Irie Shack Caribbean bar and grill opened in April last year on Woodville Road in Cathays, Cardiff, after moving from its former site in Cwmbran. In Jamaica, ‘irie’ is a general term of approval meaning ‘nice’, ‘good’ or ‘alright’ and is often used by Rastafarians as a friendly greeting. Earlier this month, owner Iftekhar Harris opened a second branch on James Street in Cardiff, on the former site of the White Hart pub in the area of Cardiff Bay previously known as Tiger Bay and home to a large Caribbean community.
I’m ashamed to say that I haven’t been to Irie Shack before, although I spent a few months in Jamaica in 2014 and I love Caribbean cuisine. I went to Caribbean restaurant chain, Turtle Bay on High Street, Cardiff when it opened in December and I really enjoyed the food and atmosphere but the menu lacked a number of authentic Caribbean dishes, like ackee and saltfish and my personal favourite, callaloo.
Irie Shack’s menu features both traditional and contemporary Jamaican starters and sides, one pot dishes (including callaloo and ackee and saltfish), jerk pit classics, burgers, roti wraps and salads. This is complemented by a drinks menu featuring a number of Caribbean-inspired cocktails (2-for-1 every day except for 7pm – 9.30pm) and authentic beers, including Red Stripe.
Inside the Cathays branch of Irie Shack, the walls are painted with colourful, hand-painted murals and plastered in posters advertising reggae performances, while reggae music plays in the background.
The Caribbean theme continues through the restaurant and out into the heated garden and smoking area, which features a wall mural of a stunning orange sunset, palm trees and a picnic bench painted in the Rastafari colours of red, yellow and green.
As we studied the menu, I sipped on a can of Ting (£1); a refreshingly fruity and sharp grapefruit soda, popular throughout the Caribbean.
My starter of halloumi bites (£4.95) was served as a skewer of grilled salty halloumi, tomato and green pepper, topped with sliced spring onions and served with jerk mayo (a tangy, slightly runny jerk dressing).
Meanwhile, my friend began with the Stamp n’ go (£4.95) – deep-fried salted cod fritters. The batter was crisp and well-seasoned, but unfortunately the fritters were a little over-cooked and the cod was chewy.
Craving some spice for my main course, I ordered the hot curry chicken (£8.95) served with rice n’ peas, Caribbean slaw and dumplings, in addition to a small side of callaloo (£8.95 as a main – we requested a smaller portion, which cost around £4).
The curry contained huge chunks of tender chicken breast served off the bone in a creamy, yet spicy curry sauce. Personally, I would have liked it to have been slightly hotter. A large portion of rice n’ peas was well-flavoured, while the Caribbean slaw was fresh and crunchy and the dumplings were rather more-ish, although not as nice as the festival dumplings I tried in Jamaica.
The callaloo was perfectly cooked with scotch bonnet pepper, sliced onion, spring onion and diced potato and it had a nice, fiery kick to it.
Meanwhile, opposite me at the table my friend tucked into the coconut curry (£8.95); tender chicken pieces slow-cooked with bell peppers, herbs and spices in a creamy, yet spicy coconut milk sauce served with fried dumplings, Caribbean slaw and rice ‘n’ peas.
The restaurant was fairly busy for a week day evening and there were several large groups in, but luckily the service doesn’t run on Jamaican time and we didn’t have to wait very long for our food at all!
The quality of the food was good but not mind-blowing, although I’d say it was on par with Turtle Bay. However, Irie Shack is definitely my favourite of the two restaurants because it serves callaloo, the prices are cheaper and it has a heated garden and smoking area.
Peter Smith (pictured below) has been one of the chefs at Irie Shack since the restaurant first began in Cwmbran back in 2013. Originally from Kingston, Jamaica, Peter has always enjoyed experimenting with food and enjoys coming up with new dishes for the menu, revealing that the rasta rice (basmati rice with onions, bell peppers and ackee) has been a popular addition.
If you’re thinking of visiting Irie Shack, why not make a night of it and go on the weekend, when the restaurant plays host to popular reggae acts like Aleighcia Scott? On the other hand, if you’re fancying a night in, you can also choose to order food for home delivery!
106-110 Woodville Road,
(029) 2037 3272
If you enjoyed my review of Irie Shack, take a look at my post on Caribbean restaurant chain, Turtle Bay.