“ Address: Caribbean Scene, Gerry Raffles Square, Stratford, London, E15 1BG „
When the opportunity to try a local-ish Caribbean restaurant came up I jumped at the chance. It is not a cuisine I am familiar with, and I always like to try new restaurants. Caribbean Scene has three branches: one is a takeaway in Merry Hill (near Birmingham), the other two are in East London at Royal Victoria Dock and Stratford. It was the latter that I visited one Saturday night. The restaurant is located in Gerry Raffles Square, close to the Theatre Royal Stratford East and about five minutes walk from the station. The station can be reached by over-ground train (Liverpool Street branch), tube (Central and Jubilee lines and Docklands Light Railway. There are also plenty of buses coming here. I came by tube and cut through the Stratford Centre opposite (not the new Westfield Centre) and followed the signs. If you drive you can park in the shopping centre car park (closed suring the Olympics). They have been voted best Caribbean restaurant two years in a row (admittedly they don't tell you which years).
It is a large restaurant, with a simple décor of dark wood. We were seated under a thatched roof section on a long table. The tables weren't particularly Caribbean but the walls were decorated in this theme, however there were lots of windows so not a great deal of wall art was needed. Rather annoyingly they had large screens around the restaurant showing concerts - either old Bob Marley footage or a tribute concert to his music featuring other artists. Although the music was loud enough to be heard it wasn't intrusive, but I do find these screens distracting.
Before being seated we met in the bar area and decided to get some cocktails. I went for a Frozen Margarita at £6.50, which seemed to be a typical price. Jugs started at £28.00. We shared some fruit punch jugs (both alcoholic and non-alcoholic versions) at the table. I enjoyed both cocktails and found them to be quite strong, which is worth noting for the drivers, but nice to know they don't water them down. All are made freshly so you may sometimes have a wait. A lot of the cocktails are rum based and most I was not familiar with. They also serve beer and wine.
Although they offer an a la Carte menu, we had already decided prior to booking to have the buffet, so we could sample some different dishes. I went to try the salad bar first and was assured everything was vegetarian. It is self-service and there was a good selection from typical salad items (lettuce, tomato, cucumber, beetroot) to a curried pasta dish, a number of bean salads (the one with the small beans had a kick to it), pineapple chunks and two different types of potato salad. They also offered three dressings - Caesar, Ranch and Thousand Island. The self-service area was clean and well stocked but small and busy. Someone had left a box nearby and some cleaning products, which had to be manoeuvred around. I did wonder whether we were supposed to go round the salad bar or just along it, as the other side was quite close to another serving area, but as there was a group of fifteen of us it made sense to use all the space. I have to say I enjoyed all the salads I tried and couldn't pick a favourite but did have a soft spot for the spicy bean salad.
If you go up again they will clear your plates (we also got clean cutlery), so you can have a fresh one. This time I went for the hot food section which is served to you canteen style by staff. There is a staggering array of items. I am vegetarian so he just served me veggie items but still my plate was piled to almost gravity defying levels with food. Meat eaters may want to be a bit selective with what they have, and perhaps return in order to try anything else. I had rice with kidney beans (plain rice is available if you prefer), plantain (a sweet, banana-like food, fried), stir fried vegetables, curried vegetables, corn on the cob and roast potatoes. The server also urged me to help myself to salad but I had no idea where I would have put it, I was glad I had already had some salad. I was underwhelmed by the plantain, although I had tried it before. It was more that it didn't go with the meal on its own. The curried vegetables were my favourite.
My meat eating companions were well served with choice, although we were surprised by the limited fish dishes available as we all assumed this would have been an important part of Caribbean food. Popular choices included the goat curry, which was described as a tender meat but without any particular taste of its own, the sauce it was served with was considered quite nice, and at just the right spice level. The jerk chicken was considered to be quite spicy, and not everyone liked the spice level of that, with the barbecue chicken being favoured by many for the better and less spicy flavour of the sauce. There was also some other curry based dishes and a macaroni cheese type dish that I forgot to try. Dishes changed regularly as people in our group (15 people) found different things when they went up another time. I was content with my salad trip and one trip to the main serving area.
For reasons unknown to our fairly stuffed selves we all decided on desserts. The menu offered fresh crepes (£2.60-£3.90 depending on fillings). The strawberries & ice cream option was a popular one, as was the nutella & banana. They also offered fruit salad (from £2.99) and cakes (£3.95-£5). I went for ice cream which was Movenpick, so I knew it would be good. Two scoops cost £3.50, but you could have just one (£2) or three for £4.50. I chose Swiss chocolate and caramel flavours. There were sixteen flavours of ice cream and sorbet available. Up to this point we had not really had to worry about service as we had chosen the buffet, but sadly this part of the evening went a bit wrong. Desserts were coming up two at a time with intervals of several minutes between them. A few people complained as there was one person only bringing them over and it seemed to take a while. The manager apologised and explained that the dessert person was new, as he had to cover for a staff member who had cut himself and had to go to hospital, and had got his timings a bit wrong trying to juggle crepes and ice cream at the same time for 15 people. To his credit, the crepes were served beautifully. The ice cream was also presented in a nice oval bowl, but there isn't a great deal of skill involved in presenting scoops of ice cream. My ice creams were lovely, creamy and quite sweet (but then I chose caramel flavour). As they were quite rich it was a little bit too much for me.
A few other points to note - I visited the Ladies toilets which were adequate and well stocked, they used a 'speed' hand dryer and there are several cubicles but it needed a tidy up a bit in my opinion. Although there were air-conditioners in the ceiling, they didn't seem to be on, or if they were they were not set at the right temperature as the restaurant was quite hot. Teas and coffees are available if you have the room for any. I abandoned plans to join some of the group for a drink across the road on the grounds I had no room for anything else. They seem happy to cater for groups (although I can't comment on the service for the a la carte menu), but as it is such a large, open, well-lit establishment it probably isn't the ideal venue for a romantic meal.
Overall I paid about £32 for my buffet (£16.70), dessert, share of drinks and service. Considering how many glasses of punch I had I think this was actually good value. The restaurant claims to be family orientated but I didn't notice any kiddies whilst I was there. If you are coming in a small group I don't expect you would need to book, but they do advise booking for occasion days such as Mothers' Day or Bank Holidays. The restaurant is open all day (it offers breakfast too) from 9am. The price for adults to eat is cheaper Sun-Thurs dinner (£14.50). Those under 140cm are half price. Lunch is £9 mid week and £14.50 at weekends and holidays.
Never having eaten this cuisine before I have nothing to compare it but I enjoyed my meal and would definitely go back again.