Culinary Revival of Downtown Kingston
ROK Hotel Executive Chef Volae Williams adds passion coconut sauce to his Passion Coconut Seafood Crudo. (Photo: Garfield Robinson)

Thursday Food had, prior to this official dining experience hosted by ROK Hotel General Manager Jaap van Dam, Director of Sales & Marketing Marlene Buckridge, and Food & Beverage Manager Sherene Brown, dropped in unannounced one Sunday. Brunch was top of mind. The experience was a positive one and it was evident that, opening glitches aside, this property, from the carefully curated public space art courtesy of Jessica Jones, to the outstanding service delivered by bellman Wuzando Salmon and the elegantly styled plates, would be a place to return to.

Valet parking out of the way, we made full use of the numerous cosy vignettes that form part of the lobby and enjoyed a not-so-typical, very refreshing passion fruit mimosa. A relaxed tour of the hotel followed by mouth-seducing jerk chicken poppers with mango aioli, and Harbour seafood cake in Scotch bonnet rice paper topped with sweet chilli corn salsa as we checked out ROK and Ocean Front suites. There were surprise gift bags too! Each stop heightened expectations.

Back on the second level it was time to open napkins in the Palate restaurant and enjoy a special welcome from Executive Chef Volae Williams. A cursory glance at the menu did not disappoint. The sole challenge was what to select! There was no need to furrow the brows for the menu, yes all eight, formed the tasting menu.

Starters included a rich coconut pepperpot soup whose flavour, already perfect, was kicked up several notches as the coconut milk seduced the callaloo. Nice start, even for those non-soup lovers. The salad that followed — a fresh bowl of baby greens and Granny Smith Apples, goat cheese, tomatoes, walnuts, roasted beets, passion fruit-thyme vinaigrette and a passion coconut seafood crudo a melange of salmon, shrimp, mussels, passion jus, fresh herbs, lime juice, plantain chips, cold press coconut oil — was a light, tasty and fresh option. Aptly portioned to leave diners satisfied but with room to continue with the final starter, the roasted tomato tartare: sun-dried tomatoes, black olive, tapenade, pesto, beet hummus finished with a slice of local tomato and garlic bread chip. The fusion was smartly balanced with the beet complementing the potency of the sun-dried tomatoes and black olive.

Truth be told, Chef Williams had shown his range and could have pressed pause. He did not, and instead rolled out fish, beef, poultry and lamb courses.

The snapper papillote: a contemporary spin on roasted fish in foil in coconut jus, with steamed bammy, water cracker, steamed callaloo and fried okra. The fish alas was not fall-off-the-fork fresh so did not absorb the flavours of the seasoning as we would have wanted it to.

The chef had better fortune with the melt in the mouth petite filet which could have been served alone. It was that good. The poultry course was next: pimento grill chicken breast in a mango jerk sauce with sides of market vegetables and potato mash. The mango jerk sauce was an interesting notation infusing an equal balance of sweet and savoury.

The ginger herb crusted rack of lamb closed the mains on a warm, pungent note. Again, the smart portions allowed each course to stand on its own.

Volae Williams is a chef tasked with the revival of downtown Kingston as a culinary destination; we'll be carefully watching. Our eyes will also be pealed on yet another young talent, pastry chef Chauntoi Perkins, who uses her classically French pastry training as her base to incorporate flavours that are peculiar to our palates.

An impressive array of desserts that ranged from mini mango cheesecakes to coconut almond tart, fresh pineapple compote, coconut whipped ganache to chocolate coffee, soursop sphere to the more familiar cornmeal pudding, salted caramel, sweet potato pudding, orange meringue, mini gizzada and Busta, aptly labelled "Memory Lane".

As we tucked into way too many sweet treats in the relaxed setting of ROKstone under a canopy of stars (we'd moved from the Palate restaurant), complete with live music, it would have been a lot easier to amble up to the ROK suite. Perhaps next time! For, rest assured, there'll be many more ROK soirées.

Photographer: Garfield Robinson

Welcome to the Palate restaurant located on the second floor. (Photo: Garfield Robinson)
Snapper Papillote (contemporary spin on roast fish in foil) — coconut jus, steamed bammy, water cracker and steamed callaloo with fried okra (Photo: Garfield Robinson)
ROK Hotel Director of Sales & Marketing Marlene Buckridge (right) gives Food Awards judges a tour of the ROK Hotel. (Photo: Garfield Robinson)
Jerk chicken poppers with mango aioli (Photo: Garfield Robinson)
Harbour seafood cake with Scotch bonnet rice paper and sweet chilli corn salsa (Photo: Garfield Robinson)
Baby Greens and Granny Smith Apples salad — goat cheese, tomatoes, walnuts, roasted beets, passion fruit-thyme vinaigrette (Photo: Garfield Robinson)
Passion Coconut Seafood Crudo — fish, salmon, shrimp, mussels, passion jus, fresh herbs, lime juice, plantain chips, cold press coconut oil, cilantro (Photo: Garfield Robinson)
Roasted tomato tartare — local tomatoes, sun-dried tomatoes, black olive tapenade, pesto, beet hummus, garlic bread chip (Photo: Garfield Robinson)
Food Awards judge Christopher Reckord takes a picture of the Snapper Papillote while ROK Hotel Food & Beverage Manager Sherene Brown removes the lid. (Photo: Garfield Robinson)
Food Awards judge Professor Lloyd Waller enjoys the Snapper Papillote. (Photo: Garfield Robinson)
ROK Hotel barista Shakerah Bola-Allen presents passion fruit mimosa welcome drinks. (Photo: Garfield Robinson)
ROK Hotel General Manager Jaap van Dam enjoys the Coconut Pepperpot soup. (Photo: Garfield Robinson)
Food Awards judge Oneal Johnson readies to tuck into his soup. (Photo: Garfield Robinson)
ROK Hotel Director of Sales & Marketing Marlene Buckridge (right) and Food & Beverage Manager Sherene Brown enjoy their Coconut Pepperpot soup. (Photo: Garfield Robinson)
Coconut Pepper Pot — callaloo, root vegetables, aromatic, drizzled coconut cream (Photo: Garfield Robinson)
ROK punch (Photo: Garfield Robinson)
Food Awards Chair Novia McDonald Whyte (left) and judge Mala Morrison admire the Mara Made Designs Land of Wood and Water art piece. (Photo: Garfield Robinson)
Food Awards judge Adolph Raynor enjoys his ROK punch. (Photo: Garfield Robinson)

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