As I started cooking this Wadadli menu, it started to snow: and if that sounds like the sort of achingly clumsy device the worst sort of arsehole might contrive in this context, you’ll have to indulge me as we press on together. Because if you’re finding yourself kicking against the pricks of chill winds and leaden skies by craving the heat of sunshine cooking, Wadadli could very well be your answer.
This one stood out, even among the happy proliferation of nationally available heat at home options. Andi Oliver’s Wadadli Kitchen has been specialising in the food of her ancestral Antigua for a while now, and it’s cooking with heart and personality.
It’s a box of vibrant flavours and textures, a box with a bit of everything. The sort of comforting grey sky carbs we all crave? Hot, tangy pickles? Sharp, fresh slaw? Long-braised curry? It’s all here. Sweet, spicy, tangy, tart: an opportunistic cash-in on a nationally recognisable name and an all-purpose Caribbean ‘rice-and-peas-and-jerk-chicken-will-that-do?’ menu this is not.
You order online by Monday, you get your box that Thursday. It’s a nicely packaged thing, with information on the Wadadli history, cooking and culture and the country which birthed it. It’s enough to give the Daily Express an aneurysm, because it explicit evokes a multicultural Britain whose food is at its most interesting when seasoned by immigration.
Two menus are available, Nyam It All (meat) and Ital (vegan) for 2, 4 or 6 people, with many side dishes common to both. Instructions are exemplary with a countdown timetable provided. There’s minimal intervention required- just a few trays going in your oven at steady intervals for half an hour in total, and multiple ways to serve. Its very much a ‘lay it all out and let everyone dig in’ kind of meal.
The orange and ginger chicken wings (aubergine in the vegan box) are marinated in a heady, complex mix of coriander and paprika, cumin and turmeric, garlic and chilli and more: they are finished in a syrupy citrus and ginger glaze which straddles the sweet and the hot. This has taken longer for me to type- and possibly even for you to read- than they hung around for. Ditto the tangy mac and cheese. Sorry.
I’m a tart for tamarind, so I’m keen to try the chicken thighs with smoked chilli.
One of the few serving suggestions included is to fill the warmed coco bread (baked by Dalston’s Rainbow and sweetened with coconut milk) with tamarind chicken and layer it with the escovitch- Caribbean cousin of the familiar Spanish escabeche. It’s a happy handful with plenty going on: sweetness, smoke, sourness, the acidity of that pickle. Finished with some of the several condiments included- a mix of toasted coconut and crispy onion, and sprinkled with scotch bonnet salt – it’s a lovely thing, packing a lot into a small handful.
The standout, though, is the curry goat, a recipe apparently 20 years in the tweaking and needing eight hours of cooking before being finished with dark chocolate. The thick murky sauce, ruggedly spiced, clings to the meat (the Ital version is a ‘mushroom umami’ curry).
You can ask yourself why we don’t eat more goat in the UK, and resolve to do something about that, even as you use the slightly sweet chew of the substantial sweet potato rotis to feast. Layered, persistent, memorable.
It’s a nicely balanced collection, from the welcome snap of the green slaw and its apple, cucumber, sugar snaps and spring onions tangy with lime; or crisp fries stained gold with turmeric oil, just asking to be seasoned with scotch bonnet salt or dredged through the hot sauce which easily lives up to its billing. There’s everything you need here for an indulgent meal. If you fancy a culinary ‘firebreak’ with flavours and dishes which may be as new to you as they were to me, you’d appreciate what has gone into Wadadli.
£58 for two; £98 for 4; £138 for six.
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A simple thing, then: all you get is me wittering on semi-coherently about places I’ve eaten at; hence a ‘restaurant blog’ rather than a ‘food blog’, although there are a few recipes scattered throughout.
From mezze to Michelin ‘fine dining’ and all points in between.