The itinerary I sent to my mate looked like this:
“18.00-18.30: Roti Joupa (SW4 7UT)
20:00: Trinishack Roti (SE24 9DA)
21:00: Bajan Spice (SE15 3QF)
21.30: The Old Nun’s Head (that’s a PUB)
You might want to have a light lunch…”
I mean really, what would be the point in visiting just one roti joint of an evening when I could be visiting three? I had recommendations under my belt and I’m not very good at being sensible. Sorry, I made that sound negative, what I meant to say was, I’m very good at not being sensible. I want an adventure, dammit! I want to spaff around South London of an evening and call it a Triple Whammy Roti Tour!
So first stop was the Trinidadian Roti Joupa, which unfortunately is in Clapham but hey, I can take one for the team every now and then. We ordered a curry goat roti and a ‘hot double’ which is a Trinidadian street food snack consisting of two fried flat breads filled with channa (chickpeas) and various toppings, in this case crunchy cucumber bits and a really fierce scotch bonnet sauce. The chickpeas were quite sweet, balanced by (I think) sour tamarind. This was the tastiest £1.50 I’ve gobbled in a very very long time. Superb.
The curry goat roti however (below) was disappointing. The roti itself was just terrible, heavy and gummy in texture, rather like the tortilla one finds wrapping something watery called ‘Mexican chicken’ in the supermarket chiller. It was the kind of wrap that sticks to the roof of your mouth when you eat it; the opposite of a beautiful flaky roti, basically. The goat (although I suspect it was actually mutton) was very tender but just a bit bland, really. I received some tweets afterwards saying that the rotis have always been rubbish so I’m not sure where all the hype comes from but no matter, it’s worth going for a couple of those hot doubles alone. A double hot double for your trouble.
Roti Joupa, 12 Clapham High Street, Clapham, London, SW4 7UT [map]
Tel: 020 7627 8637
From Clapham North we boarded the kind of backstreet bus that has a P in front of its number and winds around backstreets that didn’t even exist pre-P buses; they just appear in front of them, like invisible computer game platforms, then disappear again once the bus passes through. It was hot, the bus, so we headed straight to the pub for a frosty pint before hitting up the second stop, Guyanese roti joint Umana Yana in Herne Hill.
Now, now we’re talking. So many flaky layers to that roti, almost lace-like when tugged apart. It coated our fingers with oil, letting us know just how much fat goes into making it so delicious. Just look at the contrast between the roti in the picture below and the anaemic tortilla-esque one up top.
I wanted an aubergine filling but she’d run out so we got aubergine and chicken which, let’s face it, are not exactly the most natural bedfellows. Not in the way that, say, aubergine and lamb are. Aubergine and lamb are well tight. The chicken was also cooked down into tiny strands, like the chicken one finds in the filling of a really cheap pie. It should have been so very wrong but it was genuinely bloody fantastic. Richly spiced with a luxurious texture from the aubergine. The bucket of hot sauce alongside was properly special too, rammed with scotch bonnets and I mean rammed. She could bottle that sauce and sell it no problem. If she does she’ll need a name and may I be so bold as to suggest one? I’d name it: ‘5am Wake Up Call’. Does what it says on the bottle.
Umana Yana means ‘the meeting place of the people’ in Wai Wai, which is the language spoken by, somewhat unsurprisingly, Wai Wai people. The meeting place is apparently a kind of conical thatched hut. I know this because a sign on the wall in the shop told me so. It was recommended to me by a reader and at the time she made special mention of the hospitality of the owner as well as the quality of the food and she was right to do so – such a jolly, welcoming woman. She’s lovely to talk to, she makes incredible roti, she makes hot sauce that I would buy on a regular basis were it available in the shops and she raised no objection to me and my mate swigging from a bottle of Armagnac outside her shop. Go.
Umana Yana, 294 Croxted Road, Herne Hill, London SE24 9DA [map]
Tel: 020 8671 8227
From Umana Yama, a step up in the bus hierarchy with the ever reliable (chortle) 37 down to Peckham Rye and short walk up into Nunhead for our final stop, Bajan Spice. We were getting a little full by this point so we messed with the agenda and wolfed the next roti down sharpish for fear it would be game over.
Sadly, this final roti wasn’t really up to scratch. My tour was bookended by two shoddy examples. The mutton was tender and the flavour well, quite nice I suppose (‘nice’ is always a great compliment) but there was rather a lot of potato and (whispers), I’m not really a huge fan of potatoes. Yeah yeah. Also, the roti was as crap as example number one at Roti Joupa.
The pot of hot sauce provided alongside was miniscule, which is okay I suppose because it’s spicy but they could have asked how much I wanted.
“Be careful with that”, warned the chef, “it’s home made”.
So a) you’ve got no idea who you’re talking to and b) you’ve no idea where I’ve just come from, so basically, gimme more sauce. It wasn’t a patch on the heat or flavour of Umana Yana’s sauce in any case, the rest of which is residing happily in my fridge, ready for the next time I need to get up extra early…
Bajan Spice, 28 Nunhead Green, London, SE15 3QF [map]
Tel: 020 7358 0090