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REVIEW – Levi Roots Caribbean Smokehouse

PICTURED: Levi Roots Caribbean Smokehouse

UPON ENTERING Levi Roots colourful and vibrant Caribbean Smokehouse in Stratford, east London, I had many feelings regarding Caribbean cuisine and its "place" in British culture.

With Jamie Oliver’s jerk rice debacle - which caused uproar last month - paired with the constant discussion surrounding questionable customer service at Caribbean restaurants combined with the influx of watered down Caribbean eateries (Rum Kitchen and Turtle Bay to name a few), Caribbean cuisine in the UK has had a tumultuous time in terms of 'getting it right’.

That’s what makes Levi Roots such an anomaly but also why so much pressure – and arguably criticism - is placed on him and the much talked about restaurant.

However, these initial thoughts quickly dissipated as soon as I entered the vibrant restaurant. Filled with good vibes, good music with a side of rum punch and impressive customer service, I was taken in by the seemingly buzzy atmosphere on a rainy Saturday night.

Menu

The menu offered a wide variety of options, which I couldn’t wait to get into. From classic, simply smoked jerk chicken to the classic curry goat with rice and peas, pretty much everything you’d want from a Caribbean restaurant menu was there.

One thing I did notice was that their separate vegetarian menu, which featured online, was not included at the restaurant – something which would have been great to see and further cater to that demographic.

Nonetheless both veggies and meat eaters had a plethora of option to choose from, across starters, mains and sides.


Reggae Rum Punch

Drinks

Per our server’s request, My sister and I started with their signature reggae rum punch - and boy was that a great choice. The classic beverage was sweet with a kick of Wray and nephew, which balanced the sweet and boozy perfectly. It was tasty, tropical and everything you would want from a rum punch!

Starters

Now for the food! We chose three starters - Jerk calamari, Bajan fish cakes and their chicken wings – and the starters did not disappoint. The Bajan fish cakes were packed with saltfish, spring onions and scotch bonnet, reminiscent of the saltfish fritters I would buy at my local Caribbean shop back in the day. They had a great blend of spices with a kick that was paired beautifully with creamy jerk mayo.

The chicken wings were also a highlight for me – tasty, well seasoned and succulent! The jerk calamari I found was a too salty and could have done with a more flavour. But all in all, the starters paired with the rum punch definitely had me feeling good.

Main

I had the Star Bwoy burger, which featured a jerk marinated sirloin steak topped with beefy BBQ in a toasted brioche bun with lettuce. The meal was accompanied with skin-on fries and slaw. While I found the brioche bun to be slightly hard, the sirloin steak was glorious – cooked medium rare (just how I like it) and it was succulent and not tough to chew.

My sister had the fish skewers accompanied by veggie pilau rice, roti, mac and cheese and slaw. She found the salmon was very soft and the colly had great texture and flavour, which paired well with the pilau rice. One criticism she had was that she found the roti to be very doughy and thought it would’ve been good for the dish to include a sauce to dip the roti into.


Fish skewers

As mac and cheese lovers, we found their version of the signature side quite odd. There was a lack of sauce and there were peppers inside the mac and cheese which was quite new to us. While it was a new approach to mac and cheese than we hadn't experienced before, we weren't massive fans of it.

Dessert

Now the desserts were an absolute dream! I had the chocolate brownie with ice cream. A chocolate-ginger sauce, candied pecans and vanilla ice cream accompanied the rich, warm brownie, adding much-needed crunch to the chocolaty goodness. This was probably my favourite thing on the menu.

My sister indulged in the Jamaican plantain tart with butterscotch sauce and rum and raisin ice cream. The traditional closed pastry was filled with cinnamon-spiced plantain, which was the perfect balance of sweetness – not overly sweet and worked well with the rum and raisin ice cream. Together they complimented each other and it was a nice desert.

Final thoughts

All in all, my experience at Levi Roots Caribbean Smokehouse was a pleasant one. And while with anything, there were things I liked and things I didn’t – the experience reminded me of the immense amount of respect I have for a man who’s built an amazing career and is combating the stereotypes associated with Caribbean owned or run eateries.

Now we still have a long way to go, and you’re not going to get the traditional Caribbean food experience that you may want, but it you will get good drinks, nibbles and a enjoyable atmosphere, catering to both the masses and "us".

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