Mark Nicholls heads to the Soul Café and Restaurant in King’s Lynn for a taste of the Caribbean
You could almost feel the sunshine beaming through the food. With a typically tropical flavour – mango and coconut dominant in some of the dishes and more than a touch of spiciness in others – the cuisine at the Soul Café and Restaurant clearly carried the Caribbean influence.
Run by Olivier Vati, the food is billed as ‘an exciting style of British-Fusion cuisine, taking inspiration from the Caribbean, Africa, Asia and the best of classical European.’
Set on Tower Street in King’s Lynn, the quietness of the street scene was contrasted by the vibrant atmosphere within as we rolled up hungry on a Friday night.
The ambience is informal and very much that of a café. As we took our seats at a small table near the bar, and with Olivier already busy in the open kitchen, a 50th birthday party was in full swing, groups of friends dined together and other tables were busy with couples and groups out to savour the delights of the menu, which changes with the seasons and also features regular specials.
We sipped cocktails as we chose – the aptly-named Jamaican Me Crazy (£7) seemed the appropriate choice with its blend of coconut rum, passion liqueur, white rum, cranberry and pineapple juice. There’s also a good selection of wines, soft drinks and beers, which we switched to as our food arrived.
For the ‘soulful starter’, my wife Sharon plumped for the vegan trio of roasted pepper hummus, curried aubergine, guacamole and toasted tortillas (£6.80), while I spied the crab and sweet potato cakes with garlic mayonnaise (£6).
I may have been tempted by the sticky pork ribs with jerk bbq sauce or the char-grilled chicken wings and pineapple salsa, both £6, but was more than satisfied with my choice.
For those with big appetites and sharing, there is the Caribbean starter platter which basically brings the above together – and more – for £25. Tempting, I know.
The big decision, of course, was what to pick for our main course.
After some ‘soul-searching’ – well, how else do you choose your main course in the Soul Café and Restaurant – I went for the Caribbean coconut chicken. At £12, it is served with rice and salad, and was as magnificent as the menu proclaimed it would be. A little fruity, certainly ‘coconutty’ and with immense flavour, it had just that right amount of ‘heat’ in the sauce to stimulate the palate.
Sharon opted for the chicken and mango skewer – wonderful value at £11 and served with Jollof rice (rice with tomato, onions, palm oil and spices such as ginger and cumin), salad and home-made coleslaw. Not only was it beautifully presented, but the flavours were exquisite.
Olivier, as I soon discovered, is particularly proud of his curried goat, served on the bone with rice and beans and a mixed salad (£13.50). It is, I suspected, something of a signature dish and I sensed he was a little disappointed that I hadn’t gone for it in the first place, so he insisted on bringing me a small sample to taste – and it is truly delicious!
Also on the ‘magnificent mains’ menu is coconut seabass with stir-fried vegetables, rice and salad (£13), pan-fried parrot fish with callaloo (a traditional Caribbean leaf-veg dish) with rice or crushed potatoes (£13), jerk beef burger with sweet potato chips and salad, or local burger (both £10), or a sirloin steak (£18), underlining the fact that while the restaurant advocates fusion food, it does endeavour to cater for all tastes.
There’s also an awesome Caribbean mixed grill of jerk chicken, sticky pork ribs, lamb chops, callaloo, plantain and coleslaw (£16 for one or a sharing platter at £30).
There are vegetarian and vegan dishes too, with Jamaican yam cakes, vegan burgers and vegan stir-fry.
We had gin and elderflower cheesecake and chocolate and salted caramel slice from the dessert menu, but also noticed that with the restaurant open for lunch, there’s a tasty selection of light bites and fusion food during the day (the coconut seabass with stir-fried vegetables at £7 looks great value from the lunch menu).
The overall menu offers an innovative dining experience with a Caribbean vibe, but with much more too.
The Soul Café and Restaurant would be failing to live up to its name without music, so after dinner every Friday and Saturday nights the tables are pushed back to create a dancefloor with the DJ playing Soul & Motown classics.
With monthly Tasting Nights, live Jazz/Soul singers, Flamenco, and a Local Artists exhibition area, there always seems to be something interesting going on.
Olivier is originally from the French Caribbean island of Guadeloupe – hence the ethos of the food – and runs the restaurant with his Norfolk-born partner, Helen Payne.
The couple met in London and after a period of travelling, including a spell living and working in South Africa, settled in Norfolk with their boys, Theo and Kofi, to realise their long-held dream of owning and running their own restaurant.
Every dish is prepared to order by Olivier and his team, combining his extensive knowledge of the cuisines of the world.
‘Food has always been my passion,’ he explains. ‘It is simple. I love to cook, to eat and to know that people enjoy my food. I am from Guadeloupe, but I adore travelling and have lived more than half my life in various European countries and South Africa, so you may notice the influences of these cuisines in my food.’
With the restaurant and café open seven days a week at lunchtime and in the evenings (except Sunday and Monday evening), you can drop in virtually any time you like for a fantastic, Caribbean-inspired, fusion feed.
- Soul Café & Restaurant: 15-19 Tower Street, King’s Lynn. Tel 01553 775248
Reviewed in Feast issue 35 – April 2019