If you’ve never been to Tobago, here’s a tip. At its southwestern tip of Crown Point, in a row of food shacks run by indomitable local women, you’ll find some of best food on the island. It’s especially welcome if you’re waiting for a flight from the international airport, which is about a ten-minute walk away. But I digress.
Notwithstanding its decidedly more urban and grungy setting opposite St Joseph’s Hospice on Mare Street in south Hackney, the Caribbean Kitchen took me back to that row of beach shacks as soon as I walked through its door. For starters, there was the service. Warm, welcoming, familiar and utterly charming, the women who make and serve the food here are unflappable even in the heat of the mid-lunchtime takeaway rush, when the queue snakes from the back-wall counter past the trestle tables to the front door.
Then there’s the menu. Lunch specials like jerk chicken or jerk pork, calaloo and saltfish with dumplings, stew chicken and ital (vegan) sweet potato greens and chickpea curry all come as generous portions, with a hefty bowlful of rice and peas plus a token nod to healthy eating in the shape of a small side salad.
Meanwhile, properly Caribbean sides like mac ’n’ cheese, coleslaw, plantain and fried dumplings can be added for around £2 each. Drinks are properly Caribbean too, with a homemade sorrel that’s amazingly good. But it’s the food that really does it. Flavours of scotch bonnet meld subtly with spices in perfectly cooked and presented dishes, all of them served in sweet red-rimmed enamelware that wouldn’t look out of place in homeware store Labour and Wait (and probably comes from the same supplier), but is weirdly reminiscent of the polystyrene boxes the Crown Point lunches are served in.
Oh, and did we mention the price? These awesome lunches are nearly all around the £6 mark… which isn’t much more than they cost in Tobago in our post-Brexit exchange rate world. If you’d like to escape that world, if only for a very happy hour of eating in a very special place, make tracks for this little bit of the Caribbean in Hackney.