When the alarm goes off for the fifth time in a week at some unholy hour, and a quick check on Google reveals that yes, the shadow of Southern Fail will be looming over yet another nightmare journey into work, it can feel as though this daily routine encompasses far more of the week than should be allowed. I’ve realised over the years that there is only one antidote to this and that is to make sure that during the weekend every effort is made to have fun. Night on the razz on a rainy Friday? Yes, I’m in. Shopping and lunch with my friends on a Saturday? Why, of course. Nice little walk and a roast on a Sunday? I’m already there. Now there are a plethora of lovely places to get a traditional Sunday roast, and being the greedy little foodie that I am I’ve sampled most of them. So when I was invited to try a Reggae Roast at The Druids Arms right near The Level I was humming Bob Marley hours before I arrived.
The Druids Arms is a friendly, well-appointed and relaxed pub that has been a Brighton institution for years. It started garnering a reputation for excellent cooking a while back with Big Eats, which served soul food to the hungry locals and it has continued its excellent culinary decision-making by getting the team from The Caribbean Kitchen – who have held guest spots at Riki Tik, Cobbler’s Thumb and Easy Bar amongst others – to take over all things edible. Walking in it’s impossible not to feel incredibly happy as chilled reggae emanates from the impressive decks set up in the corner. The likes of Bob Marley and Gregory Isaacs emblazon the walls and the whole pub smells like jerk spices. A scan over the menu reveals that along with the roasts there are loads of other dishes to choose from such as Curried Goat with rice ’n’ peas and salad or Ackee and Saltfish, and better still they are all priced at £9.50. There’s also a nice selection of starters so we opt to share spicy chicken skewers and mango dip which comes in at an incredibly price-conscious £3 as part of their two courses for £12.50 deal. Expecting to get stung on the drinks we are pleasantly surprised when a pint of gorgeous Bushell’s Kentish Cider is priced at £3.75.
Bopping away to the music and glancing around at all the other people laughing happily and taking in the atmosphere, it’s hard to imagine spending time in a place with better vibes than this. Our chicken skewers arrive and they are well seasoned, tasty and plentiful and go perfectly with the sweet and sticky mango salsa. The chicken sits atop a crunchy salad which makes the whole thing seem so beautifully light. For my main there was only ever going to be one choice and that’s the Jerk Pork served with roast potatoes, rice ’n’ peas, seasonal veg, plantain and gravy. My partner opted for the Curried Goat. When my roast arrived I had to use all my willpower (which is lacking at the best of times) not lick my lips in a manner that would have definitely embarrassed the lovely girl serving us. It was a huge portion but very nicely presented and smelt so spicy and tantalising that I dug straight in. ‘Melt-in-mouth’ is a bit of an over-used way to describe superbly cooked meat but this was really something else. Even the slightest touch with one prong of the fork caused it to flake away and the amount of jerk seasoning was absolutely bang on; spicy enough to leave a wonderful heat in my mouth but skilfully executed so that I could still enjoy the accompanying lovelies. The roast potatoes were crisp on the outside but fluffy in the middle and the seasonal veg were cooked to al dente perfection. The rice ’n’ peas were excellent and absorbed the silky gravy with ease while the plantain was soft, sweet and bursting with Caribbean flavour. My partner’s Curried Goat was equally as impressive – luckily for him I was far too distracted by mine as otherwise he’d have probably gone hungry. What surprised me was how Caribbean flavours work so well with what we call ‘traditional’ British ones. I defy anyone not to agree that succulent jerk pork and plantain are delicious with an excellent gravy and all the trimmings.
The dessert of Hot Chocolate Rum Brownie with cream was another snip price-wise as they offer three courses for £15. Boozy, unctuous and remarkably non-sickly I could and would eat these daily if it weren’t for the fact that I can’t wear elasticated trousers to work. Thinking it would be hard to feel more content as the sound of Reggae filled my ears and my tummy seemingly glanced up at me with a smile, I found out that they do a £2 Caribbean tapas menu on Tuesdays that offer small versions of all dishes. Ambling cheerfully out onto the streets I realised that not only had I spent much less than normal and been treated to some wonderful food and music but that I had made the most of my precious Sunday: for that alone I’ll be making many return trip to eat some more Reggae Roasts.
The Caribbean Kitchen is at The Druids Arms at 79-81 Ditchling Road, Brighton, BN1 4SD