Fine full-flavoured finish after a faltering start
Would West Indian restaurant Carib Island prove a good choice for a winter warmer on a chilly February night?
EVERYBODY could do with a little Caribbean sunshine to get them through the winter.
In fact, there is no such thing as a bad time of year to put a little Caribbean sunshine into your life.
Actually getting there is the hard bit but it is possible to get a taste of the West Indies without venturing beyond the centre of Derby.
Carib Island opened only a few months ago on the corner of Queen Street and Cathedral Road and Secret Service decided it was time to pay a first visit.
On what should be a decent spot for a restaurant – if right on the outer limits of the city centre's busiest social scene – Carib Island has a lounge bar and a large dining area but showed barely a sign of life in either when Your Spy arrived.
The band, tuning up in the bar, outnumbered the customers, though it was fairly early on a Friday.
The restaurant itself is not attractively decorated – gloomy, if anything, as if thought for the décor had been lost in the rush to get the place open for business.
It was chilly and unpopulated, which did not make for a welcoming atmosphere, but a quick blast from the heater and turning up the music a little louder addressed that in part.
It was the food we were there for, however, and the menu looked good.
Lots of familiar West Indian flavours were promised but the starters were disappointing. Your Spy chose cod fish balls, a traditional favourite that were crispy on the outside and light on the inside but just didn't taste of a great deal and a rather plain tomato relish accompaniment did not help.
My companion opted for the sweet potato and plantain cakes, which really ought to have been a winner but were again pretty underwhelming.
That left a bit of ground to make up on the main course but redemption was at hand. There was an attractive line-up of mains on offer but Your Spy decided to judge by the quality of the jerk chicken and it was to prove a wise choice.
It arrived as a boneless breast, sliced and served with the inevitable rice and peas and fried plantain. It was very nicely presented and tasted really good.
Across the table, my companion was similarly relishing a choice of Rastafari rundown, billed as a favourite dish of Bob Marley, with a spicy mix of Caribbean vegetables cooled by the contrast of coconut milk in the sauce presenting an excellent combination.
Encouraged by the success of the main course, we decided to go all the way and try dessert.
I had the Jamaican sticky ginger bread, which was served warm with hot toffee sauce and mango custard.
The sweetness of the toffee was tempered nicely by the custard and the ginger bread – more of a cake really – added a subtle flavour to the mix.
The milo cheesecake chosen by my companion was not a large portion but, as it was very rich and solid, that was perhaps just as well. It tasted lovely, with the sweetness of honeycomb adding its welcome contribution to the mix.
From less than promising beginnings, that was a good finish.
It takes a big leap of the imagination to transport yourselves to the West Indies on a cold February night in Derby but we did feel a little closer.
Another option for Derby's restaurant scene should be a good thing and Carib Island will hopefully make a success of a site that has seen a fair few different restaurants come and go in recent years but there remains scope for improvement before this latest venture is truly established.
WHAT: Carib Island.
WHERE: 1 Queen Street, Derby.
MEAL FOR TWO: Sweet potato and plantain cakes £3.95, cod fish balls £4.95, Rastafari rundown £10.95, jerk chicken £12.95, milo cheesecake £4.95, Jamaican sticky ginger bread £4.95, drinks £9.75.
TO BOOK: Call Derby 987070. Menus available at www.caribisland.co.uk.