Caribbean food is in its prime right now in London’s dining scene. Authentic West Indian eateries have been in the outer boroughs of the capital ever since the 50s and 60s. But now, restaurants like Jamaica Patty Co, The Rum Kitchen and Dub Jam are all paving the way for a new style of restaurant that puts a ‘cool’ and modern twist on the traditional Caribbean cuisine.
They are popping up in prime locations too: Notting Hill, Carnaby Street, Covent Garden and the West End. So they appeal to everyone from the weekend tourist to the Central London hipsters.
As one of my favourite places in the world, it’s hard not to want a little piece of the Caribbean in London.
I met Theresa Roberts for a chat about her Covent Garden business The Jamaica Pattie Company. Theresa set up her shop in 2013 with her husband Andrew. And the drop-in restaurant and take-away is already making waves for its contemporary twist on a traditional Caribbean staple. It seemed only right I went along to find out about what inspires this lady.
For a start, there’s authenticity behind The Jamaica Patty Company. Theresa was born in Jamaica and grew up there before moving to London as a young child. And while she has spent most of her life in England (and now has two new generations of her family here), she says her business was a way of letting her family’s heritage live on.
‘I grew up in St Elizabeth,’ Theresa tells me. ‘My parents left for England when I was six months, while I stayed with my grandmother and I followed by moving here when I was about seven.
‘Years later, I went back to my home in Jamaica and I thought “I need to invest in my country”.
That led to Theresa firstly, developing an incredible property over on the island, and secondly, forming the idea for a Jamaican business in the UK with her English-born husband Andrew.
‘I focused on patties and coconut water,’ she says, ‘I wanted to attract international footfall and promote what my country’s about. I wanted to show people what a quality Jamaican patty is.’
Theresa says The Jamaica Patty Co was two years in development.
‘I wanted to make sure that we got all of the right things into these patties,’ she says.
In fact, getting things ‘right’ in the way of quality and authenticity was paramount to Theresa. So she took on the kitchens who provide for Raymond Blanc and Jamie Oliver. And with the help of renowned Jamaican chef Collin Brown, created the recipes for the patties she sells today.
While they perfected their patty recipes, Theresa wasn’t afraid to veer away from the norm, but for good reason. You might not normally find curried goat in patty-form in the Caribbean, but she wanted a way of showcasing the authentic Caribbean flavours and principles to her British customers.
After a number of samples, they finally arrived at the perfect meat volume and combination of Scotch Bonnet peppers and thyme that was just right for her diverse market.
The result is a delicious range of beef, curried goat and spicy chicken patties that have a deliciously crisp and turmeric-coloured pastry.
Are they good? If you haven’t tried them yet, trust me, they are seriously good. And as I say, the recipes were created to cater for all customers – including those who might be shy of the fiery Caribbean flavours. So expect a nice powerful kick of scotch bonnet, but not so much that you lose all sensation in your tongue.
While the star of the show here is the patties, The Jamaica Patty Co also serves up smooth Blue Mountain Coffee and Tortuga rum cake. If you’ve been to Jamaica before, you’ll know these are two of the biggest selling products on the island – and you’ll see an abundance of both filling the shelves of the tourist shops.
For breakfast, you can pick up banana porridge and banana bread. And there are Caribbean style hot soups. But one of Theresa’s proudest products here is the Devon House ice cream.
‘I’m the only person who’s allowed to get the license for selling this ice cream outside of Jamaica,’ she says proudly.
Theresa says it’s become an iconic brand of the Caribbean and she maintains her loyalty to the company by sending them a percentage of the profits she makes from selling their product.
I’m in dessert heaven as I sample the rum and raisin and the ginger flavours. I can see why she invests in shipping this dessert so far.
But I think part of the reason is it carries an element of nostalgia too.
‘Devon House was the first house built by a black person in Jamaica,’ she says. ‘And we used to go there for ice cream after church on a Sunday.
‘Jamaican people have been so emotional when they’ve come into the shop.
‘And it’s a country that so many people love.’
In fact, people are beginning to love the Jamaica Pattie Company brand too. Not only has Theresa provided the catering for huge events such as the MOBO Awards, she’s also found fans in the likes of David Haye, Nancy Dell’Ollio, Colin Salmon and Sol Campbell.
What’s more, the determined business woman is building up a bit of a reputation for having one of the most impressive houses in Jamaica. A nine-suite mansion on the island’s highly sought-after Tryall estate, the Hanover Grange has hosted a long-list of high profile celebs. Theresa is clearly in love with her Jamaican abode.
From her Caribbean home to her UK home, her emotional attachment to London is just as strong.
‘I believe London is the most exciting place in the world,’ she says.
‘Home is where the children are so this is my home. I love the British people, their politics, and to be living in a country that’s truly democratic, we are lucky.’
And from ballerinas who pop by to quench their thirst with coconut water or freshly squeezed soursop juice, to passersby in awe of the Jamaican flavours, it seems London loves the Jamaica Patty Co too.
The only reason I thank Theresa for not opening a shop on my doorstep is I would soon develop an unhealthy addiction to this place.
Jamaica Patty Co, 26 New Row, Covent Garden, WC2N 4LA
Have you been to the Jamaica Patty Co? If so, what did you think? Leave your thoughts and comments below.