Apparently, Jamaican food tastes sweeter when the service is poor. I don’t know how true that actually is but to be quite honest I’m tired of this stereotype and would love a side of good service when trying to indulge in some good Jamaican fare.
Hence my recent trip to Ayannas in Canary Wharf. I had initially planned to celebrate my 30th birthday there in early July but due to the ‘rona I had to wait and used my parents 32nd anniversary as the perfect excuse to pay them a visit. Fine dining, authentic, Jamaican, good service? These are not usually words and phrases you hear all in the same sentence but after many personal and online recommendations I was extremely curious to experience Ayannas for myself.
I shared my experience via Instagram and so many people could not wait for me to release my review so I’m sure you’re reading this with great anticipation. What did I think? Does it live up to the hype? Is it worth the elevated price point? Would I go back?
I’ll be honest, my feelings are quite mixed. It was OK. Would I return? Maybe. Did I like it? Yes…ish. Is it worth it? Kind of.
The décor is clean, simple but quite understated; white walls, white table cloths decorated minimally, nice chandeliers and a few large mirrors. For me it was bit sterile, and lacked personality or flair. I have read online that they would usually have live music and there was a grand piano tucked away that confirmed this, but I assume due to corona we could not experience it. The reliance on the live music I think is too strong in terms of creating the ambience needed, as without it and with only a few other guests dining in with us the vibe was flat and lacklustre. More life on the tables or some nice artwork on the walls would not go amiss and could only enhance what they have already created.
A Jamaican restaurant is the perfect place for me to do “nyam and drink cocktail” so I opted for the Reggae Rum Punch which was cool, but a good rum punch definitely needs to marinate and I’m not so sure this one had enough time.
For starters we ordered the cheesy lobster, sweet chilli prawns & ital soup. The sweet chilli prawns were cooked perfectly, juicy and flavoursome. The ital soup was pleasant but lacked depth. It actually reminded more of a good rice & peas broth rather than a rich pea soup. As for the cheesy lobster, this for me was disappointing. There isn’t much in terms of innovation or uniqueness when it comes to the menu selection so I was looking forward to trying it but all I got was a strong cheddar cheese flavour and bread. Cheese on toast. It was a shame because I know that lobster in a rich coconut sauce could taste phenomenal.
The mains were the highlight for me; well presented, rich in flavour and authentic. We had the sea bass with creamy mash, stew fish & oxtail. I loved the presentation of the oxtail; wrapped in a filo pastry basket made me think of a juicy oxtail spring roll or samosa. The mash that accompanied the sea bass has the perfect taste and texture and the stew fish was a healthy cut of fresh sea bream which flaked nicely when pulled from the bone. The coleslaw was crunchy and creamy and the mac & cheese was all the cheese porn I expected. Fried dumpling was a little tight for me as I prefer them quite light and fluffy.
Unfortunately, the only really exciting thing on the dessert menu – rum cake – was unavailable so we settled for the chocolate brownie instead. I think the chocolate brownie should be removed from the menu and something more fitting could be added to really highlight Jamaican cuisine and tie in nicely with the other authentic dishes they offer.
Overall, the experience was nice. Not amazing, but definitely not terrible…Nice. I admire the effort that has gone into Ayannas and the focus on providing an upscale Caribbean dining experience where customer service is a priority. However, within the wider environment of potential culinary exploits and restaurant offerings within London the lack of creativity and innovation in the menu meant that outside of good service and nice presentation there wasn’t much in terms of the actual food that separated them from a good local take away and for me that’s where they could really create something amazing. They have a lot of potential and with a few tweaks here or there and the confidence to push a couple boundaries I think it would be amazing. Striking the balance between authenticity and innovation is not for the faint hearted, but is what often separates fine dining establishments from good upscale restaurants. Many people, including Ayannas themselves refer to the restaurant as a fine dining establishment and this statement is the source of my slight disappointment and mixed feelings. I would not call it fine dining. More elevated or upscale.
Caribbean dining culture has a long way to go but I love that Ayannas have tackled one of the biggest hurdles within the community and offer good food alongside good vibes and service. There is so much that can be done with Jamaican food that I would love to see them show more creativity and expand upon some of staple dishes we know and love. If they’re willing to present Oxtail in a filo pastry basket I know they can push the boat out just a little bit more! At the same time maybe I am looking for what they don’t actually want to offer, and focusing more on authenticity presented well is exactly what they want to do. I just wanted more. Ayannas have an amazing opportunity to not just be better than other Jamaican restaurants but be better than other restaurants, period.
If you’re looking for good, authentic Jamaican food in a nice setting or you want to celebrate something special and support a good black business at the same time I would definitely recommend them. They are currently offering the EOTHO style discount until October 2020 with up to £10 off per person when you spend over £30.
For more images and videos check out my Instagram post.