Restaurant Review: Roots

Finally, a decent Caribbean restaurant in Hull.

 

Roots InteriorOver the past year or so there has been the distinct feeling that the drinking and eating culture which, for the past decade, has been centred around Hull’s Princes Ave has been gradually losing its vitality. Despite ‘Prinny’ Ave now being firmly entrenched as the city’s cool quarter, reduced disposable cash and over-familiarity with the existing eateries have resulted in diminished footfall and rising ground rents have caused some bars and restaurants to reduce their opening hours. Also, many of the avenue’s long-standing operations definitely seem to be trying to bring back custom by playing it safe. Sad to say, but the street that changed Hull’s good time culture now feels a little tired.

The shining example that the previously adventurous restaurateurs of Prinny Ave showed has, though, inspired several new ventures to set up just around the corner in the more bustling, less-urbane Newland Ave.
Roots InteriorHere – among the grocers shops, hairdressers, chippies, cafes and charity shops that ensure the street is never quiet – have risen a series of bars, cafe bars and restaurants that may lack a little of the refinement of their ageing Prinny neighbours but are offering more adventure and diversity. Down Newland Ave you can find Belgium-style boozers, art deco pubs, smoothie bars and even a Brazilian-themed café – all playing punk to Princes Ave’s glam rock.

The latest ‘new’ cuisine to appear here is Caribbean, in the form of the long, skinny, wood-clad, reggae-regaled Roots. It is the pet project of Alonzo Goulbourne, a hull restaurateur of Jamaican descent, whose family already owns and operates several establishments in East Yorkshire. Alonzo and his dad (who passed away a couple of years ago) used to cook Caribbean food together and the exuberant dishes at Roots are borne of that collaboration.

Jerk ribs I turned up early on a Saturday evening with (as my knowledge of Caribbean cuisine is far from thorough) a pal who spent five years working in Jamaica. He hadn’t had a proper West Indian feed in quite a while but one look at the menu revealed a few tell-tale signs that the kitchen staff know what they’re doing. Even if the waiting staff don’t.

Sadly, there seemed to very little co-ordination between the staff and even less product knowledge. Our waitress had to go back to the bar three times simply to ask what beers were available. Any questions about the menu met with equal uncertainty and, when a table of five approached the bar to make a complaint only to be met with blank stares and shrugs, we worried that the evening was going to go rapidly downhill.

Fortunately, when the food started arriving all fears were allayed – tasty, floury pasties, tender chunks of plantain and (best of all) succulent, spicy, smoky jerk ribs were all devoured amongst much lip-smacking and ‘mmm aaah’-ing. No complaints from our table about the first round of grub.
Curry goat I haven’t had curry goat for probably 15 years, and when my vast portion arrived, laid atop a mound of rice and peas, I thought I might not need to eat again for another decade or so. The sight of bones (and lots of them) in curry may put some off, but all they mean to me is taste. The luscious, slow-cooked goat meat fell off the bones as soon as a fork went near it and it tasted superb. A rough, artless dish it may be, but it is also supremely tasty when prepared correctly. Here, it most certainly was.

The Santiago chicken too, was first class – moist chicken breast strips hidden under a creamy red pepper sauce. It was a more manageable size than the goat but still a filling plateful. Be sure, you get a lot for your money at Roots. Our bill came in at less than £80 for two mains, several starters and sides and a few beers and cocktails. Not just an occasional treat, this, you could eat here regularly and not break the bank.

 

Unfortunately, as Roots was until recently a bar, there was a constant stream of drinkers coming past all the diners to order a round of drinks and then stand around in a very confined space to drink them. This left us, sat as we were at the nearest table to the bar, finding ourselves face-to-bum with a gang of about 10 lads on a pub crawl. As if this wasn’t off-putting enough, they started leaving their empty glasses on our table, something that wasn’t spotted or dealt with by the staff, leaving me to remonstrate with them. Not the sort of thing you should have to contend with while enjoying a meal. Fortunately, they were very apologetic and further misadventure was avoided.

Santiago chicken The Caribbean isn’t particularly renown for its desserts so we skipped them in favour of one of the many cocktails on offer, specifically a ‘Dark and Stormy’ which, I was assured, is little known away from the West Indies. By rights it should be universally famous, if only for it’s ability to turn your legs to lead after a couple of sips. Apparently this is down to the Gosling’s Black Seal rum that is used in the drink. I need to find me some of this stuff, it’s dynamite.

 

Roots have got many things right, mainly the food and drink. They need to work on service and they could do with making the bar area more defined (or turning away those not eating, during busy periods) but I’m glad to say that there’s nothing wrong that isn’t easily fixable.

While the rest of the Goulbourne family’s chain of establishments are well liked and seem to prosper, I’ve never been a fan. I find them rather dry, unfriendly and uninspiring. Roots is different; it has personality and soul and this is almost certainly down to it being a very personal project to Alonzo. It’s an endearingly ramshackle endeavour but Roots serves proper top grub.

 

Dave Lee

 

Opening times: 4PM to midnight, Mon – Thurs and Midday to Midnight, Friday – Sunday.

 

206 Newland Ave

Hull

HU5 2ND

 

01482 440000

facebook.com/rootsbar.co.uk

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Categories: Restaurant Review, Writing, Yorkshire Post

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