Those who know me best would characterize me as being ‘somewhat of a vegetarian food connoisseur’ , travelling the world of food ‘through a diverse and varied palette’ with preferences for cuisines like Indian, Thai and Mexican foods. But while my stomach has seen many Middle Eastern, European and Indian foods being gobbled down, when it came to Caribbean food, I was seriously lacking. I had tried elements of ‘Caribbean’ food at Yikes Kitchen, a pop up in North London who had elements of the Caribbean in their vegetarian and vegan menu, with its delicious plantain burger springing to mind but when it came to having a real ‘full Caribbean’ experience however, my palette was somewhat lacking. Enter Rhythm Kitchen, a restaurant in Westfield Stratford which specializes in ‘Caribbean street food’. Curated by its esteemed founder ‘Delroy’ lovingly nicknamed as ‘The Jerkfather’, Delroy developed a passion for cooking at a young age, instilled in him by his mother, who taught him the value of ‘good home cooked food’, eventually leading him to found Rhythm Kitchen in Stratford.
With a second restaurant opening on the 6th May in Walthamstow, it is clear that Delroy wants to bring the ‘spirit of the Caribbean’ to London, but the question as to whether it would be any good was another matter entirely. The menu is simple and the location is proximal, next to street food outlets like Indigo and Yo Sushi, feeding Stratford’s hungry patrons and tourists as they settle down for lunch or dinner. With culinary delights like ‘ragga bean stew’ for vegetarians like myself and the meat approved ‘lamb curry’ the menu might be small, but there seemed to be a culinary choice that was suitable for every individual taste, although a larger menu might have given us a greater insight into Caribbean food culture. Surprisingly the menu seemed to have more Indian as opposed to Carribean dishes which is odd given the founding father’s heritage, but upon further inspection I learned that in many ways Carribean and Indian cuisines are similar in their use of ‘curries’ (although meats like goat and lamb as opposed to chicken are often used in Carribean curries) which was news to me. To begin with, we chose lite bites which could be called ‘mini starters’ with Chi Chi choosing ‘Saltfish Fritters’ served with ‘Sweet Chilli Mayo’, while I settled for Mac And Cheese which seemed to be the only vegetarian ‘Light Bite’ on the menu.
Chi Chi having eaten before she had met me, was not able to eat much of her meal, but what she did have she said was well salted and the crispy batter of the ‘saltfish fritters’ was to her relief not greasy and well cooked. She said that the sweet chilli mayo had the right amount of spice and coated the fritters in a delicious creamy mouthful that had her begging for more. Unfortunately I can’t say the same for my Mac And Cheese, which first of all did not have any bechemal sauce (a characteristic of traditional Mac and Cheese) and in appearance looked more like a lasagna without sauce than a Mac and Cheese. It also tasted like it had been put in the fridge and had not been made fresh, but despite its shortcomings, it wasn’t the worst Mac and Cheese I had tasted, just not the best either. We washed down our ‘Lite Bites’ with homemade rum punch, which I am pleased to report more than made up for the Mac And Cheese which felt undercooked, as it had hints of spices like cinnamon and a refreshing taste in the mouth that quenched our thirst. But it was our sides which seemingly saved the day; we ordered Jerk chips , which were dry rubbed in a pimento and Scotch Bonnet Pepper mix, with hints of cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg, thyme, garlic, salt, and pepper in every mouthful. In short, the jerk chips were delicious and if we could have had an unlimited supply of jerk chips we would have been more than satisfied.
The rices too were also well cooked, with light and fluffy rice and peas, pristine white, which would make the perfect accompaniment to our ‘Chef Special’ dishes of Lamb Curry for Chi Chi and ‘Bean Ragga Stew’ for me, a Caribbean vegetarian classic. Chi Chi declared that her lamb curry was well spiced, although even with the separate hot sauce pots that they had provided was not as spicy as she would have liked, whereas I was more than ready to ‘spice up my mild bean stew’ being someone who likes spicy food as well. The ragga bean stew was indeed more mild than I would have liked it but with the hot sauce did create a wonderful flavour that delicately coated the carrots, plantain and homemade dumplings, which almost melted in my mouth. This was definitely a better dish than the Mac And Cheese but halfway through eating my bean stew, Chi Chi had pointed out that there was plastic wrapping in the stew, which is not only dangerous but also unhygienic but then again mistakes do happen so I imagine it must have been an anomaly. Nevertheless the bean stew was a great dish served with rice and peas, made even more the delicious with the addition of ‘hot sauce’.
I would have also also liked to see ‘desserts on the menu’ as the menu seemed quite limited but despite its shortcomings, I did for the most part enjoy the food that we were served, although I do think that there needs to be more vegetarian choices on the menu, that aren’t just ‘mac and cheese’. That being said, I believe where Rhythm Kitchen’s talents truly falls into is its careful curation of charismatic seafood and meat dishes which are more respective of Caribbean food culture, as opposed to the dishes that I had on the menu. Of course it does make sense given that Caribbean food is very much seafood and meat orientated but perhaps more inventive dishes like ‘Plantain Curry’ or plantain fritters would have been a greater choice than the Mac And Cheese that they had on the menu for vegetarians. Despite the limited menu however I would say that the food is great value for money, considering it is located inside Stratford Shopping Centre and that is in a great location for you to visit if you are hungry after shopping in Westfield. I would also like to point out that the staff are also kind and welcoming and take great care in ensuring that vegetarian meals are cooked separately and are also attentive to any allergies you may have so that you can have the best culinary experience. The presentation of the dishes, with the exception of the mac and cheese were also well presented, demonstrating that the chefs had taken great care to ensure that dishes looked aesthetically appealing as well as delicious to eat.
Have You Ever Tried Caribbean Food Before?
Please note we were guests at Rhythm Kitchen but all thoughts are my own and are not affected by complimentary services.