Saturday, 22 December 2012

Queenies, Surry Hills

"I've never had Caribbean food before" was what most people informed me when I recounted one of my most recent gluttonous escapades. Neither had I until a week ago, when I made a trip to Queenies, and even then, I'm not certain as to how much of it is actually Jamaican - though with its tropical decor, loud Jamaican music and references to 'jerk' meat, it certainly is Jamaican-inspired. A quick Google search reveals that Caribbean cuisine, much like Malaysian food, is a mixed salad of different cultures' foods, uniting in a mix of fried, spicy (referring to both heat and actual spices) and fresh dishes.

 Queenies is located on level 1 of the Forresters bar. Traipsing through part of the ground level, I was pretty worried that we wouldn't be able to get a table because the bar area was absolutely packed. I grew even more worried when we came upstairs and the bloke in front of us was asked to wait for half an hour. It turned out that his case was exceptional - he was expecting a large group and so enough space had to be cleared to accommodate them.

One of their smiling waitresses took the time to explain items off the menu to us (such as what plantain is), as well as naming the most popular dishes and her own personal favourites.

The drinks menu looked so tempting that I ordered a ginger beer-based cocktail that they dubbed a 'Sugar Mamma'. I sadly don't remember what they mixed the ginger beer with, but it was one of those cocktails that didn't taste too much of alcohol but wasn't too sweet either.

Sugar Mamma Cocktail ($10.00)
While we were waiting for the food to arrive, we were served a bit of chopped cucumber with dessicated coconut and a light, spicy sauce drizzled over the top.

Amuse bouche?
Since we had ordered a large number of smaller plates, most of our meal arrived at once, barely fitting onto the table. The first thing I dug into was my half of the bammies, of which we ordered one of each kind - pulled pork and prawn. The base of the bammies is like soft tortilla, except crunchy and chewy. Personally, I think the prawn bammy made more of an impression than the pulled pork bammy. The pulled pork is tasty and tender, complete with fresh Spanish onion and pineapple. Nevertheless, it pales in comparison to the prawn bammy, consisting of flavours of seafood, mango, onion and a spicy tang.


Pulled pork & pineapple bammy ($7.00)


Prawn, mango and ginger bammy ($7.00)
I next tried the plantain (a banana looking fruit that's firmer and drier), which was accompanied with spiced mayo. Given it's similar to banana, I was expecting it to be similar to goreng pisang, the Malaysian deep fried banana snack, in terms of sweetness, crunchiness, and moistness. However, it turned out to be fairly plain and it seemed to carry out the role of a filling carb (much like French fries or mashed potato) rather than that of a main component of the meal.  The spiced mayo, I admit, was pretty appetising, and I could detect quite strong strains of curry powder, which reminds me of how the kitchen smells whenever my mum cooks Indian food. Nevertheless, I think the plantain is more of a novelty rather than one of their stronger dishes.

Fried plantain ($8.00)
Given that each table was adorned with 3 bottles of jerk sauce, I took the liberty of trying each and every one with the plantain. Of the three, the tastiest was probably the ginger mango (middle), and given it had the least sauce in the bottle, other patrons seem to have thought so too!

 
One of the highlights of the meal was the ceviche, a plate of thinly sliced snapper sashimi, chilli, mango and avocado. On the side were a few hard tortilla chips that we used to collect the pieces of snapper. The ceviche was juicy, fresh, and the contrast of crunch from the tortilla against the softness of the fish and mango left me wanting more.

Hellshire Ceviche ($16.00)

Another plate (or basket) we shared was a soft shell crab dish with hotstepper sauce. The sauce tasted like tom yum soup - Asian and spicy. The soft shell crab was moist and well battered. Though it was a pretty big portion, it was so addictive that it was fairly easy to polish off.

Soft shell crab ($16.00)
 Last to arrive was our smoked pork loin main dish with crumbed mussels and mango salsa. The crumbed mussels were deep fried, crunchy and slightly fishy tasting, but they stood out and seemed to stand out more than the pork loin did. The mango salsa was, as with the other dishes, fruity and enjoyable, but I felt that there was just so much of it that it overpowered the pork.

Smoked pork loin ($24.00)
For dessert, we ordered a Brixton mess to share. According to the menu, it's made up of banana cream, rum caramel, meringue and chocolate sauce. I suppose it's a pretty accurate description, except most of it was just cream. There were chunks of meringue throughout, which reminded me of honeycomb or violet crumble. However, there was barely any rum caramel and the chocolate sauce was rendered useless with the sheer amount of cream. Apologies for the poor photo below - but even then, you should be able to see just how much cream there was.

Brixton Mess ($14.00)

 Conclusion

As I've made pretty clear, I don't presume to know anything about Jamaican food, so I can't comment on its authenticity - in any case, sometimes our Australian adaptations of food are more pleasurable to (at least our) taste buds than truly authentic flavours. Most of the dishes that I tried were mouthwatering. A couple of their dishes are a bit of a miss. The range of food we had became a bit samey due to the excess use of mango chutney all around, and the dessert we tried was a bit of a flop. Nevertheless, these aren't big issues (at least I know now what to avoid), Queenies impressed me with what they did do well, I was stuffed to the brim with food, and overall I had a really enjoyable night out.


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