“Feel the rhythm! Feel the rhyme! Get on up, it’s bobsled time!”
Me shoehorning this Cool Runnings reference into a review isn’t a sign that Hong Kong’s first bobsled-themed restaurant has opened (alas!), but that its first Caribbean-Jamaican themed bar and restaurant has arrived instead – Rummin’ Tings in Central. OK, it’s a pretty tenuous connection, but what piece of writing wasn’t improved with a spurious Cool Runnings reference, eh? (And it’s about the only thing I can say with a passable Jamaican accent.)
Located by the escalator on Hollywood Road, Rummin’ Tings has some legit cool credentials behind it; it’s founded by two sets of brothers, Harsh and Rohit Roopchand (who brought NYC it-resto Fatty Crab to HK) and Manoj and Manesh Chelleram (the hip party and event planners behind The Edge), whilst its gorgeous beach shack-style décor is courtesy of Candace Campos (whose similarly inspired interiors can be found at Fatty Crab, BEP and Tate).
As you know, I don’t drink, so Rummin’ Tings “yo ho ho and a bottle of rum” sensibilities are rather lost on me. What I can get behind, however, is some bang tidy Caribbean street food servings that are way superior to most bar bites in town. The portions are designed for sharing – small but not ant-sized and reasonably priced too – meaning you can get your fair share of different tings to try without breaking either the bank or your gut in the process.
Remembering how restrained Fatty Crab had been in their use of spices with their South Asian-inspired menu, I was pleasantly surprised to find Rummin’ Tings dishes packing much more of a punch… and that I, spice scaredy-cat, actually loved it! Chef Kris Olbrich grew up amongst the cuisine of Brooklyn’s West Indian area and some of that Caribbean kick has definitely made its way into his cooking – as proven by our first dish of the night, Conch Salad.
This mix of tiger prawn, jicama (Mexican yam), cucumber, tomato and crispy shallots had a reaaaaal kick, feeling almost more like a spicy ceviche. My only minor quibble was that everything had been diced a little too daintily to really complement the big flavours at the party.
The Jamaican beef patties had also been seasoned excellently – a moreish heat that positively buzzed from the spiced beef within. It’s served with a hot pepper dipping sauce, which was SPICY and knocked my senses for six, leaving my tastebuds reeling. The heat fiends amongst you will love it, but for us tamer tamales, the patties taste pretty damn good on their own.
The saltfish accra (Trinidadian fritters) are the epitome of delicious bar snacks – piping hot popcorn fish balls, golden crispy on the outside with soft and succulent shredded meat within. Again, the filling had been smacked with seasoning to spare… garlic, thyme, hot pepper… my brain gave up attempting to identify individual flavours and just settled on “absolutely delicious”. The accompanying tamarind aioli totally hit bullseye on my spice spot too.
Another easy favourite was the Raaga Muffins – lovely fluffy cubes of warm, moist, slightly sweet cornbread, with a chilli butter so good I wanted to motorboat it. You know I love my sweets, and this cornbread was as delicious as any dessert to me; this is cornbread and chilli butter crack.
The tings continued to roll up with some Dutty Doubles – soft flatbread circles (known as bara) ladled with a heaty chickpea curry. They’re essentially Trindadian tacos, pure Caribbean comfort food with a cool street makeover. Chunky, appetising and again, perfectly seasoned.
Similarly, the roti served with either a grilled eggplant-tomato dahl or vegetable, chicken or goat curry, was cockle-warming comfort food at its best. The goat meat was nicely tender with a sauce that boasted yet more of that appetising heat and spice combo, but I think the eggplant was my favourite – smoky, homey and addictive. If Italian mamas are cooking up massive batches of tomato sauce on their stoves, this is the kind of one-pot wonder I imagine Caribbean matriarchs rustling up in their kitchens… and which has me instantly begrudging the fact I don’t have any Caribbean mates whose families I can cadge home cooking off!
When you think Caribbean cuisine, one of the dishes that immediately springs to mind is jerk chicken. So of course, Rummin’ Tings has jerk chicken (shown at the top of this post), and a pretty decent one too with a nice char and peppery seasoning… but for me, it’s blown out the Caribbean Ocean by the Sticky Island Ribs. These meltingly tender ribs are the kind of food that induces long guttural noises of pleasure around the table – smoky, sticky and soooo good. Get those fingers dirty and dive in, boi!
Finally, if that cornbread didn’t quite fit your idea of dessert, fear not – Rummin’ Tings does a very mean carrot cake too. I personally dislike the taste of orange in my desserts but this cake was so good, I was willing to ignore that citrusy tang for repeated helpings of this deliciously moist but simultaneously light cinnamon-spiced sponge topped with luscious slatherings of tangy cream cheese. (Disclaimer for those that care: this carrot cake has raisins.)
As you can tell, I was really rather impressed with Rummin’ Tings. Given the lack of Caribbean cuisine in Hong Kong, their menu struck me as new, exciting, different and action-packed, whilst almost all the dishes were real knockouts – boldly spiced, confidently seasoned and with an appetisingly addictive quality that already has me chomping at the bit to return. The food menu is priced very competitively too, with all dishes costing between $50-120, and the place is open from 12pm to 2am – making it a perfect pitstop for quick bites, casual lunches and dinners, and midnight munchies.
Rummin’ Tings also has a really fun vibe – laidback but buzzing, with a soundtrack of the greatest hits of Caribbean crossovers (hello Rihanna and Shaggy!) that you can’t help but bop along to. My friends who like rum also give it the thumbs up, whilst its rainbow-coloured cocktails add further to the tropical beach party feel.
If a place can make even the most straight-laced of Brits start attempting a Caribbean twang, you know they must be doing something right… and that’s without any rum down me either! Rummin’ Tings is boombastic fantastic fun, no matter how terrible your Jamaican accent is.
Rummin’ Tings, G/F, 28 Hollywood Road, Central, Hong Kong, +852 2523 7070
Note: this meal was by invitation