Spiced Roots is the new boy on the Cowley Road, but is its Caribbean food as authentic as it promises? Katherine MacAlister went along to find out

“I can’t taste anything now,” my brother said, sweating profusely, as he piled resolutely through his jerk chicken, mopping his face with his napkin.

“But my, this is proper Caribbean food,” he added with respect. “I haven’t tasted jerk chicken like this since we left.”

He lived out there for a while with his wife, a chef, so when Spiced Roots opened up on Cowley Road, boasting authentic Caribbean food, we took them along for the ride.

It used to be a halal shop but has been refurbed into a charming little restaurant whose bar groans with rum. In fact the rum menu is so extensive you need a degree in rum management to decipher it.

Kicking off with the famous rum punch, which arrived delicately flavoured with fresh fruit juices and a dash of grenadine, their eyes lit up. Perhaps this would be the real deal after all.

Because like so many foods, Caribbean cuisine has been generified, with several chain restaurants specialising in its spicy fare, and others offering their own take. But few do it properly.

Which is why Spiced Roots got all their chefs from the Caribbean. This was never going to be a poor imitation.

Judging by the perspiring going on at our table (who knew noses could sweat?) the chilli factor hadn’t been dumbed down either. “If it doesn’t make you sweat it’s not proper jerk chicken,” manager Jamo smiles “as he asks how our meal is going.

Those of us who had played it safer were happily devouring the saheena (yellow split pea and spinach fritters with tamarind and cumin sauce) and the special -monkfish cheeks – as recommended by our waitress, both of which were beautifully prepared, with all the right punchy seasoning, but too little sauce. Similarly, the wonderfully tropical jerk tempah (like a seasoned tofu with the consistency of halloumi) served with black rice, pomegranate and avocado, also needing a dressing, despite all the flavours being there.

But the jerk chicken sauce was something else, thick, treacly and hot enough to give you sunburn, it was a triumph.

Then the red snapper, which came as a fillet, with spiced roots (yam as it turned out served cubed, parmentier style) and pumpkin puree, simple but tasty, although the fish was slightly overcooked.

But it was the goat roti that took centre stage, won the trophy and did a lap of honour.

Usually served as street food wrapped up in a pancake, in a restaurant the roti was served on the side. The curry however couldn’t have been more authentic if it had been flown in from St Lucia.

The paradise salad was the perfect accompaniment served with watermelon, pomegranate seeds, salad, and tomatoes with a sweet and salty dressing. The small bowl of plantains (like savoury bananas), were a soft, squidgy delight and mind-numbingly good.

For dessert we had the house special; a cake made out of rum, ginger, grated pumpkin and sweet potato and honey, with a sweat treacly sauce, a bit like a Caribbean carrot cake crossed with a sticky toffee pudding, and again refreshingly novel.

As for the rum, let’s just say the more we tried, the less I can remember of the evening. But as the wonderful staff (the waitresses were a dream, Jamo the host moving easily between the tables laughing, chatting and filling up glasses) ebbed and flowed and the restaurant filled up and emptied again, set against the endless activity and buzz of Cowley Road, Spiced Roots felt utterly appropriate and at home there. So welcome to Oxford my friend.

In the meantime, if you don’t know what Caribbean food tastes like, then pop down to Spiced Roots and find out. If you do, then you’ll be there already. But a word of warning, bring a brow mopper, because you’ll need it.

  • Spiced Roots
  • 64 Cowley road
  • Oxford
  • OX4 1JB
  • 01865 249 888
  • spicedroots.com