IT takes a brave soul to open a restaurant in these tough times and a braver one to move to bigger premises only a short while after opening.
But that’s the gamble that’s been taken by Chris Dallas and his partner Angela Galloway, who have Dunns River Caribbean restaurant on Junction Road, right on the Hunters Bar roundabout.
The building has seen a fair few restaurants in its time.
They’d only been open for about three months in the premises that had previously housed The Bohemian on Chesterfield Road, Meersbrook when they made the move.
They really stretched their budget when they had to fit a whole new kitchen and it shows a bit in the upstairs dining room, which has plain blue walls and a mismatch of ‘begged, borrowed and stolen’ furniture.
Apparently Angela has her eye on a beautiful picture of the famous Dunn’s River Falls in Jamaica that the restaurant is named after for this room.
Downstairs there is a bar which has weekend DJ nights, when it’s open until 2am, that are starting to grow in popularity.
It’s an unusual space, and a bit bare, that they are still working on the final design for.
You get to the eating area by way of a spiral staircase. Some upbeat reggae hits were playing when we visited, which added to the atmosphere, and Angela is a warm and welcoming hostess.
The restaurant was just starting to pick up a few regulars in Meersbrook and a couple of them were at another table, which is a good sign.
Angela said that party bookings are proving quite popular and they have a four-course Christmas menu for £25.50 per head, including a glass of rum punch.
Groups of eight or more will get £20 vouchers to spend on a meal in January.
As well as beers from the bar like the favourite Jamaican Red Stripe lager, the restaurant has a wine list with the price of a bottle starting at £11.95 and £3.50 for a glass.
No Guinness punch yet but Angela promises it will appear on the menu soon. As it was a school night, my friend Linda and I opted for ginger beer.
It is a fairly short menu and the choice of seven starters range in price from £3.50 to £5.
There are eight main courses, with prices from £8.50 to £12.95, and side orders are £2.50.
Chef Chris has upped his game a bit, as was evident from our starters, which were beautifully presented on rectangular white plates.
The restaurant has a bit of a reputation for slow service but it was okay when we visited, although it was a quiet midweek night.
Linda had pan-fried plantains, served on a bed of rocket, with mango chutney (£4) and I chose ackee and saltfish with fried dumplings and salad (£4.80).
I was severely tempted by the jerk ribs, but we had the jerk angle covered in the main courses.
The other choices were jerk prawns, seafood platter, Caribbean patties or scallops pan fried in garlic butter.
Linda loved her sweet plantains and anything with rocket is a winner with her.
The chutney was more the consistency of a dipping sauce and was nicely tangy with a hit of ginger coming through.
The saltfish and ackee was excellent, with the salty fish cutting through the scrambled egg-textured ackee.
The dumplings were fragrant and chewy with a crunchy exterior and the whole dish worked well together.
On the main courses, Linda had opted for another Jamaican classic, jerk chicken with rice and peas (£9.50). I ordered peppered pork with stir-fried vegetables and a coconut cream and double cream sauce (£9.75).
Other choices were curried mutton, pan-fried snapper, stuffed pepper, Caribbean rice, Jamaica sizzla and ackee stir fry.
I would have been jealous of the jerk chicken if I hadn’t had a splendid plate of food in front of me. The pieces of pork, which are marinated in spices and pepper ahead of time, had some lovely layers of flavour and had been tenderised by their treatment.
The sauce had soaked up some of the spices and was rich without being too cloying.
The stir fry, which included shredded red cabbage and sweetcorn, added a lot of colour and crunch to the plate.
I tasted the jerk chicken and it was good, warmly spicy and as tender as my pork had been.
The rice and peas, which can be a bit dry, were very moist and tasty, some of the best I’ve had.
It was a big plateful and I admit I cleared mine.
This turned out to be a tactical error as neither of us could face any pudding and they sound delicious.
The big favourites are pineapple soaked in Malibu, served with ice cream, and Angela’s mum’s rum cake, which I have had before and urge you not to miss. They also have carrot cake and chocolate fudge cake. Prices range from £3 to £4.50.
We finished off with coffee, which was a bit weak, and a little biscuit and an After Eight.
The bill came to £37.25.
lVerdict: they’re trying very hard and the food is good. Fingers crossed that the gamble pays off.
lOpen: 6pm to 11pm weekdays, 6pm to 2am Saturdays and Sundays. They may open for Sunday lunch soon.
lDunns River, Junction Road, Hunters Bar. For bookings, call 0114 266 7866.