Caribbean Stove PickUp, one of the best restaurants in London, “Picks Up” from where its predecessor left off.
For two years now, Caribbean Stove PickUp has stood just south of Wellington and Simcoe in London’s Soho district, in the former site of On the Go Caribbean Cove. In that time, it has faced various challenges to share Caribbean culture and serve up some of the best food in the city.
Caribbean Stove PickUp appears to be merely a storefront on a burgeoning strip of Wellington Street. Peering in through the wall of plastic, you’re met by a big, bright smile from co-owner, Special Lambkin, the face behind the business. Living up to her name, Special offers warm and friendly service that makes you feel like you’re basking in her native Trinidad & Tobago sunshine.
Special chats with you as she busies herself preparing your order of “da flava”, as she and her husband, co-owner Sherwin Lambkin, call it: generous and savoury selections of jerk chicken & pork; oxtail stew; ackee & saltfish; curried goat, chicken, potatoes & chickpeas; and curried chicken, goat, & stewed chicken rotis.
“We couldn’t even cook!”
Sherwin points out the irony that he and Special chose to start a restaurant, yet “we didn’t even know how to cook!” Tired of having to drive to Toronto for their native foods, Sherwin learned to make his now-specialties by picking and choosing from various online “how-to” videos.
Combining feedback from friends & family, the spot’s previous regulars, as well as their new customers, Lambkin tailored his methods to create a taste that is his own.
“Taste da flava!”
Sherwin explains the difference between traditional Jamaican and Trinidadian foods. Makers of Jamaican cuisine “add hot peppers directly into the preparation of the meat to make it jerk,” whereas the “Trini” way puts the hot pepper sauce right on top (the PickUp offers bottles of Island Fire Pepper Sauce for sale) and features buss-up-shut & dahlpurie rotis. But no need to worry if spicy’s not your thing: the jerk spice is subtle and can actually be subdued by mild jerk gravy. Special recommends the faint-hearted at least try the spicy red jerk sauce on the side.
She also suggests the best way to “enjoy the flavour is to get your fork, then put a little bit of the meat, a little bit of the rice, a little bit of the slaw…Mmmmmmmm!” Rolling her eyes, she smiles widely and giggles with delight! Special will effortlessly sell you on what she serves, as well as entertain you with a heaping scoop of fun and joy!
The formidable choice of delicious side dishes include rice & beans, creamy coleslaw, steamed vegetables, plantains, dumplins, lentil peas, sweet curry mango, macaroni pie, and chicken & red beans soup. Oh, and the pumpkin is a must! It’s not too sweet and mixes well with everything!
Scotch Bonnet BLAST!
Sherwin explains his frustration in keeping up with the high demand for their foods, “We can’t open later in the evenings, or for more than 5 days a week, since we have a hard time finding people to work.”
The high turnover in staff they’ve had since opening is largely due to the hazards of the workplace. “The scotch bonnets and other peppers we use are so strong, we need to wear goggles and gloves to handle them.” Combined with a tight working space, it’s not everyone who can handle the job. “We’d love to open another location, but until we fill our staffing needs, we just can’t move up to that next level.”
Nonetheless, with the goal of filling hungry bellies with authentic Caribbean food, and warming hearts with friendly service, Special and Sherwin will keep bringing the warm Trini sunshine through their spicy, delicious food to lucky Londoners throughout the cold Canadian months ahead and well beyond!
Feature photo by Tom Paul Frank.