.
Coming to east London from Jamaica in the 1960s, Mr Wentworth (otherwise known as Wenty) quickly became a name in the area as a door-to-door salesman of sugar cane, before opening Wenty’s Tropical Foods in 1989. For many, this was the first place they could get fresh produce like yams, jackfruits, green banana and plantain. As major supermarkets lagged behind in supplying food for ethnic communities in places like east London or had them relegated to the rear of the shop, they were proudly displayed front and centre at Wenty’s store. 26 Upton Lane, E7 9LN.
Extracts from ‘Belly Full: Caribbean Food in the UK’ by Riaz Phillips, which is published by Tezeta Press and available to buy here.
Head to the book’s launch party at Buster Mantis, 3-4 Resolution Way, SE8 4NT on August 3 at 6pm. Find out more here.