We watched at least 10 groups of wannabe diners being turned away, the night we dined at Spiced Roots, willing a table to be there for the taking.
But there was definitely no room at the inn. Constantly packed, rightly so, our meal there only raised the Cowley Road restaurant in my estimations.
Meal of the year? Quite possibly. It was absolutely faultless, hugely novel, ingenious, the rum cocktails as lethal as ever, and the whole evening enormous fun. What more can you ask for? Our guests couldn’t believe their luck.
To put it into perspective Spiced Roots won our first ever OVERALL WINNER AWARD at the OXINABOX FOOD AWARDS in 2020. It was new in town – a real novelty – Caribbean food tending to be found at festivals and markets until then, and it made a big impression.
The food was delicious, vivid, flavoursome and novel, if basic. We were lucky to have them.
Three years on, everything and nothing has changed. Same restaurant near The Plain, same smiley staff, fantastic rum cocktails, interesting menu.
But there has been some fine tuning going on. There is more finesse, more refinement; the food more elegant, less slapdash, there is a level of professionalism in place that was lacking before, and as a result Spiced Roots has gone up several notches in my estimations.
It hasn’t lost any of its wonderful Caribbean charm however, it’s just that the food is even more wonderful.
“Oh my the mango sticks were good – steeped in fragrant flavour with a kick of chilli and a whiff of turquoise sea and white sand”
We dined in such splendour that it’s hard to remember the details; the succulence of the meat, the depth of the flavours, the brilliant spicing, the picturesque presentation, the colour, the verve. Take me back.
First up the simplest amuse bouche in the entire world – mango on sticks infused with chilli and garlic. Oh my they were good – steeped in fragrant flavour with a kick of chilli and a whiff of turquoise seas and white sand.
Starters then, a bit of everything – the banging pepper whole tiger prawns and smoked pepper aioli (£6.50), some smoked began and tomato choke with toasted bara (like a wonderful Caribbean babaganoush), the grilled octopus superfood salad with pineapple chow (£7) which was so fresh it slapped the taste buds, the jerk chicken spring rolls (£4.95) and a bowl of the Trini doubles (curried chickpeas) which melted in the mouth like a dahl. (£4.95).
We were hooked. Solid gone. But then the mains arrived and blew our minds. It was the sheer dexterity of the cooking, the enlightening tastes, the fact that every element was absolutely spot on. It was a feast from heaven.
The depth of flavour packed into each mouthful, so perfectly cooked, literally stunned us all.
The boneless goat curry (£16.50) thick with gravy was lovely and tender, the slow Jamaican braised oxtail with butterbeans fell off the bone, the tamarind glazed lamb chops (£19.50) with papaya chutney, rice and peas and salad defied belief, how did they pack so much flavour into such a humble and unremarkable cut of meat?
The jerk cord fed chicken with a homemade jerk sauce (£16.50) was certainly not predictable either but a surprise of heat and tang.
Even the mac n cheese was exceptional, served in a smoky cube of pasta and cheese, and the festivals (like donut fingers) with a spicy coleslaw another first.
Impossible to top right? How could anything even come close? But the brownie did. Such an innocuous sounding dessert – coffee and dark chocolate with a Guinness ice cream was everything it could have been and more. The brownie was crunchy on top but soft and gooey inside with a really intense chocolate hit, and the Guinness ice cream was a marvel.
One more rum cocktail then as we sat in a stunned silence and then we were off, hopefully freeing up our table for one of the many waiting fans.
Spiced Roots is one of Oxford’s best culinary gifts. Full stop. It was undeniably the best food we’ve eaten in ages. So go, but you’ll need to book! You have been warned.
Spiced Roots is at 64 Cowley Road. https://spicedroots.com