New Caribbean restaurant Bus Stop
Jerk chicken and mojitos in Brighton's North Laine
Mosey on down to Brighton this weekend and you can make yourself believe you’re in the Caribbean. That’s right. Just spread a towel out on the pebbles and lie there in your sunglasses and your coat…
Okay, okay not the sunshine but you can at least get a bit of the food and bar vibe at a brand new restaurant just off North Laine. Bus Stop opened a couple of weeks ago (next to Bill’s and a few doors down from Wagamama) and when I saw the neon striped bar go in and the words ‘Barbados to Brighton’ on the side I knew I had to give this a go. There are heaps of places to try Caribbean food in London – I remember having a jerk chicken takeaway while watching Usian Bolt in the Olympics on a big screen on Blackheath – but in Sussex they’re thinner on the ground.
It was actually with some trepidation I entered as, before a short-lived American place, this was my favourite Brighton café – Farm and I still mourn the loss of sunny afternoons there tucking into carrot cake or bakewell tart with the folding front opened.
Rather than going the whole clichéd beach shack look the small restaurant is quite understated. It’s family run so there are some lovely holiday style snaps on the wall, the bar is very cool, the chairs are rattan, food is served on enamel plates and there’s an actual bus stop just inside the door. Other than that it’s the music that sets the vibe. It’s feel-good Reggae. Even the sink in the rather smart loo has lyrics from….
Have you guessed it? Yes, Killing Me Softly.
Now don’t throw things at the screen but I’ve been lucky enough to visit quite a range of Caribbean islands in my time, for work and play (Cuba, Jamaica, Haiti and little Nevis are my favourites, since you’re asking) so browsing the menu was like greeting old friends. The chef, Danny O’Shea, is Barbadian and the owners previously had a bar/restaurant out there but Bus Stop pulls dishes from across the Caribbean, which has a surprisingly diverse range of influences from Creole in Haiti to Indian in Trinidad.
First up, obviously, were the drinks. As well as beers and Jamaica’s fizzy grapefruit drink Ting, there’s a cocktail selection with all your rum-based holiday faves – rum punch, mojitos, pina coladas, daiquiris and the like. My husband had a Carib beer (Trinidad & Tobago) while I had an excellent Mojito (Cuba) which was perfectly balanced, and believe me that’s tricky – I try every summer and can never get it quite right myself. There’s a range of rums if you prefer your drink served more simply.
The menu is split into ‘soup and pickings’, ‘Mama’s hand’ and sides. I had a starter of Bajan fish cakes (Barbados) – nothing like British fish cakes, these were deep fried spicy balls with a dip of thousand island dressing and were probably my favourite part of the meal. Chicken wings and ‘pickled sea cat’ – octopus, smoked salmon, tomato and cucumber where among other options.
For my main I went for the classic jerk chicken with rice and peas (Jamaica) – the chicken can also be fried, Barbados style – and Mr Muddy had a Cajun-style catch of the day, which was a swordfish steak (surely not locally sourced at the menu said?) and opted for carb loading with spicy fries plus starchy ‘ground provisions’ (breadfruit, yam, sweet potato and cassava), which we both enjoyed as I nabbed a bit.
A steak and a stuffed pork chop are among other options. It’s a short menu so there’s only one choice for vegetarians – Trinidian chickpea dhal for a starter and a spicy bean and vegetable stew for a main – but you could pull together some veggie sides if you preferred. No chance of my favourite – conch fritters – of course. You don’t see many conch shells washed up on Brighton beach!
The spices were relatively mild – except a separate sauce we were warned about which nearly blew my head off. I’m a bit of a side salad nut so it was good to get some greenery in the mix. We didn’t go for pudding but there’s a choice of cheesecake or ice-creams and sorbets. There’s also a puddingy sounding mudslide cocktail.
We were off to see a film after or it would have been nice to linger with another cocktail enjoying the music. At quiet times presumably it’s OK to just come in for a drink and maybe some fries. All in all Bus Stop is a fun addition to Brighton’s restaurant scene with authentic fare and a cheery, relaxed mood created by the reggae and, let’s face it, the cocktails. The spicy comfort food is a winner on a winter night and if they’re able to open the front up on summer evenings when the road is quiet it’ll really come into its own.
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Good for: A lunchtime treat while you’re shopping; an early dinner before a film or comedy at the nearby Komedia; couples, friends and music-lovers; ringing the changes from pizza or the nearby Wagamama if you’ve kids who aren’t scared of a bit of spice (sell unadventurous eaters jerk chicken as an upgrade from Nandos!)
Not so good for: It’s not for formal dining and it’s not huge so, though it would be fun for a celebration, it probably couldn’t handle a large group. There’s not a wide choice for Brighton’s many veggies but there is a meat-free starter, main and several sides.
££ starters are around £5, mains are £9.50 to £15.50 for steak (my jerk chicken was £10.50) which includes a choice of two sides – fries, coleslaw, rice and peas, macaroni pie etc. Cocktails from £7.50