UPDATE: CARIBBEAN FLAVOURS HAS CLOSED
This city doesn’t have too many good places to enjoy homemade ginger beer with a spicy goat curry. So when Caribbean Flavours Restaurant on Somerset West was razed by fire days before its fifth anniversary last March, this city lost one of those good places.
But now it’s back. Less than a year after the fire, chef-owner Frederick White will celebrate a sixth anniversary this March at new digs on Carling Avenue.
Two things have not changed in the move: the food is still very good, and the service, though pleasant, is still very slow.
But two things have changed. The location is the obvious one. Sadly, despite the random attempts to homey it up with conversation-inducing art, the new dining room is considerably less endearing (from an old house on the edge of Chinatown, to a strip mall on Carling); and the other change that hits you hard is the pricing. At the top end, they are considerably more expensive. Two years ago, the main dishes were as high as $17. Today, they reach $27.
Is it worth it?
Yes, because it’s very good food, authentically spicy, generously served, very flavourful stuff, clearly made with quality ingredients.
And No, because you eat this good food in a draughty, sharply-lit, ultra-plain space with very basic service. There’s a disconnect between the humble little venue, its humbler-still service and a single plate with a $27-price tag.
Mind you, that $27 bought me an extravagant plate of cod fish and ackee with rice, peas, fried plantain, steamed green beans, grilled sweet potato, braised carrots, chayote and squash, with a homemade soup to start. As far as Iâ’m concerned, that dish, when done as well as it’s done here, is worth any price: soft, sweet, rich and perfectly peppery. If you’re a fan of Jamaica’s national dish, you’ll like this version.
But add a starter – the delicious cod cakes, say, or the wickedly spicy wings (both $10) – and you have yourself a sizeable bill.
There are ways to spend less. Rotis are $9 to $12 and fill-able with chicken, jerk chicken, beef, jerk beef, goat, tempeh, shrimp, codfish, potato, vegetable, channa (chick peas), or tofu. These are generously filled flatbreads, the stews are fragrant and can be wildly fiery. For an extra $8, they can come bordered with the same bounty that accompanies the ackee .
Other main dishes include a lush goat curry, grilled chicken in a ginger-beer marmalade, curried chicken, jerk chicken, red snapper or Kingfish, all recommendable.
For dessert, there’s usually a homemade cake, and always there is banana rum flambé (fuelled with Bounty rum), which brings Chef White out of the kitchen with his disposable lighter and a $9 plate of fried bananas, ice cream and crème anglaise. Hypnotized by the blue flame, the place might seem, for an instant, exotic. Then you blow it out and reality comes flooding back. Caribbean Flavours delivers a lot on most plates, but, considering the storefront surroundings, it doesn’t come cheap.