In this series, we review London’s restaurants from an entirely vegetarian angle.
We haven’t used the word ‘funky’ much this century — it’s a bit 1960s and ’70s, no? Yet it’s the first word that popped into our heads when we entered this Caribbean-fusion café-restaurant. Its sandstone-coloured walls are almost entirely covered with pictures and posters of soul, reggae, R&B and jazz singers and other black celebrities. We spent a few excitable moments pointing out “look that’s Bob Marley” and “that’s Pam Grier from Jackie Brown!” before settling down. There are characterful paintings and chalkboard drawings — some for sale — by local artists, many of whom are regular customers. There are even old LP records dotted around, for goodness’ sake.
The laid-back, brightly lit venue is a curious little place. It has the feel of a café — perhaps because it started life as one a couple of years ago, before becoming more ambitious. There are enticing own-made cakes, pastries and chocolate truffles in the window; but nearby there’s a frozen yoghurt machine of the sort you’d find in a fast-food restaurant. We were the only customers on our early-weekday visit; yet the venue regularly hosts movie, theatre, quiz, comedy and music evenings, plus private parties, so we imagine it’s usually buzzier.
In such an artistically-minded restaurant, you wouldn’t expect the food to be a priority, but chef Denzel Clarke’s cooking has serious intent. He worked in various central London restaurants for over 20 years, and although he’s only here three days a week (we don’t know who cooks on the other days), he trains the kitchen brigade. There’s a short menu entitled ‘treble clef’ of breakfast and lunch items like pancakes, omelettes and sandwiches; plus a different, more elaborate ‘double clef’ dinner menu in the evenings. From the latter, two of the starters and four main courses are veggie; plus side dishes like grilled plantain and sweet potato fries. We were told there’s a great demand for the meat-free options, which are marked with a ‘V’.
The contemporary Caribbean cooking here has French, Spanish and Italian influences and a few Asian touches. Tomato and chilli soup with a drizzle of herb oil, little chunks of tomatoes and fresh basil leaves had understated chilli heat, but a great balance of spicy, sweet and tangy flavours. It comes with thick slices of sweetish, brioche-like bread with pesto-like parsley and basil drizzle. Both the bread and the bright green sauce are signature items that appear in most dishes, including a chunky bruschetta loaded with roasted courgettes, butternut squash and cherry tomatoes on the vine.
‘Calypso’ (can you spot a theme here?) curry has even more Mediterranean influences. The yams, sweet potatoes, okra and gunga peas or black-eye beans of a classic Caribbean vegetable curry have been replaced by big chunks of red peppers, courgettes, butternut squash and chickpeas. The spices used, such as allspice, are traditional, but the abundant use of fresh herbs like rosemary gives the dish a Caribbean-meets-Mediterranean taste. The flavours work well together though. Delicious plantain slices with spicy tomato salsa on the side liven it up. Jasmine rice — which somehow replaced the advertised rice and peas — has hints of lemongrass, lime leaves and other Asian aromatics. The chef confirmed that it’s cooked without meat or chicken stock. The only desserts available on our visit were the cakes: we enjoyed the smooth, comforting retro flavours of red velvet and, especially, the aromatic coffee and walnut.
The food here is hearty, homely and colourful. There are some big flavours, the portions are generous, and dishes are attractively presented. They take a long time to arrive though. We noticed afterwards that the website does warn of a 15-18 minute wait, but we waited considerably longer. Perhaps it’s a staffing issue. We could see Clarke working entirely on his own from the hatch that gives a view of the kitchen; and there was a singular waitress, who was new and still learning the ropes. Both were friendly, chatty and welcoming — but we wonder how they would’ve coped had there been customers other than six of us. We paid around £20-£25 per head, including beer, soft drinks and tip. Oh, but we’ll certainly be back to try their acclaimed breakfasts and music evenings. They sound too funky to miss.
Cocodelic, 13 Kilburn Lane, W10 4AE. Tel: 020 3609 4632.
Disclaimer: We review anonymously and pay for all our meals/drinks.