Crackerjack review of Rice & Things

Crackerjack Restaurant review: Rice & Things
Wednesday 9th September 2009

When you eat in a restaurant run by locals for locals, it all boils down to one thing – local knowledge.

We spent two hours in Rice & Things and had a jolly good time, but it wasn’t until we were just about to leave that we realised we probably ordered the wrong dishes.

This new Jamaican restaurant on the junction of Stokes Croft and Cheltenham Road is run by a man known universally as ‘Chef’. Around inner city Bristol, Chef is a bit of a local legend thanks to his takeaway food.

He originally traded at the Lebeq Tavern in Easton before moving to premises in City Road and Grosvenor Road.

If you wanted curried chicken, oxtail and butterbeans or Jamaican fried shrimps, Chef was your man and there would often be queues out of the door.

Had we eaten Chef’s food prior to our first visit to Rice & Things, I dare say we would have ordered differently. When the steaming hot plates of curry goat were delivered to the party next to us, we were kicking ourselves for not asking if this lunchtime dish was also available in the evening. The table next to us obviously had.

That’s not to say the food we did order wasn’t enjoyable for it was very good, plentiful and excellent value. In fact, it was arguably too generous in portion size and bordering on the ‘too cheap’.

A starter of hot wings (£3) was essentially half a dozen chicken wings encased in batter served with a eye-wateringly fiery chilli dipping sauce.

For the same price, half a dozen filo pastry-wrapped king prawns were plump and firm specimens and half the price they would be in most other restaurants.

An extra starter of saltfish and fried dumplings (£3) comprised a thick piece of saltfish which lived up to its name being a very salty, piece of dried fish with enormous balls of fried dough.

It may not have been the lightest dish I’ve encountered but it was certainly the most filling.

Add those hefty starters with a few bottles of incredibly drinkable Dragon Stout (a strong and potent Jamaican beer) and it was no surprise that we struggled to finish our main courses, despite the friendly joshing from our charming waiter who bore an uncanny resemblance to Eddie Murphy with similar comic timing.

There were so many dishes to choose from, we may as well have closed our eyes and stuck a pin into the menu, with dishes such as pork in garlic and ginger sauce, sweet and sour lamb and St Elizabeth peppered steak all winking at us.

In the end, we both went for chicken – curried chicken (£10) and chicken with green peas (£10) – both served with a mountain of rice and a crisp and crunchy salad of raw cabbage, peppers, carrots and lettuce.

Both dishes were packed with flavour. The curried chicken was just the right side of hot and tasted as if it had been flavoured with a basic curry powder, which is one of those underused ingredients that food snobs sniff at but which I think has a real place in basic chicken curries and this one was very good indeed.

The chicken and peas had a more subtle sauce flavoured with thyme, spring onions and carrots.

Neither of us finished our main courses for fear of not being able to get through the door, which made us both look like a couple of lightweights but we’re clearly not as match-fit for such a gastronomic marathon as we first thought.

Needless to say we didn’t hang around for such delights as pineapple upside down cake or ripe banana fritters for fear of showering the other customers with trouser and shirt buttons.

The restaurant itself is on two floors. The brightly-lit upstairs room is painted lime green and tangerine, with a huge flag of Jamaica above the kitchen door, where you can see Chef’s tall white hat among the flames and steam. Downstairs, it’s darker and more atmospheric with a small bar at the far end.

Service was friendly and eager to please, although there was a 30-minute wait for starters which hinted at the kitchen struggling to keep up with the orders.

But then, Rice & Things runs on Jamaican time so why worry?
This is a place to sit back with a can of Red Stripe or bottle of Dragon Stout, relax and listen to some cool reggae sounds as Chef recreates the true taste of the Caribbean.

There may not be white sands and blue seas outside, but the food on the plate is authentically Jamaican and much more St Elizabeth than it is St Paul’s.

  • Food and drink: 7 / 10.
  • Service: 7 / 10.
  • Atmosphere: 7 / 10.
  • Value for money: 8 / 10

Mark Taylor

Crackerjack review of Rice & Things.

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