Admittedly there are a lot of differences between the Caribbean and Radford. There’s the weather, of course, and the lack of swaying palm trees and white sandy shores, to name a few. But if you can, for the moment, just forget those few minor details, then you might be able to see a little bit of the Caribbean in Alfreton Road, and it’s really taking off.
The road boasts a growing number of Caribbean takeaways including Dad’s Kitchen, Caribbean Flavours and Mr Cool, offering a taste of the tropics as well as a selection of food stores that stock the vital ingredients to bring the dishes to life at home.
The latest addition to the collection is Big Poppa’s, which opened in a former bank building about five weeks ago. Its incredibly affordable prices make it a good mid-week option and with no more than £15 in our pockets between us we headed down to check it out on a Wednesday night.
With high ceilings and huge windows, the restaurant enjoys a chic minimalist decor in red, cream and black with modern, dark-wood tables and large framed pictures of black icons including Martin Luther King and Bob Marley.
As we walked in we were greeted warmly by a man behind the counter, who ushered us in and showed us to a table. He apologetically explained that they had run out of a few dishes. They had enjoyed a surprisingly busy lunch, he explained. But it didn’t seem to matter as he made some mouth-watering suggestions and volunteered to stray off the menu for us to try and make amends.
While they did not have the right cut of meat for the traditional jerk chicken, he said he could easily prepare some chicken breast with the same sauce, and my partner opted for the saltfish with rice and peas. Unfortunately there was no plantain that night but we threw in a couple of deep-fried dumplings for good measure.
Big Poppa’s is in the process of acquiring an alcohol licence but in the meanwhile it is one of Nottingham’s few BYO (Bring Your Own) establishments – and there’s no corkage charge, making it an extra cheap option for the time being.
We were given glasses to save us drinking from the can (Jamaican Red Stripe lager, of course) and enjoyed watching the world go past through the large floor-to-ceiling windows. Inevitably they do also have an impact on the temperature of the restaurant and we had chosen one of the coldest nights of the year to dine; the irony of eating Caribbean grub in my coat was not lost on me.
Nevertheless, the food was superb. The chicken was good quality and succulent, drenched in a spicy and sweet jerk sauce and provided the perfect antidote to the frost outside. My plate was piled high with chips and chicken, an incredibly generous portion for the £6 paid. It wasn’t the same barbecued, chargrilled jerk chicken I’ve sampled at festivals before but it was very tasty, and I did wonder if the standard half jerk chicken, which is normally available, might be more like this.
Meanwhile, my partner’s saltfish was equally delicious; a melody of ingredients that was soft on the palate but bursting with flavour. The fish was not too salty and was nicely offset by the warm dough dumplings that were slightly sweet in taste. We struggled to clean the plates due to the generous portions but our determined effort to not see good food wasted triumphed in the end.
Staff at the family-run restaurant are passionate about the food and seemed genuinely pleased to hear how much we had enjoyed our meals as they took our plates. With an increasing number of old banks turning into Wetherspoons or Tesco Express, it’s great to see that this one has taken a more independent route, instead providing a very welcome addition to Nottingham’s burgeoning African-Caribbean scene. Now we just need to work on the weather.
(Written for the Nottingham Post)