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Marley's Caribbean Restaurant, Reviewed.

L'Oréal Blackett adores the authentic food but thinks it’s time for Caribbean fine dining to grace the city.

Written by . Published on April 3rd 2014.

Marley's Caribbean Restaurant, Reviewed.

I have a bone to pick with Caribbean food providers in Manchester.

I was 'mop my brow, unbutton my trousers and bellow, ‘Lord-a mercy!’ full. 

Being a third generational Carib, that could mean a few things; picking out the bones in a bubbling pot of Saturday soup, flaking off the tender meat from curry goat, or tearing the meat from chicken wings and leaving a plate of discarded bones as my Antiguan/Bajan grandparents did.

But no...

The proverbial bone I want to pick is why, in our vast culinary scene there aren't more proper Caribbean restaurants, serving the spicy soul food I love and have grown up with. Sure there are many takeaways in Manchester, Buzzrocks, Jerk Junction, Dougies, Chicken Run, Cool Runnings and more, to name a few.

But where are all the restaurants

Then three weeks ago, a new Caribbean restaurant, yes a restaurant, opened on Wilmslow Road. My family were overcome with excitement and trepidation, could this be the breakthrough?

Dsc_0910Marley's Caribbean suitable on Wilmslow Road.

Based on Curry Mile, the site seemed appropriate, after all the restaurant has spice and curries at the heart of its dishes.

Bass-heavy reggae flooded onto the street as we approached, as did the fragrant aroma of marinating meats. An illuminated Jamaican flag glowed proudly on the wall of the white-washed corner restaurant. Inside it was plainer, almost bare, lacking the shiny swank and the razzle-dazzle glitz of some of the Indian restaurants further up the road.

Nonetheless it was welcoming, bright and on a Monday night at 7pm, it was quiet apart from a Roots Reggae old-timer wallowing over the stereo.

“Would you like any help with the menu?” said our Eastern European waitress. “No, we’ve got this,” said Mum and I with eager smiles.

We were also served by a smiley, casually dressed bar manager who spoke with a purring Latin American lilt. He succumbed to my request to make a rum-based cocktail, "with anything in it as long as rum was involved". The boozy red drink, he delivered turned out to be a heavy-on-the-alcohol white rum strawberry Daiquiri. Very good.

Dsc_0912A boozy Strawberry Daiquiri (£5.00)

We were delighted to see the menu of Jamaican food included traditional dishes. Along with jerk chicken, ackee (Jamaica's national fruit) and saltfish, Marley’s offered a variety of typical hearty soups, a broad selection of fried fish dishes, and importantly a number of vegetarian dishes, from lentil stew to spinach dish callaloo. 

Hurrah. Then boo. The reality was different.

The waitress explained there were no soups, salt-fish fritters or fish dishes apart from ackee and saltfish, and if we wanted dessert we couldn't have it as there wasn't any of that either. She said: “We'll be serving desserts soon. Just wait a few weeks."

Disappointed we settled on main course and sides - we didn't have a choice. I chose my personal favourite, curry goat and mutton, rice and peas, with banana fritters on the side (£8). Mum, chose ackee and saltfish with hard food (£8.50). Hard food is a general term for selection of starchy vegetables including sweet potatoes, boiled dumplings and yam. We added good old plantain too - of course.


Ackee and Saltfish

My hot bowl of curry goat was just how it should be. The meat had that special tenderness resulting from being seasoned and marinated over night. It was rich with flavour, not dominated by heat, a problem sometimes with this dish. Served with rice and peas, it was excellent, with all the bones left in as they should be, adding to the richness.

Dsc_0917                                             Curry Goat and Mutton (£8.00)

The ackee and saltfish were equally as gorgeous. The beautiful combination of the smooth texture of the ackee and the sharp saltiness of the fish were well balanced. The hard food – yam, dumplings and banana - were again perfection, not so much hard but excellently firm.

Dsc_0923Hard food: Boiled dumplings, sweet potatoe,yam  

In Manchester there are many restaurants notable for fine-dining and minimalist plates, my palette is far more accustomed to the mammoth portion sizes of Caribbean food. I can eat.

Still, I was considerably full, in fact, I was mop my brow, unbutton my trousers and bellow, ‘Lord-a mercy!’ in mimicking patois full. 

The food at Marley's was some of the best Caribbean cusine I’ve had outside my parents kitchen. Out popped the main chef, a happy-go-lucky Jamaican-native with a wide smile and quick fire patois to check if we were licking our plates clean. Turned out he wasn't just the head chef but the only one. He has some kitchen helpmates but he does all the cooking, and he clearly knows what he's doing.

Dsc_0913Inside Marley's

But in the end, the Marley’s experience, was frustrating. The decor, while clean, needs an update beyond palm trees and coconuts. But the main problem was the way the menu turned out to be an annoying tease.

If a restaurant wants to be taken seriously then having that number of missing items, key items too, is unacceptable. Amateurish.

This was even more frustrating because the food that did appear was superb: authentic, fresh and colourful. It's clear Marley's soul food has a great deal of soul.

So does it at last provide Manchester with a proper Caribbean restaurant? The jury's out on that one. Thing is, there’s more than enough leg room for Caribbean restaurants encompassing Jamaica and the smaller islands from Barbados to St Kitts. So why aren't there more? 

I'll be exploring that in a later article. 


Marley's Caribbean Restaurant and Bar, Wilmslow Road, Rusholme, Manchester. 07456 759 3992

Rating: 13/20 

Food: 7/10
Service: 3/5
Ambience: 3/5 

Venues are rated against the best examples of their kind: fine dining against the best fine dining, cafes against the best cafes. Following on from this the scores represent: 1-5 saw your leg off and eat it, 6-9 get a DVD, 10-11 if you must, 12-13 if you’re passing,14-15 worth a trip,16-17 very good, 17-18 exceptional, 19 pure quality, 20 perfect. More than 20: we've got carried away.

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10 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

AnonymousApril 3rd 2014.

EDITORIAL COMMENT: This abusive rant has been removed. A month or so ago we published a new comment policy to stop idiot ranters such as the author of this one. www.manchesterconfidential.co.uk/…/Rant-And-Comment-Policy-Manchester-Confidential…

Mick ProctorApril 3rd 2014.

Will give it a try If I asked for kidney beans rather than peas in my rice n peas would this cause confusion ?

1 Response: Reply To This...
AnonymousApril 3rd 2014.

Isn't that how it comes?

Roxann MedleyApril 3rd 2014.

LOVE the food! :)

HelenApril 3rd 2014.

I think it is a reflection of how certain cuisines still aren't recognised as worthy of entering the restaurant arena. When Manchester boasts Ethiopian and Armenian restaurant-style dining (neither of which cuisines would, I think, be represented in the equivalent cook-chill section of supermarket), all the more reason why we welcome them, and find them exciting, when they appear on our high streets. It also upsets me that it seems as if cooks from certain backgrounds cannot set up shop as a restaurant, whilst the likes of restaurant portfolio groups can 'have-a-go' with any old messed up concept and afford another go if it goes wrong. As Loreal points out, the deficiency in sit-down African Caribbean eateries would be the equivalent of the average white Brit not having a local [gastro-]pub. On the other hand, I've had some amazing take-out food in Manchester, much of which is very understated -- like Tibetan Kitchen in Chorlton, and the 'home kitchen' Indian takeaway Barakah. Let's give everyone a chance on a level playing field -- it's surely choice that makes food so exciting.

AnonymousApril 3rd 2014.

I think this building was a Caribbean restaurant a fair number of years ago years ago . It was gone before we had time to visit. This one sounds fairly promising..so will book soon.

1 Response: Reply To This...
Hungry HossApril 19th 2014.

Is it in the site of Vernon's?

Dean BeeleyApril 26th 2014.

Went friday night given a menu looked great the told they only had chicken soup and 3 mains chops, jerk chicken&curry goat. V v disapointed as we use to live in JA and was looking forward to meal jerk chicken was just bbq chicken never seen any jerk spices curry goatgoat ok had better from take outs would reccomend any one going to phone first and check out whats on available from the menu otherwise u will be dissapointed like us and the other tables

AnonymousMay 1st 2014.

I ordered a takeaway from here a couple of weeks ago and was left massively disappointed! The curried mutton was watery and tasteless, the rice was overcooked and stodgey and the jerk chicken consisted of 1 drumstick! I'm looking forward to Turtle Bay opening in town though!

MandiMay 19th 2014.

Went here on 18/05/2014 for a 60th birthday party , it was a disaster from start to finish . Curry goat tasted of sugar ( maybe they put the sugar in the salt container) The pumpkin soup was like water , anyway to cut a long story short , I will never recommend nor go back to that place plus the service was so bad my niece ended up being the waitress for the night to make sure that people got their food , it was terrible

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