Saturday 14 June 2014

A Beginner’s Guide To... Manchester’s Best Jerk Chicken / Caribbean Food

When it comes to naming “the best” of anything there are always going to be those who agree and those who disagree. If naming a favourite Chippy, Chinese or Indian take away for example, people will often cite “the one around the corner” as “the best” – familiarity and convenience often playing a big part.

As a food blogger, people often ask me to name the “best restaurant in Manchester” or for my “Top 5” – as ever, I can only give an opinion but I can tell you “my five favourite places to eat” are The French, Yuzu, Manchester House, Mughli and SoLita.

I like these places for different reasons – of course, they do serve some of the best and most exciting food in town but it also comes down to atmosphere and the relationships I have built with ‘the people’ over many visits to each.

So although Mughli is my favourite Indian restaurant to eat in, do I think Mughli serve “the best curry” in Manchester? A few folk who have eaten in some of the ‘curry cafes’ in and around Cheetham Hill may disagree and, until I’ve tried them all, I’m not going to offer an opinion.

The question of “Who in Manchester does the best jerk chicken?” is an entirely different prospect – there can’t be *that* many of them… surely I could try them all… that definitely sounds ‘doable’?

I’m not going to go into a long definition about the etymology of “jerk’ – I’ll assume, if you are reading this, you already know and love jerk and just want to know where in Manchester serves the good stuff.

Aided by Franco from SoLita, we set about going on a series a series of jerk fuelled road trips using the Twitter hash tag #JerkChickenRun – with our own bit of local knowledge and a few suggestions from our jerk loving followers we drew up our hit list.

If a place with lots of recommendations let us down, we made return visits to check for consistency – we did find variables in quality depending on the time of day. For example, after one lunchtime visit to Just Jerk we thought we may have found ‘the best’ but on a subsequent visit during the afternoon the chicken was much drier but an evening visit again found it back on form.

Revisits showed it clearly depends on when the chicken had been cooked and how long it had been sat in the display cabinet– imagine barbequing some chicken at home and then keeping it warm for a couple of hours – it’s never going to be as good as a piece fresh from the flames.

We devised a double scoring system:  the ‘Jerk Sore’, rating the quality of the jerk chicken based solely on flavour, cooking and meat quality -and another, slightly tongue in cheek, entitled ‘Jammin’ rating, which takes into account the general vibe and ting.

Jerk Score – out of 10 – Points awarded for:
> Cooking method – preferably over charcoal for smoky flavour
> Jerk spice marinade – depth and balance of Allspice
> Jerk spice marinade – depth and balance of Scotch Bonnet
> Jerk sauce – we were looking for something with depth of flavour and also a kick
> Marination – how much had the flavours penetrated beyond the skin into the meat
> Quality of chicken – juicy, not dry, plenty of meat on the bone
> Portion size / value for money

Jammin’ Rating – out of 10 – Points awarded for:
J ‘Jamaica-ness’ just like the country itself, we liked it when we found a place decorated in Jamaican flags, colours and national pride – a real bonus would be framed words to the Jamaican national anthem (see M and M’s)
A ‘Ambience’ we liked to hear a nice bit or roots, reggae, dub or dancehall music – jerk chicken tastes better when eaten whilst listening to reggae.
M ‘Menu – food’ we liked to see a good range of Jamaican dishes (cow foot, escovitch fish, curry goat / mutton, oxtail, ackee & saltfish, fried plantain, dumplings, stews etc…
M ‘Menu – drinks’ Ting / Pink Ting, Tropical Rhythms, grape soda, homemade punches / juices, ginger beer,   
I ‘Irie’ for everything to be ‘irie’, we looked for positive vibes and a bit of banter from staff and the regulars.
N ‘Nice up the place’ we wanted to see all the stereotypical Jamaican décor: gig posters and at least one picture of Bob or Usain.

Big Bird Jerk score: 8 / Jammin’ score: 5
Wilson St off A6 Stockport Road, Ardwick M12 6AL – 07931 632753

Notes: Mr Big Bird is a friendly chap who cooks his meaty portions of chicken over charcoal giving them a good crisp skin. The downside being that the jerk dry rub and sauce could do with greater oomph. The al fresco dining adds a little authenticity although the view down the A6 acts as Manchester’s poor substitute of Jamaica’s “Capital of Jerk” Boston Bay.

BJ’s Caribbean Jerk score: 6 / Jammin’ score: 4
146 Hulme High St, Hulme M15 5JP – 0161 226 4349

Notes: crisp skin but not enough of a jerk flavour – more akin to just BBQ chicken. The staff were friendly and there is plenty of room to eat in, although the room is rather ramshackle.

Buzzrocks – Jerk score: 7 / Jammin’ score: 5
166 Stretford Rd, Hulme M15 5TL – 0161 227 7770

Notes: a popular haunt with lots of twitter recommends – we found that they served wonderfully juicy birds, cooked on a rotisserie. Once again, its was the jerk flavours that let it down as one of the least spicy we tried.

Caribbean Flavas - Jerk score: 5 / Jammin’ score: 3
187 Chapel St, Salford, M3 5EQ – 0161 833 9155

Notes: on our visit the chicken was served cold which was a huge let down. On a positive note, the chicken was decent quality and the jerk marinade had good ‘flava’.

Dougy’s  – Jerk score: 8 / Jammin’ score: 5
180 Great Western Street, Moss Side, M14 4LH – 0161 226 9500
(Formerly: 9 Moss Lane West, Hulme)

Old Dougy's 

Notes: Dougy’s is one of the longest running places around with a solid reputation and loyal following. The jerk sauce has a nice little kick and a long marinade means these flavours penetrate deep into the meat. They have recently moved from Moss Lane West to take over the premises vacated by Alvino’s Pattie Shop. New location, same great jerk chicken! 

New Dougy's

Island Grill & Bar – Jerk score: 3 / Jammin’ score: 3
28 Seymour Grove, Stretford M16 0LH – 0161 971 1911

Notes: good crisp barbequed skin but once again it lacked any real punchy flavours and the chicken was dry - an all too common story. One of the weakest places visited.

J's Rhythm – Jerk score: 8 / Jammin’ score: 4
41 Button Lane, Northern Moor M23 0LZ – 0161 998 2356

Notes: one of the best tasting jerks – a thick paste like rub, packed full of herb and spice. Good hits of thyme and garlic backing up the allspice and chilli. The one downside was the dry chicken – catch it fresh from the grill and this could be a real winner.

Jamaic-Away – Jerk score: 1 / Jammin’ score: 3
21 Whitworth Street West, Manchester M1 5ND – 0161 236 1977

Notes: I ummed and ahhed and about whether to include this place on the list as they are less a jerk chicken place and more of a standard sandwich shop with a Caribbean tinged menu running alongside the typical butty fillings. What also made me think twice about its inclusion knowing the score for the frankly poor chicken would be so low was the friendliness of the girls running the joint  - please go for a sandwich but not for jerk.

Jerk Junction – Jerk score: 7 / Jammin’ score: 6
170 Manchester Road, Whalley Range, M16 0DZ – 0161 881 6635

Notes: in what used to be Rhythm n Rice, you will find one of three of Manchester’s Jerk Junctions… friendly folk. There are some good flavours going on with a welcome hit of allspice and thyme but generally I find their sauce a little too sweet for my taste.

Jerk Junction – Jerk score: 7 / Jammin’ score: 5
439 Barlow Moor Road, Chorlton, M21 8AU – 0161 425 7406

Notes: on the plus side, I actually found this jerk a little spicier than the Whalley Range branch but it does not seem to get as busy and lacks a little atmosphere generated by the ‘local characters’.

Jerk Junction – Jerk score: 6 / Jammin’ score: 4
7 Bryrom Parade, Levenshulme, M19 3HH – 0161 249 0005

Notes: this is the smallest of the three Jerk Junctions – I found the sauce much sweeter here than even the Whalley Range outpost.

Just Jerk – Jerk score: 8 / Jammin’ score: 5
305 Great Western St, Rusholme, M14 4BZ – 0161 248 6677

Notes: as their name suggests, Just Jerk specialise in jerk but they do serve a few other dishes. They cook their birds over charcoal on an oil drum BBQ. When it’s just come of the grill is definitely some of the best around but can dry out when sat for a while in the heated display case.

Kool Runnings – Jerk score: 7 / Jammin’ score: 3
532 Stockport Rd, Longsight M12 4JJ – 0161 225 1612

Notes: cooked in the oven but finished off over the grill, there is some crispiness to the skin but the smoke has not managed to penetrate deep enough into the meat.

Kool Runnings – Jerk score: 6 / Jammin’ score: 4
5A Wilbraham Road, Fallowfield M14 6JS – 0161 637 0955

Notes: like the Longsight branch, there is some crispiness to the skin but the smoke has not managed to penetrate deep enough into the meat. Once again I found the sauce too sweet for my taste, caused by an overuse of cinnamon.

Kool Runnings – Jerk score: 4 / Jammin’ score: 4
Chorlton Road, Stretford M15 4JG – 07545 874579

Notes: Set up outside the Sharon Full Gospel Church, the trailer serves a wide range of Caribbean dishes. Again, I found the chicken too dry and lacking in all but a scant amount of the jerk flavours. When the sun is shining it’s good to dine alfresco, albeit with a view of Chorlton Road.

Luigis & Island Grill – Jerk score: 4 / Jammin’ score: 3
388 Claremont Road, Moss Side M14 7WB – 0161 225 9444

Notes: the same comments as ‘Island Grill & Bar’ in Stretford: good crisp barbequed skin but once again it lacked any real punchy flavours and the chicken was dry. 

M and M’s Caribbean Spice – Jerk score: 7 / Jammin’ score: 7
127 Stamford Street, Old Trafford, M16 9LT - 0161 226 6067

Notes: Good spicy jerk flavours from a wet marinade which has been left long enough to penetrate the meat. The place it set up like a restaurant and there is an option to eat in for just get takeaway. 

Mama Flo’s – Jerk score: 6 / Jammin’ score: 9
314 Buxton Rd, Stockport, SK2 7DD - 0161 223 5183

Notes: option to eat in restaurant environment. Mama Flo, who used to run her place out of Gorton, is a bit of a character. Certainly good vibes but I’d like the jerk flavours to be as bold as the restaurant walls and Mama Flo’s personality.

Marleys Caribbean – CLOSED
2 Wilmslow Road, Rusholme, M14 5RR - 0161 637 3140

Notes: Marleys is a Caribbean restaurant at the start of the curry mile (when coming from Manchester) in what was Vernon’s a few years back. It;s now CLOSED

McFresh – Jerk score: 4 / Jammin’ score: 2
138 Claremont Rd, Moss Side, M14 4RT - 0161 227 9939

Notes: certainly not one of the best we tasted and also the rudest staff. I visited three times for this post and on each occasion no one seems to man the shop so you have to call out. Than after a short delay someone will come ambling from the back looking and sounding as though you have just woken them up by slapping them with a piece of salt fish – I’d forgive the surliness if the chicken was good... It’s not.

Onje – Jerk score: 5 / Jammin’ score: 2
Unit F9, Arndale Food Market, 9 High Street, M4 3AH – 07534 365177

Notes: Onje is an Afro Caribbean food stall in Manchester’s Arndale Food Market serving a mix of Caribbean cuisine and African dishes such as Jollof. The jerk chicken is not bad and the plantain is good too. 

Peppers – Jerk score: 7 / Jammin’ score: 4
1317 Ashton Old Road, Openshaw, M11 1JS - 0161 371 1000

Notes: with a generously applied thick marinade this had great aromas and one of the best spice kicks we tasted. It could’ve got our highest score if it didn’t lack the smoke and crispiness from charcoal cooking.

Rad’s Caribbean – Jerk score: 6 / Jammin’ score: 4
62 Jersey St, Manchester, M4 6JW - 0161 211 3995

Notes: an out of the way place that runs a take away and a restaurant / function room upstairs. Not bad but charcoal cooking and a little more clout in the sauce would improve things.

Roy’s Original Sweet Dish – Jerk score: 5 Jammin’ score: 5
4 Hulme Market Hall, Hulme High St, M15 5JT – 07950 302438

Notes: good spicy flavour (wet marinade) but poor chicken quality was a little grizzled and greasy.

Sasa’s – Jerk score: 8 / Jammin’ score: 9
157a Princess Road, Moss Side, M14 4RE – 07961 531084

Notes: Sasa’s, in the premises formerly occupied by Jerk ‘n’ Spice, scored one of our highest ‘Jammin’ ratings with bonus points for the stacked sound system kicking out the reggae vibes. Cooked over charcoal, the chicken has crisp skin and smoky flavour but also a tendency to be dry - the fruity and spicy chicken gravy goes someway to help. Homemade jerk sauce in a bottle on the counter adds a little spice.

Silver Spoon – Jerk score: 6 / Jammin’ score: 6
100 Great Western Street, Moss Side, M14 4RA - 0161 226 6441

Notes: I remember Silver Spoon serving some of the best and spiciest jerk around but recent visits have disappointed. The place is still popular and there is always a crowd hanging around for a bit of banter. The jerk may have gone downhill but the cow foot is always good. If you like your spice they will always give you a whole Scotch Bonnet to chomp on.

Sunrise Caribbean – Jerk score: 7 / Jammin’ score: 6
120 Broughton Lane, Salford, M7 1UH - 0161 792 0353

Notes: jerk looked good with nicely charred skin but it lacked punch and was a little dry. One of the places I still hope to revisit and will update if necessary.

Tastee Jerk – Jerk score: 7 / Jammin’ score: 7
71 Church Road, Northenden, M22 4WD - 0161 478 6832

Notes: good meaty breasts, cooked indoors on an oil drum BBQ. Good balance of charred skin and wet marinade. Definitely worth checking out if you are in the Northenden area.

Vybz Karibbean Kitchen – Jerk score: 5 / Jammin’ score: 5
4 Ashton Road, Droylsden, M43 7BP - 0161 370 9869

Notes: tasty, moist, meaty chunks of chicken but closer to a curry goat sauce in flavour than jerk. A point was taken off the Jammin’ score for spelling Caribbean with a K.

So there we have it, Bird Bird, Dougy’s, J’s Rhythm, Just Jerk and Sasa’s each scored 8, the highest number of points awarded. On a good day, catch the chicken freshly cooked and they could be 9s. Taking into account the Jammin’ score, Sasa’s comes out as my favourite place overall. A fan of the alfresco, Franco’s is Big Bird.

The good thing to know is that good jerk chicken is readily available across Manchester – I don’t think most people would be disappointed with any of the places we have scored with 7s or above.

If you know of any places I have missed off the list or want to make any comments of agreement or disagreement please add them below. Enjoy your jerk!


  1. Try Nice n Tasty on Eccles New Road, used to live opposite it and it did me well for a couple of years!

    1. Cheers for that... hope to check it out soon! :-)

  2. Thanks Mr hoss. Will try some of these. What's next for the dynamic duo?

    1. No probs... good question - I don't know about Franco but I'd be up for checking out the best lamb chops in an Indian restaurant. The problem being far too many to try!

  3. What about Sam Sams in Hulme. Mr Samon is a Manchester legend

    1. Cheers for that... I'll check it out! :-)

  4. Wow, 28 different jerk places ( not to mention the revisits!!) How long did this take? Did you allow yourself a couple of weekends? Great reading, motivated to eat some myself now. How about Cari-Best on Little Underbank in your home town Stockport?

    1. Didn't know about Cari-Best... I'll check it out :-)

      All visited over the course of about a month. Only a few runs out though; we did three or four a night in some cases; sharing the food obviously.

  5. No Chicken Run review!? Madness!

  6. Dougies is fantastic!
    Women are so friendly and the Jerk and Dumpling is just beautiful

  7. Love caribbean food, the only thing that annoys me about caribbean restaurants in Manchester is their use of Halal meat. Its nothing to do with the way the animal is killed but the quality of halal meat in Manchester is shocking.


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