Kingston 21 review: dishing up joyous Jamaican flavours

Don't miss the Trench Town Rock curry goat at this beachy Abu Dhabi restaurant

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It’s been almost a year since Kingston 21 opened – and immediately livened up the dining scene in Abu Dhabi. On the table is a chance to soak up island vibes as you tuck into some of Jamaica’s most tempting tastes.

Where to expect and where to sit

The restaurant occupies a serene spot overlooking Al Raha Creek and Yas Bay beyond. While you still can, set up camp on the terrace overlooking the tranquil waters.

Come summer, the sprawling space within is suitably bright and airy. Seats made of reclaimed wooden pallets are topped with sky-blue cushions, while flecks of green foliage line the walls and the Bob Marley images that decorate them. It all creates a laid-back, beachy feel.

Soak up the island vibes on the terrace overlooking Al Raha Creek. Photo: Kingston 21

The menu

Our meal begins with the warming and hearty red peas soup, packed with juicy chunks of beef and the flavour of kidney beans. Jamaican patties – one filled with beef, the other chicken – come next. These puff pastry parcels are buttery and perfectly flaky, the meat within tender. They’re delightfully savoury and subtly spiced, but also a little heavy, so a portion to share is the way to go.

For mains, the Rock Steady Jerk Chicken should not be missed; after all, what is a Jamaican meal without a dish cooked in the island’s most famous spice? The chicken is “marinated for at least 24 hours”, the menu tells us, “and slow-smoked on the grill to capture that smoky jerk flavour”. The result is a peppery dish that packs an intense flavour punch. The festivals – elongated, sweet, fried dumplings – perfectly soak up and offset some of the dish’s salty, tangy and fiery flavours.

Wash it all down with the classic and festive Christmas breeze, a Jamaican sorrel (hibiscus) drink, or the fruity frozen Bob Marley, a summery smoothie as pleasing to the eye as it is the taste buds.

Stand-out dish

The showstopper, though, is the Trench Town Rock curry goat dish. It shares its name with the Bob Marley song, in which the artist paid tribute to the neighbourhood in Kingston where he grew up and where reggae music is said to have been born.

The Trench Town Rock curry goat dish is the restaurant's showstopper. It's served with white rice or rice and peas. Photo: Kingston 21

The meat is stewed until tender and juicy, and comes cooked with the classic carrot and potato accompaniments. “I enjoy balancing the flavours between that of the Indian way, from where we get the dish, and the Africans, who modified it to that of a West African goat stew,” head chef Leroy Myers says. “This is a staple dish not only in restaurants in Jamaica … it is almost always on the Christmas table spread and at [Caribbean] parties and gatherings.”

The spices are wonderfully balanced and the flavour profile complex. The dish is executed expertly and is elevated to the echelons of fine dining at Kingston 21. It’s served with a side of white rice (rice and peas is optional), green beans and plantain, so the flavours of the curry are allowed to shine, and “when it hits, you feel no pain”, as Marley says in the song.

For dessert, don’t miss Myers’ favourite, sweet potato pudding. “Traditionally done in a Dutch oven, the characteristic of the pudding is a soft caramel-like top and a crusty outer side. To achieve the caramel, you combine butter, fresh coconut cream and sugar, and spread it on the top just before the pudding is finished baking.” And it’s sublime.

A chat with the chef

Myers has worked with international brands in the hospitality and culinary industries for more than 20 years. He was introduced to Kingston 21 by his best friend and owner of a popular street-food concept in Jamaica. The relationship was cemented from the chef’s first conversation with the brand, because he shared its vision, love for the country, culture and food. So he decided to take on the challenge and moved to Abu Dhabi.

Jamaican food is great for meat and seafood fans. For the latter, Myers suggests the red snapper and parrot fish. “Any could be fried, steamed, brown-stewed or roasted,” he says. For meat lovers, he recommends the jerk T-bone steak. “What makes this dish so special is that the steak is wet-aged for a minimum of 14 days, then marinated with our signature jerk marinade. It’s chargrilled to a guest's liking and served with a la minute-made mashed potatoes.”

Myers also has something up his sleeve for vegetarians. “I usually start with the sweet and sour cauliflower,” he says. “The technique used makes it look like chicken, which is incredible. The flavours are well balanced with a crunchy texture, but with a smooth mouth feel.”

He also takes great pleasure in recommending the Johnny cake, the codfish and okra, the oxtail and the Rasta Pasta. “These all have some historical story behind them, so they are very interesting to talk about and whet guests’ appetites.”

Price point and contact information

Starters range from Dh35-Dh85, while mains go for Dh45-Dh198 and desserts will set you back Dh35 or Dh65. The restaurant is at Al Raha Beach Tower, Abu Dhabi, and reservations can be made at kingston21.ae or by calling 02 546 8500.

This review was conducted at the invitation of the restaurant

Updated: April 02, 2022, 6:22 AM
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