On a beautiful and sunny Sunday, I got to join up with Jessica & Mark, Sherman, Kim, and Karl (who I was please to meet for the first time!) at The Lions Den Cafe. Located in the triangular intersection between Fraser, Kingsway, and 15th Avenue, The Lions Den offers homemade Caribbean food with a twist.
I was second last to arrive (ha ha Kim!) and found the rest of the party outside at a big table in the sunshine. Unlike some cafe terrace places, the table was roomy and very stable. A pile of these printed menus were being studied, and after some time, we decided to order a whole mess of food and share everything (which I prefer, frankly!)
So between ordering and getting the side salads that came with our various entrees it must have been at least half-an-hour. While I appreciate that this is a small restaurant, and that the place was very busy, I was surprised that it did take so long. Thank goodness we had lots of food tips to share with one another to help pass the time!
The salad itself was fresh, clean, and okay. The dressing wasn’t homemade, nor particularly Caribbean. I think that all the fancy cameras put my little point-and-shoot to shame. Please excuse the more and more oblique angles that I used in my pictures trying to get a bit more “artsy”!
First up was the real start of the meal for me: Jerk Chicken. Mark wisely suggested we order two of the large versions (as each offered 3 pieces of chicken). This was DELICIOUS. The meat was fall-off-the-bone tender, and the jerk spices were quite piquante with the scotch bonnet peppers really coming through. The accompanying rice (which came withe most of the entrees) was good, very much like dirty cajun rice with some beans and clearly something meaty (chicken livers?) and earthy spices (cumin, paprika, chili powder). I would come back specifically for this.
Next up was the curried goat. The very saucy yellow curry was flavourful, but not strong or spicy. The potatoes were nicely cooked and not mushy, and the goat was mild (perhaps too mild?). I found that while it was a bit hard to eat given the sharp pieces of bone, this was also a good item.
Next up – Okonomiyaki – WHAT? Yeah, I know, we were just having Caribbean food, but the Lions Den also serves a few Japanese items (and a few Japaribbean items too – which we didn’t try). The Okonomiyaki was so-so in terms of Japanese standards, with BIG chunks of veggies and a thick batter used for the pancake, but the huge pieces of very tender pork made up for this. The peanuty sauce was alright, I wish they had gone more extreme with the sauces though (e.g. drizzle two kinds so you could have a greater interplay between the clashing cultures).
Someone suggested that we should try the Roti as they are handmade at the restaurant. While I’m not a roti expert, I wasn’t too impressed with these. They were thicker, and contained some chickpea flour (with turmeric or perhaps a bit of curry powder mixed in), which I actually didn’t like. When you ripped a piece of the roti, the flour mix would simply fall out. I don’t know how this would work if you were to use the roti to create a wrap…
Finally, the last dish we shared – Oxtail Stew – was really a sour way to end the meal for me. Having had great chicken and good goat, I found the oxtail to be lacking in meat, with a greasy sauce, and an over-arching burnt pepper flavour. I so wanted to like this, especially given that they used fava beans in the stew, but it was beyond repair. I didn’t even want to finish the small portion I tried. I’m hoping this was just a scorched serving, and not how this dish is normally served. I’ll be curious to read what my dining companions have to say about this…
When we asked for the bill, we were told we needed to come into the restaurant to hear the story of the origins of the name for the Lions Den. The charismatic owner, Ken, told us about the building’s origins, how he found Junior which is the namesake of the restaurant, and how many days the Lions Den has been open. He asked us to sign the calendar if this was our first time visiting – and given how great the Jerk Chicken was – it won’t be my last visit!