Restaurant review: Dubai’s first Jamaican eatery Ting Irie ticks all the right boxes

Located in Souq Al Manzil, this new restaurant delivers and is worth going just for its lobster rolls, which our reviewer rates as best in the UAE.

Oxtail cocobread sandwich at Ting Irie. Courtesy Ting Irie
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When a completely new cuisine arrives in Dubai, food lovers get excited. I have been impatiently waiting for Ting Irie, the city’s first Jamaican restaurant, to open since meeting Craig Wong, the Jamaican-Chinese chef behind the concept at the Dubai Food Festival in February.

He had set up on Kite Beach during the event, quietly passing out tasty bites from his soon-to-open restaurant. Wong, from Toronto, said he was excited to bring his fiery Caribbean cuisine to Dubai, and was certain that Ting Irie would succeed.

The restaurant is in Souk Al Manzil, but overlooks Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Boulevard. The playful interior boasts vibrant colours. Bright yellow- leather benches contrast with light-coloured wooden tables. Miniature pineapples and golden roosters sit on the tables. The ceiling is covered in abstract art featuring greenery and butterflies. Mirrors on the walls make the space feel bigger than it is. Pictures depicting life in Jamaica — and a portrait of Bob Marley — are splashed across the walls.

There are two dining spaces: the brightly coloured room we are sitting in, and a muted, dimly lit space near the kitchen with high-top tables and a more intimate feel. Reggae music fills the space at just the right volume. Bonus points are earned for bringing most of the wait staff and chefs from Jamaica.

The menu is short: there is an obvious emphasis on preparing signature items well, rather than offering an abundance of dishes and thereby detracting from the whole point of Ting Irie — which is to celebrate ­Jamaican cuisine.

The lunch menu has five small plates, five large plates, three desserts and a handful of worthy sides (the dinner menu is slightly bigger).

The oxtail cocobread (a sweet bread made with coconut) sandwich is unbelievably good. The oxtail is slow-cooked, pulled and packed into three soft cocobuns. The slightly sweet meat is fatty, hearty, tender — and delicious. This is a standout dish.

Less exciting are the Jamaican beef patties. Similar to a samosa, these patties are simply filled with minced, spicy beef (curried vegetable is also available). The pastry is a slightly off-putting orange colour and a bit chewy, although they are packed with a lot of flavour.

The restaurant’s signature dish — Spitfiyah Jerk Chicken — is half of a bone-in chicken, cut into four chunks. The charred skin envelops perfectly cooked, juicy meat — this is how you want your chicken cooked. It comes with a mound of coleslaw, which is a bit bland when eaten alone. There’s also a side of sweet, tangy mango salsa, with Scotch bonnet peppers imported from Jamaica. Eaten in one bite, the chicken, coleslaw and salsa are a perfect combination.

At our server’s suggestion, we order a side of chips, playfully named “one, two, tree chips”. What makes these irresistible is that the chips are blanched first and then fried two times, giving them excellent texture and flavour. The only downside is that you don’t get very many — and at Dh40, they seem a bit overpriced.

Our favourite dish of the day was the lobster roll, which is one of the few things on the menu not technically from Jamaica (lobster rolls were created in the northeastern United States).

The smartly sourced Canadian lobster (cold-water lobster is sweeter than warm-water lobster) is soaked and poached in butter and Sriracha sauce, then piled into those decadent cocobuns, which this time are grilled resulting in a slightly crisp texture. In a recent countrywide hunt for the best lobster roll, I rated Ting Irie’s roll No 1. Presented in a cocobun instead of a hot-dog bun, it’s not a replica of the real thing, but still one of the tastiest dishes I have ever had.

The desserts are as good as the mains. Our favourite — the carnival funnel cake — is a massive slab of crispy, fried dough topped with creamy, smooth Madagascar vanilla ice cream. It comes with a strawberry sorrel compote (boiled fresh strawberries, reduced with sugar and hibiscus tea), which the chefs make fresh every day. The waiter pours a generous helping of caramel white chocolate sauce over the top just before we dig in.

Ting Irie ticks nearly every box on my list when it comes to restaurants worthy of praise. It has just started a business lunch and a Friday brunch, so it’s quickly adapting the Jamaican way of life to the demands of Dubai diners.

This is one restaurant worth going out of your way for.

• Our meal for two at Ting Irie, Souk Al Manzil, Dubai cost Dh549. For more information, call 04 557 5601. Reviewed meals are paid for by The National and conducted incognito

sjohnson@thenational.ae

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