Restaurant: The Reef
Last visited: January 9, 2011
Location: Vancouver, BC (Riley Park/Little Mountain)
Address: 4172 Main Street
Price Range: $10-20
1: Poor 2: OK 3: Good 4: Very good 5: Excellent 6: Tres Excellent!!
- Since 1999
- Caribbean cuisine
- Caribbean “pub food”
- Not authentic, but good
- Home made sauces
- Big portions
- Good value
- Selection of cocktails/beer
- Reservations recommended
- Catering available
- Great outdoor patio
- Brunch: Sat-Sun 10am-3pm
- Lunch Mon-Fri 11am-3pm
- Dinner Mon-Sun 5pm-late
**Recommendations: Plantain Chips, Jerked Wings, Island Thyme Chicken, Deep Fried Bananas
Being in Vancouver, BC we don’t have much choice when it comes to authentic Caribbean or Jamaican food. I think there’s about 8 in Metro Vancouver and this is really the only one I’ve tried so far. Sad I know, but I can only try and eat so much food… which is still a fair amount I think. I’ve actually been to The Reef a few years ago, but I didn’t remember what the food was like, so it was about time I re-visited and made a post out of it.
The Reef has two locations, one on Commercial Drive and the one I visited on Main Street. It’s the most popular for Caribbean food in Metro Vancouver, just because the most people know about it and it’s been around for a long time. Both locations are in in the hippie areas of Vancouver so the menus are also very vegetarian friendly.
The atmosphere is casual and it’s almost everything you want in a Caribbean restaurant. It’s a bit gimmicky, but it’s fun and casual and suitable for relaxing times, although it’s always packed and busy so reservations are recommended. It is family friendly, but it does cater to a younger “Main Street” crowd and there’s quite the list of cocktails and alcohol available.
The food is pretty good depending on what you order of course, but generally it’s all quite impressive. It’s not authentic Caribbean food, but the value is there and you’ll be full without breaking the wallet. The portions are big, but it’s nothing gourmet and it was almost Caribbean/Jamaican pub food, but all homemade. So If you can overlook the occasional overcooked/dry meats and frozen fish then the experience is quite enjoyable. The flavours are there, but it’s toned down to appeal to the masses. I’m going to try and not compare it to the real deal… however if you’ve tried authentic Caribbean or Jamaican food it’s hard not to compare. I’m not Jamaican (surprise, surprise), but I’ve tried some of the real stuff.
Overall it’s satisfying and I can see why it’s a local favourite. It’s different, funky, fun, casual and affordable so I would come again… especially to try the Ackee and Saltfish! They ran out of Ackee when I went. I had my heart set on that dish, which is the national dish of Jamaica… I have a feeling it’s what I ordered when I came here a few years ago though.
On the table:
- This was pretty damn good deep fried bread known as Jamaican fried dumplings.
- It’s not made upon order, unless you’re lucky to get a fresh batch, but they’re still served warm and they’re delicious!
- It reminded me of Hush Puppies (deep fried corn bread) but there’s no cornmeal and it’s made from flour, water and a decent amount of butter although they’re not greasy or even noticeable buttery. **Note: There may be corn by products in this such as corn starch etc. Please see comments.
- It was almost like a savoury sweet donut. It’s a sweeter type of bread, but it’s not as sweet as a donut and still somewhat savoury.
- There’s no real batter other than the fried bread itself and it’s crispy on the outside and the inside is warm and super fluffy, doughy and chewy.
- We asked for refills, which they’re happy to give.
- It reminded me of those savoury Chinese donuts you eat with congee.
- With Jerk Mayo $6
- I don’t know if these were yam fries as much as they were jumbo sticks of thick deep fried tender yams.
- They weren’t crispy and not your traditional yam fries, but they were meaty, soft, creamy and sweet with the skins on. They actually tasted like roasted yams.
- Jerk Mayo – Everyone seemed to enjoy the Jerk mayo, but I wasn’t crazy about. It just tasted like savoury mayo with a tang of lemon juice and it wasn’t spicy at all. It should be because jerk seasoning is supposed to be spicy. I couldn’t taste any fresh spices and it reminded me of gravy mixed into mayo.
- If you like this, than I also highly recommend the Sesame Fries with Miso Gravy from The Naam. (I haven’t blogged about it yet)
- With Jerk Mayo $6
- These are probably the most popular and staple item to start with. They’re just deep fried plantain chips that are well salted, but they’re still good, fun and different.
- Plantains are starchier bananas that are more like potatoes than they are bananas and they’re not really sweet. The yam fries were sweeter.
- The plantain chips are nicely salted, but inconsistent with the small pieces being very crispy and the longer big pieces being soft and chewier.
- Thy aren’t greasy but it’s still pretty heavy considering it’s paired with the jerk mayo again.
- Together the savoury mayo was nice with the somewhat sweeter plantain chips giving it a creamier texture.
**Jerked Wings – 5/6 (Excellent)
- Baked not fried $7
- Never did it cross my mind to order wings at The Reef, but I’m so glad someone ordered them because they were delicious!
- They were almost like ribs and the chicken meat was literally falling off the bone! It was so unexpected, but incredibly tender and moist and I felt like I was eating chicken ribs.
- They were a bit greasy and the flavour was savoury and a bit smoky with very little heat, nothing really amazing, but the texture and execution was great!
- The meat was literally melting off the bones as I picked them up. The skin wasn’t crispy but it didn’t matter.
- If you want an authentic Jerk chicken the closest one to the real thing I’ve found in Vancouver is at Jamaican Thyme.
Chana Salad – 3.5/6 (Good-Very good)
- Warm curried chickpea salad with warm Indian flatbread, exotic greens and dahi $8 + Jerk tofu $4
- Jerk chicken $5 Jerk chicken $5 Jerk Tofu $4 Coco Prawns $4
- I ordered this with Jerk tofu so it was vegetarian friendly. I didn’t expect such a big portion either.
- It was the best presented, and quite good, but the 2 pieces of jerk tofu were just charred, but I couldn’t taste any of the jerk spices. I found them a bit unimpressive for the extra $4.
- The curried chick peas were quite good with sauteed onions, green peppers and smoky savoury flavours, but it was also quite muddled and one dimensional if it wasn’t for the other components on the platter.
- I enjoyed eating everything together because the salad was dressed in a tangy vinaigrette so it made the curried chick peas more interesting as well.
- As a whole the platter was nice and I got a lot of variety with the ultra thick tangy dahi (yogurt), savoury smoky chick peas, nutty pumpkin seed crunch and some frozen corn kernels, which I wish were sweet.
- The Indian flat bread wasn’t fresh though. It had smoky aromatic flavours, but the texture was dense and stale.
- The thick creamy dahi (yogurt) was great with the yam fries and plantain chips too. I know it would go well with the chicken wings… but we finished those too soon to try.
- If you like this chick pea salad, I highly recommend the Sesamum Satay Salad from The Foundation Lounge also on Main Street.
Trini Roti – 3.5/6 (Good-Very good)
- All wrapped in a house made flatbread seasoned with tumeric and cumin. Served with cole slaw. Choice of chicken or ital (vegetarian) $9 Goat, jerk tofu, jerk chicken $10
- This was massive and the flatbread wrap was much better than the one in the salad. The flatbread was much thinner, soft and chewy and more like a thick crepe.
- It was almost like a Caribbean style burrito and just like a burrito the edges got really doughy, but it’s well compensated by the amount of filling.
- The inside was stuffed with a hearty thick and chunky stew of shredded dark meat chicken and big pieces of tender creamy Russet potatoes.
- It was all very saucy and the stew was quite salty more so than smoky, and it also had a curry flavour, but it’s not spicy.
- I wanted to see actual roasted cumin seeds in it and the meat was a bit dry, but it was also smothered with gravy so it was a bit disguised.
- The cole slaw was a needed balance since the dish was so heavy and filling. It was a very lightly dressed cole slaw that was tangier than usual since it was made with more vinaigrette than mayo.
- Not comparable, but if you like this you should also try Desi Dosa Madras.
The Jamaican Jerk – 3.5/6 (Good-Very good)
- Served with rice and peas and cole slaw. Choice of chicken breast, pork tenderloin $14 salmon $15 tofu $10
- The chicken was a bit dry and it was very toned down compared to the authentic Jamaican Jerk Chicken I’ve tried, but without that in mind, it was still enjoyable.
- It was smothered in a sweet and tangy sauce that tasted more like BBQ sauce than it did Jerk sauce and I wanted to taste more all spice and cinnamon flavours.
- For once it was spicy though, which was almost the only differentiation it had from BBQ sauce. The heat did follow quickly after the sweetness, but it was still medium heat at the most.
- The rice and beans were quite good with big red kidney beans throughout.
- Jerk seasoned 100% beef or tofu with grilled pineapple, Provolone and salsa on a Portuguese bun. Served with Plantain chips or exotic greens $12
- This wasn’t my order, but I didn’t hear any complaints except for it being messy and saucy… which isn’t a bad thing!
- The patty was large and nicely coated with melted Provolone, the pineapple looked fresh and nicely grilled and it came with an ample amount of plantain chips. From the outside it looked great!
Maracas Bay Mahi – 2.5/6 (Okay-Good)
- Curry and lime pan seared fillet with a cooling cho cho and apple slaw. Served with coconut rice and local seasonal vegetables $15
- I actually wasn’t too keen on this and I ordered it. It’s a rather light and sour dish compared to everything else.
- The fish is frozen and it’s a firmer flaky white fish. It was quite tangy from the lime and then the apple slaw just made it even more tangy.
- In the Caribbean they probably would have used a combination of apples and jicama root for the slaw… but we’re in Vancouver, so never mind.
- I was most excited about the cooling cho cho and apple slaw but the apples came across as pickles and I wasn’t feeling it with the already tangy fish. I thought the apples would bring a tangy sweetness to it, but it brought a tangy sharpness that was almost overpowering.
- The edges of the fish were also dry, but the middle was decently moist.
- The dish lacked sauce so overall it was all quite plain. The only sauce was the little bit of sauce on the fish that seemed like melted butter, curry powder and lime juice.
**Island Thyme Chicken –4/6 (Very good)
- Coconut milk marinated chicken, slow cooked in Jamaican thyme. Served with mashed potatoes and local seasonal vegetables $15
- This is a Jamaican Latin dish more so than Caribbean one and it almost tastes Thai.
- The sauce was delicious! It tasted like a sweet, peanutty coconut gravy and it was savoury sweet and nutty. I don’t know if there are nuts in it, but it tasted like it, although there’s no crunch of actual peanuts. Instead there was the texture of actual coconut which was a great surprise! I love coconut and nutty flavours so it’s no doubt I really enjoyed this.
- The sauce was the most addicting and different from all the ones I tried, although not as strong as the one on the Jerk chicken.
- I did want to see fresh Caribbean thyme leaves, considering it was a Thyme chicken, but they were missing. I also got no lemony or herb like flavours, which was what I expected, but what I got was still good.
- The chicken itself didn’t seem very well marinated, but the sauce did give it flavour and made the dish. Again, the chicken was on the dry side.
- The mashed potatoes were a creamy, starchy, grainy Russet mash with melted butter.
**Daily Feature – Deep Fried Bananas – 5/6 (Excellent)
- Deep fried bananas with mango ice cream and caramel sauce $7.50
- Woohoo! I didn’t expect such a big portion and that made me happy just like this funny presentation.
- If anything the bananas are just lightly dusted with flour before being thrown in the deep fryer because they don’t have a batter. They’re not crispy, but they do have a bit of a crust and then the inside is creamy and warm.
- It was quite a sweet dessert with the caramel sauce and the ice cream was actually very good.
- The ice cream tasted like banana ice cream rather than mango and I’m almost certain it was banana ice cream. It was thick, creamy and chewy and I really liked it.
- I made a little banana ice cream sandwich with those cookies… SO good!
- Overall the dessert would only be better with toasted coconut, (that’s something easy I know they could do) but otherwise it was solid!
- If you like this, I would also recommend the Caribbean Rum Cake from Chop Restaurant that also made my Top 15 Best Desserts List of 2010.
Just wanted to add one thing about plantains…they can be sweet or not sweet…depending on whether you cook them when they are unripe (not sweet – used for “patacones” (common in latin american) or most plantain chips) or ripe (sweet – used for desserts or as a side dish in a normal meal (e.g., with beans in a lot of latin american countries)).
Hi Mau – thanks for that! I’d love to try the ripe sweet version of plantains… I’ve tried the patacones before at Baru Latino Restaurant as well as in Seattle once. Would love to hear your comments on this post: http://www.followmefoodie.com/2009/12/marimba-south-american-restaurant/
@Mau – oops! never mind you DID comment on it! Thank you!! It’s been a long time and I forgot! Thank you for still reading and supporting this blog though. You’re awesome!
the spinach and artichoke dip is really good from the reef. I also use to like their sangria, but for some reason, the last few times i’ve been there, the sangria tasted watered down 🙁 I think they might use a mix from a bottle now not actual “making” the sangria themselves.
Oh! Now I feel like this review was written just for me! 🙂 Thanks. My step-mom is from Trinidad, so I think it’s her “authentic” bias that has made me avoid the Reef for so many years. I am very excited about the promised Naam review. Keep ’em coming, crazy lady!
@Miss Soo – See I would never think to order spinach and artichoke dip from a Caribbean restaurant, but I guess the chicken wings did surprise me so maybe I’ll give the dip a try too! Thanks Miss Soo! Too bad the Sangria went downhill, although I did see a lot of tables ordering it.
@Mariam Martin – It WAS partly written for you 😉 No joke, I had you in mind as I wrote it. My readers are so important to me and I appreciate all the requests/feedback and general support for this blog 🙂 … I hope to get to The Naam soon, but I’m rarely in that area… but I’ll have you in mind when I end up there! I do enjoy their miso gravy and fries!
I love the lamb leg here (mostly for the sauce and mashed potatoes!). They have a kikin mojito too. Will need to try some of these dishes you discussed.
FYI for your corn sensitive followers-the free fried bread appetizer was delicious…till I got sick 🙁 I asked my server about it and it though it lacks cornmeal, it does have corn products in it (either cornstarch or cornflour).
You’re a highlight of my RSS feed, thanks for all your posts and hungry-making photography!
@m_star – wow… I just think you made my day as well! You subscribe to me?!?! : ))) So awesome!!! Thank you so so so much!! and extra thank you for that corn warning! I’m going to update this post and add that b/c that’s something readers should be aware of. Thank you for that! Also I will have to try the lamb leg!
If you want to try an awesome roti, check out Rihanna’s Roti in Port Moody. Yes, its a trek, but is promised as the best roti you’ll get out here. Call before you go though, they run on Trinidadian time. 😉
@Tara – That place has been on my “must try” list for the last 8 months!!! I’m dying to go, but like you said… it’s just a bit out of the way, so I need to make a day of it if I go. Thanks so much for the tip and I’m confident you’re giving me an awesome rec because I’ve heard so much about her amazing roti already!!! can’t wait! thanks!
Base on what i saw on food network i was very enthused to dine here but was sadly disappointing coleslaw was too acidic n the the curry sauce was too strong on the curry goat i dined here on the 15 march 2014 told the waitress n she basically blew off my concern i asked for the owners n she sd they were in Jamaica n the sous chef is not Jamaican. Im Jamaican n i know what good curry taste like