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Jerk chicken goes West(field)

COLOURFUL: the restaurant

AS I currently reside in east London, I was keen to check out the new Westfield shopping centre following its recent unveiling in Stratford – but I was less keen about the idea of jostling through the huge crowds.

So, I decided to make a weekday evening date with the £1.45 billion shopping centre, which enabled me to kill two birds with one stone. Firstly, I could ‘ooh’ and ‘ahh’ at the glitzy new venue and avoid the weekend daytime rush. And secondly, I could save myself the job of cooking dinner that evening by enjoying a meal at Westfields’s Caribbean eatery, Rhythm Kitchen.

Run by east London resident Delroy Dixon (who, incidentally is the younger brother of The Voice’s very own Soul Stirrings columnist Marcia Dixon), Rhythm Kitchen prides itself on keeping its menu simple and providing good quality, tasty food. And so far, business has been booming.

“Opening day was frantic,” said Dixon, as we sat in the forecourt beside his bright and colourful eatery. “We had so many customers and we received some really positive feedback, which was great.

“When you think of Caribbean food, it can be quite generic in its approach. So I’ve tried to broaden it a bit. We all make rice and peas, so I’m not saying I’ve reinvented the wheel. But in terms of the overall look of the business, I’ve made it bright and I’ve incorporated music and created an environment where people can sit down and enjoy good food.”

THE JERK 'FATHER': Delroy Dixon

With his menu consisting of dishes including jerk chicken, BBQ ribs and lamb curry, and side dishes such as rice and peas and fried plantain, Dixon – dubbed ‘the jerk father’ – prepares his own marinades and cooks his food from recipes he learned from his mum and other family members throughout the years.

Now, having earned the chance to put his own spin on Caribbean food, Dixon says the key has been not cramming endless dishes to Rhythm Kitchen’s menu.

“One thing I tried to do is keep the menu quite simple and I think that’s worked in my favour. You go to some Caribbean restaurants and they sell everything under the sun… But in some cases, the sun doesn’t shine so brightly on some areas of the menu! So I think that by keeping it relatively simple and doing it well, we’re onto a good thing.

“I make my own marinades for the jerk chicken, jerk pork, barbecue dishes and the lamb curry,” he said, before laughing: “But obviously, I’m not gonna give you the recipes!”

Ok, so on to the important business; you know, the usual gripes British-based Caribbean folks tend to have with Caribbean food joints. Will customers find the food authentic?

“I guess that depends on what customers consider to be authentic,” he reasons. “I use recipes that I got from mum and my family, which taste good.”

And of his serving staff, is it safe to assume they don’t live up to that borderline comedic stereotype that Caribbean takeaway staff are often unfriendly or rude?

“I don’t employ non-friendly staff. The key is making the customers happy so they enjoy their experience and hopefully come back.”

DINNER IS SERVED: Davina enjoyed jerk chicken and chips

It’s clear that Dixon hasn’t delivered a sub-standard operation. From the wall mounting that features a number of reggae album covers, to the bright and inviting look of the establishment, Rhythm Kitchen is not as Dixon says, “some Mickey Mouse business.” Not surprising really from a man who’s always taken his career seriously.
Hailing from Forest Gate, east London, Dixon began his career as a chef, working in various hotels in London. However, after several career twists and turns, he landed a lucrative job in television.

Still, his love affair with food continued, and he regularly did the cooking for family functions and barbecues. So when he learned that a Westfield was going to be opened in east London, he saw an opportunity.

“Back in February last year, I said to my Mrs, ‘Westfield is opening next year. They should have a Caribbean restaurant in there.’ So I decided to submit an idea. I spoke to my family and then put together a proposal.

“I was then invited to give a presentation, which went really well. I then spoke to my business partner and we raised the finance and were able to submit a business proposal, which was well received. Then the next challenge was presenting my food, which was also really well received. After that, I was given this opportunity to open my restaurant. I think it shows that if you wanna do something, you should go for it.”

With Westfield also boasting another Caribbean restaurant, Caribbean Scene, does Dixon consider this to be gig competition?

“I think this place [Westfield] is big enough for us all to get a piece of the pie,” he says. “We’ve all got the chance to make money and enjoy success and I think that’s great.”

So where does he see himself in five years time?

“In five years time, I’d love to have 20 Rhythm Kitchens, across the UK. To me, there’s no reason why jerk seasoning can’t be looked at in the same way as piri piri. So in five years time, if I had 20 Rhythm Kitchens, I’d be a very happy man.”

With that, Dixon went back to the kitchen to bring me a (complimentary) meal (thank you Delroy!) Jerk chicken and chips (I’d had rice and peas the day before and didn’t fancy it again), complete with additional jerk sauce, a mango salsa accompaniment and a bottle of Ting (I hadn’t had Ting in ages.)

The verdict? Very nice, indeed. Serving up good food at affordable prices, Rhythm Kitchen is well worth your time.

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