Di Reggae Cafe – The Best Caribbean Restaurant in Surrey BC?
Turns out, a new sign was all it took to draw me in to what I thought was a brand new restaurant. However, Di Reggae Cafe has been in Surrey for over ten years and I’ve just repeatedly driven on by, not noticing this little gem in the heart of Whalley . We stopped and popped our heads in, although not needing to eat right that second and bumped into two customers who took the treck over the bridges from Vancouver for this real-deal Caribbean joint. Always a fan of supporting local, we bookmarked this for our next jerk chicken craving. (Hint: it didn’t take us long to return…)
When you walk inside Di Reggae Cafe, you are instantly transported with hand-painted Caribbean colour schemes along the grass-hut counter and reggae music setting the ambiance in the background. As one would maybe expect, a Bob Marley photo adorns the wall, along with a large scale version of the menu. The counter has a colourful display of non-alcoholic drinks, including a herbal drink called Baba Roots, which claims to promote energy, good health and perhaps even a sexual health stimulant (insert sly side eye here…)
Di Reggae has taken all the proper Covid precautions with limited seating and social distancing and we sat ourselves at a long surfboard-esque table that is made with the map of Jamaica on it. There is a seating area near a stage as well, but Covid the fun-killer has halted their popular live music options. We’re sure that seeing some top Jamaican talent would only add to the good drinks, good vibes and good people slogan on their website. Their sister restaurant, located in Vancouver’s West End (The Loft Lounge) is providing live music on the weekends at 8:30pm so you can enjoy Jamaican food while enjoying music, socially distancing, but socially connected.
One firecracker of a young woman had the role of waitress, bartender, take-out coordinator and front-of-house. She was steady on her feet and running the whole show, which considering it was 3pm in the afternoon, was steady with people coming in and out for take-away options. She took it all in stride with a laid back, friendly attitude that put us at ease and made us feel at home.
My “partner-in-foodie-crime”, aka Hubby aka Pete, had a Red Stripe Beer to start. This amber-lager style beer is full bodied and smooth with a very subtle hint of butterscotch. A hint for later: it pairs nicely with some of the spicy food on the menu!
When the waitress brought our waters, two other mystery containers also arrived at our table. Turns out, the taller pale yellow squeeze bottle is their in-house salad dressing. It reminded me of British Salad Cream, which is an oil in water, emulsified by egg yolk and acidulated with vinegar. Fear not! It was light and non-oily and I loved it! Like loved it in the way that I wish they sold it. The other smaller container was filled with a bright golden orange sauce, dotted with chilli seeds. Always one to try out a house spicy sauce, I took a taste and be warned, it’s spicy! (Maybe for a few of you, that’s a challenge!) Our guess is that it is a scotch bonnet creation, as they’re a popular addition to Caribbean Sauces and carry more heat than a Habanero. Pete and our friend really enjoyed it and it was extremely flavourful, but being a bit of a spice wimp myself, one taste was all I needed.
The problem with these hidden gems is that everything on the menu looks like a home run and you find yourself just wanting to order everything. To start us off, we decided you just can’t go to a Jamaican restaurant and not have a Jamaican patty. This did not disappoint; super buttery flaky pastry encasing a tender flavourful spicy beef mixture. It literally melts in your mouth. We had the Spicy Beef but they also offer chicken and veggie options too so everyone is sure to get a taste of something they like.
Choosing our main dishes was a tall order with so many dishes calling our names. Pete went with the Beef Roti which showcased perfectly seasoned beef with chick peas, potatoes and wrapped in a homemade Roti with a side green salad. Their Roti dough is very light and tender and perfectly complimented the flavours. We also had the chicken version which again, was just beautiful with curry seasoning. If you’ve had really good Caribbean food, you know the layers of flavour are well balanced and the sauces in these dishes were just that. Add in the Roti to soak up all that goodness and you’ve got yourself some Caribbean sun in the middle of a Westcoast winter. And those potatoes? Perfect. Firm and tender all at the same time and pairing nicely with the dishes.
The waitress recommended the Jerk Chicken Salad, which I ordered with slight trepidation. (spice wimp, afterall!) This might be a bold statement, but this was the best Jerk Chicken I have ever had. And I’ve had it in Jamaica, which is saying something. This Jerk profile was so good as the spices didn’t overwhelm the flavours and you could truly savor the dish. This is where if you love spice and are looking to light your face on fire a little bit, add that lovely in house spice sauce. The salad itself was fresh, crisp and those tomatoes? Well look at them, they were fantastic. The addition of the house salad dressing made a yummy creamy Jerk sauce that if no one was looking, I would have licked my plate clean. Like, there may have been a finger swipe of the plate just to get some more sauce. You might question if a salad is filling enough and the answer to this one is yes, I actually struggled to finish it. Luckily, when you travel in a pack of foody friends, someone is always going to finish the leftovers!
Our friend, perhaps the smartest at the table, ordered two dishes, one for now and one for dinner. Had we all known the treat we were in for, we may have all opted to do the same! He decided the Goat Curry was his “now” meal, with the bone in simmered in mild West Indian Curry and those yummy potatoes swimming around with it, served with a side salad. Saying the goat was tender and the flavours were amazing is an understatement for this dish. His take-home dish was the Jerk Pork, featuring tender slices of pork seasoned with that addicting jerk sauce, baked all delicious-y in the oven and served with rice and beans cooked in coconut milk and herbs, side salad and a Johnny Cake, a super tasty and fluffy cornmeal pastry.
We left full, satisfied and already looking at our calendars for a return date. Di Reggae Cafe features a Sunday brunch from 11am – 4pm, which sounds promising for our next trip, but their Ackee and Saltfish on Seafood Fridays might lure us back even before that. If you’re looking for a warm, laid back atmosphere with authentic Caribbean flavors, you won’t be disappointed with the food Di Reggae puts down in front of you. And if nobody’s looking, or you just don’t care, go ahead and lick your plate. It’s that good!
Review by Julie Brown