When it’s cold and dark it’s good to be reminded of sunshine. It is no coincidence that the BBC schedules Death in Paradise, set on a Caribbean island, for January. It was a similar mindset that drew me to the pink neon of JAMROCK, the new Caribbean restaurant and bar on Calls Lane.
On entering, I imagined friends sipping rum cocktails at the bar. Of course at the moment all chairs and tables were cleared, with just one table remaining for collecting takeaways. The menu is currently limited and I was disappointed that neither the BBQ jackfruit nor vegetable patties were available. However, it was their first day of service after closing over Christmas and New Year, so they might have been in the process of restocking.
The online ordering process is simple and effective. If an item is not available you are notified, avoiding unwanted substitutions. Mains can be ordered by themselves, with rice, or with rice and peas. It is possible to order to pick up ASAP or choose a later slot. I chose a time to collect that was ninety minutes after my order went in. I was impressed that the order arrived two minutes after I gave my name and everything was hot, having clearly been recently packaged.
Caribbean food to me is an important part of living in Leeds. The second largest West Indian carnival in Europe would be nothing without smokey jerk chicken barbecues. When the sun shines in August there is nothing better than stretching out on the grass of Potternewton Park, sipping a rum punch and nibbling on freshly grilled corncobs.
There has been a long history of Caribbean food in Leeds, but outlets have mainly been located in Chapeltown rather than the City Centre. Even here they have tended to be cafes and takeaways rather than formal dining. Maureen’s on Roundhay Road is known among West Indian communities and Caribbean food aficionados across the country. Great as the food is, I would not choose it for a date.
The national chain, Turtle Bay, has already opened a site in the Light. The success of Turtle Bay perhaps indicates that now is the right time to introduce Caribbean food to a wider audience. It is good to see an independent Caribbean restaurant joining the nightlife hub of The Calls.
The venture has been set up by Stephen Tylsley, owner of IF..Cafe on Call Lane, and his brother-in-law Oral Blackford. Having grown up in Jamaica, Oral was keen to bring his grand-parents’ recipes to this new outlet, providing us with warming, comfort eating in these dark days.
I ordered mains of goat curry and vegan stew, accompanied by sides of rice and peas, fried plantain and coleslaw. The spicing on both mains was great, with just the right amount of kick. The goat curry, in particular, had a real depth of flavour and the goat was soft and tender.
Although the stew had a good sauce, the contents were rather disappointing. The menu promised me okra and spinner dumplings. I am a fan of those little twisted dumplings that float in Caribbean pepper soup and stews. Unfortunately, neither okra nor dumplings appeared in my bowl. Instead, the bowl was full of different beans and carrots. I’m not sure if this was a supply problem or whether I was just unlucky in the portion I received.
Sides were great. The rice and peas were well textured, the beans having just the right level of softness. The coleslaw was fresh and fruity. The plantain was a beautiful burnished gold, firm but not hard, well fried but not greasy.
What is good to see is a Caribbean menu that clearly has a commitment to vegans. Even their current slim online menu has a separate vegan section. It is very easy to see Jamaican food as being all about barbecued meat. This menu proves that Caribbean food can cater to all tastes.
Having abstained on starters, I ordered a portion of rum cake for dessert. I have to say that when I opened the carton it didn’t look very enticing. No doubt it would look much more elegant on a plate with garnish and cream. However, the cake turned out to be moist, rich and with a distinct rum flavour.
I am looking forward to the day that you can dine at JAMROCK. The full restaurant menu looks interesting; a selection of salt and fresh fish is available and there are seafood, meat and vegan starters. If you want to be really traditional there is even a mixed platter that offers jerk chicken, goat curry, ackee and saltfish, with traditional sides.
The cocktail list is long and interesting. All the cocktails feature rum, providing a tour of the many types of rum produced in the Caribbean. There will also be wine and draught beer on offer, including guest Yorkshire beers. Many glasses no doubt will rise in celebration when the bar can open once again.
JAMROCK 42 Call Lane, LeedsLS 1 6DT
Photographs by Debbie Rolls.