Over the past year or so there has been the distinct feeling that the drinking and eating culture, which for the past decade, has been centred around Hull’s Princes Avenue, has been gradually losing its vitality.
Despite ‘Prinny Ave’ now being firmly entrenched as the city’s cool quarter, reduced disposable cash and over-familiarity with the existing eateries has resulted in diminished footfall and rising ground rents have caused some bars and restaurants to reduce their opening hours. Also, many of the avenue’s long-standing operations seem to be trying to bring back custom by playing it safe. Sad to say, but the street that changed Hull’s good time culture now feels a little tired. The shining example that the previously adventurous restaurateurs showed has, though, inspired several new ventures to set up just around the corner in the more bustling, less-urbane Newland Avenue.
Here – among the grocers’ shops, hairdressers, chippies, cafes and charity shops – have risen a series of bars, cafe bars and restaurants that may lack a little of the refinement of their Prinny neighbours but are offering more adventure and diversity.
You can find Belgian-style bars, Art Deco pubs, smoothie bars and even a Brazilian-themed café. The latest new cuisine to appear here is Caribbean, in the form of the long, skinny, wood-clad, reggae-regaled Roots. It is the pet project of Alonzo Goulbourne, a Hull restaurateur of Jamaican descent, whose family already owns and operates several establishments in East Yorkshire. Alonzo and his father (who passed away a couple of years ago) used to cook Caribbean food together and the exuberant dishes at Roots are borne of that collaboration.
I turned up early on a Saturday evening with (as my knowledge of Caribbean cuisine is far from thorough) a pal who spent five years working in Jamaica. He hadn’t had a proper West Indian feed in quite a while but one look at the menu revealed a few tell-tale signs that the kitchen staff know what they’re doing. Even if the waiting staff don’t.
Sadly, there seemed to very little co-ordination between the staff and even less product knowledge. Our waitress had to go back to the bar three times to ask what beers were available. Any questions about the menu met with equal uncertainty and, when a table of five approached the bar to make a complaint only to be met with blank stares and shrugs, we worried that the evening was going to go rapidly downhill.
Fortunately, when the food started arriving all fears were allayed – tasty, floury pasties, tender chunks of plantain and (best of all) succulent, spicy, smoky jerk ribs were all devoured among much lip-smacking. No complaints from our table about the first round.
I haven’t had curry goat for probably 15 years, and when my vast portion arrived, laid atop a mound of rice and peas, I thought I might not need to eat again for another decade or so. The sight of bones (and lots of them) in curry may put some off, but all they mean to me is taste. The luscious, slow-cooked goat meat fell off the bones as soon as a fork went near it and it tasted superb. A rough, artless dish it may be, but it is also supremely tasty when prepared correctly. Here, it most certainly was.
The Santiago chicken too, was first class – moist chicken breast strips hidden under a creamy red pepper sauce. It was a more manageable size than the goat but still a filling plateful. You get a lot for your money at Roots. Our bill came in at less than £80 for two mains, several starters and sides and a few beers and cocktails. Not just an occasional treat, this, you could eat here regularly and not break the bank.
Unfortunately, as Roots was until recently a bar, there was a constant stream of drinkers coming past all the diners to order a round of drinks and then stand around in a very confined space to drink them. This left us finding ourselves face-to-bum with a gang of about 10 lads on a pub crawl. As if this wasn’t off-putting enough, they started leaving their empty glasses on our table, something that wasn’t spotted or dealt with by the staff, leaving me to remonstrate with them. Fortunately, they were very apologetic.
The Caribbean isn’t particularly renowned for its desserts so we skipped them in favour of one of the many cocktails on offer, specifically a Dark and Stormy which, I was assured, is little known away from the West Indies. By rights it should be universally famous, if only for it’s ability to turn your legs to lead after a couple of sips. Apparently this is down to the Gosling’s Black Seal rum that is used in the drink.
Roots has got many things right, mainly the food and drink. They need to work on service and they could do with making the bar area more defined (or turning away those not eating, during busy periods) but I’m glad to say that there’s nothing wrong that isn’t easily fixable. It’s an endearingly ramshackle endeavour but Roots serves proper top grub.
Roots, 206 Newland Avenue, Hull HU5 2ND. 01482 440000, facebook.com/rootsbar.co.uk. Monday to Thursday, 4-12pm, Friday to Sunday 12pm-12am.