Feb 1, 2023
Brunch in London Is Getting a Boozy DJ-Fueled Caribbean Makeover
(Bloomberg) -- The midday Sunday roast has a long history in the UK, going back to the late 15th century and the era of King Henry Vll. Across the country, people pack into restaurants and pubs for a centerpiece roast bird or meat surrounded by sides and accompanied, invariably, by a generous amount of booze.
But what’s that noise? It’s the soundtrack of an alternate weekend feast that’s getting more and more popular: the Caribbean brunch. The feast, a spread of exuberant dishes plus rum punch and house music orchestrated by the occasional DJ, has become a destination for partying diners from North to South London.
Demand for brunch in the UK has been rising, fueled by millennials and Gen Z diners who want social-media-friendly food and boozy drinks in the middle of the day. Searches for “brunch” in the UK have more than doubled in the past five years, according to Google Trends; searches for “bottomless brunch” have increased by more than 300% in the same time period.
Jamaican restaurants are cashing in on London’s brunch boom—credit to the city’s always expanding food scene and the evolution of cuisines that were once pigeonholed as takeaway places. (Exhibit A: London’s African restaurant scene.) Caribbean food used to be defined by modest, family-run places on the local High Street. Now, those restaurants are establishing themselves in trendy sections such as Shoreditch and Camden, with energetic spaces that loudly signal a party.
The Jamaican brunch trend unofficially started in 2018 with Tracks and Records, a restaurant near Liverpool Street opened by Olympic gold medalist Usain Bolt. The place had a sports bar vibe, a beachy brunch and a downstairs club where DJs spun Caribbean classics and there was a packed dance floor on weekend afternoons.
The pandemic closed the place down (locations in Kingston and Montego Bay in Jamaica are still open), but Tracks and Records spawned a number of brunch services at Caribbean restaurants around the Square Mile, including Ma Petite Jamaica, Cottons, Turtle Bay and Limin Beach. One thing they have in common: unlimited amounts of alcohol, namely fruity, high-octane punch, the signature Jamaican cocktail made with spiced rum, pineapple juice and lemon.
For decades, Cottons has served up Caribbean food; inspired by Tracks and Records, the owners introduced its Tropical Bottomless Brunch in 2018. There’s a steady stream of Cottons Punch and Killer Doppi, a mix of four different rums. (Fun fact: Cottons stocks 372 different types of rum, setting a mark by Guinness World Records.) The menu includes house jerk chicken wings and legs; a fricassee of saltfish and callaloo (the leafy Caribbean vegetable); chunky yam chips; and coconut rum cake. The music comes courtesy of a DJ playing reggae beats all afternoon. But drink and party while you can: There’s a two-hour time limit on the brunch.
Ma Petite Jamaica
At Ma Petite Jamaica near Camden Market, less than £50 ($62) gets diners a two-hour, three-course brunch with staples such as jerk chicken, coconut fish curry and yam chips, plus unlimited rum punch. Known as one of London’s first Caribbean diners since 2015, the restaurant opened a Shoreditch outpost last year. The tropical decor features Jamaican landscapes on the walls and fairy lights and flags hanging from the ceilings. The playlist gets guests singing and dancing to reggae, dancehall and upbeat calypso-style soca classics on repeat. That formula brings in crowds. “From now until September, our brunch weekends are already 60 to 70% booked,” says general manger Anis Mlaouhi. “It’s because inside the restaurant it feels like you’re in Jamaica.”
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The walls of the Brixton staple Turtle Bay are decorated with images of Caribbean icons such as Bob Marley. And the bar shelves are stocked with a wide array of spirits, ready to be mixed into signature drinks including One Love, Reggae Rum Punch and the Tingaling, a mix of Prosecco, elderflower, gin and grapefruit crush. At brunch, the place offers Their Big Kingston Grill Down, a clever twist on a classic British fry-up with jerk-seasoned sausages and crispy bacon added to tomatoes and mushrooms. Turtle Bay now has locations all over the UK, where DJs play a mix of trending tracks and classic Caribbean tunes.
Limin’ Beach Club
For a beach experience in the middle of London, there’s the South Bank’s Limin’ Beach Club. In an outdoor, sand-strewn space, the Trinidadian bar offers a variety of Caribbean dishes like rum-and-smoked-paprika ribs and jerk pineapple alongside complimentary drinks served to a mix of Afrobeats, soca, reggae and house music. Limin’ doesn’t offer a tailored brunch experience—the menu is the same throughout the day and night—but it has all the elements you’ll need to feel like you’ve escaped to the tropics. No small thing on a gloomy, chilly winter weekend in London.
“Limin’ started as a fun pop-up. I wanted it to be very much Ibiza meets the Caribbean,” says founder Sham Mahabir. He quickly saw a demand for it. “When I set up Limin’ during the pandemic, we couldn't go to the Caribbean, so we created a place for everyone here on the Southbank.” Among the crowds are “people from the Caribbean community bringing their friends to Limin’ and being very proud that there is a place where they can show off their culture.”
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