Dinner at Rodells, Watford
- Credit: Archant
Food and drink editor Richard Cawthorne follows the tapas trail and finds himself in a laid-back Caribbean beach hut restaurant – sort of
If like me you believe surroundings come second to quality of food when you’re dining out, you’ll probably love Rodells. I don’t object to a bit of luxury when on the restaurant trail, and Hertfordshire has numerous restaurants that fit that bill, but it’s not the first thing I look for. Rodells goes almost too far in the other direction, a laid-back former street-corner shop with mostly bare walls, scrubbed wooden floors and jeans and t-shirts if not quite de rigeur at least advisable if you don’t want to stand out too much. It’s like being in a Caribbean beach hut – except this is Watford. And thanks to some inspired dishes, big welcome and quietly professional service, it gets away with it.
Caribbean, as it turns out, is only half the story. Rodells’ USP is a repertoire of around 170 dishes from around the world based on recipes collected by the boss, Mario Tavares, on his various travels and I am far from the first to discover it. It has a big following and has hit the spot sufficiently for a second restaurant, Rodells on the Broadway, to be on the way with a promised opening later this summer. No one seems to know yet whether it will follow the same pattern as the original, or even what’s likely to happen to the original, but that’s sort of the Rodells way.
Tavares, well on his way to becoming a Watford character, grew up in Hong Kong and travelled extensively. He played guitar in the 80s with Paul Young, backed Keith Allen and was a music producer. He is a self-taught cook, but all these ingredients go into his foodie creations. Legend has it that his green curry recipe came from a ‘gentleman selling sunglasses in Kerala’; the Caribbean is represented by West Indian mutton, aka goat curry; there is the five-bean African salad known as Chakalaka, Creole-style jambalaya from New Orleans and Nonya chicken curry from Malaysia, which the Rodells menu calls the sexiest curry in the world. Macanese minchee pops up to represent Macau. And so on.
In keeping with the Rodells approach, the menu changes daily or thereabouts and none or all of these dishes might be available at any given time. On my visit, 27 items were listed as ‘pick n mix tapas’, supported by three larger-plate offerings labelled ‘Nosh’, including, and I quote, a ‘big ass burger’ and frites (£12.50), flat iron steak with frites (£14.50), the most expensive item on the list and unabashedly described as the best meat in the world, and a sharing platter of baked camembert and warm bread for two.
Having been drawn by the prospect of tapas, we chose that route with the benefit of advice from customer-turned-waiter Sean, who suggested about five items should be enough for two people of average appetite. He started us off with jamabalaya (£6), which we recognised and was the usual satisfying mix or texture and flavour, and Brazilian feijoada (£8), which we didn’t know but turned out to be a stew of beans with beef and pork, rich and warming. Spanish liver and bacon (£8), with lambs’ rather than calves’ liver but still a favourite of my fellow critic, did the trick across the table, while the star of the evening turned out to be the dry Cajun ribs (£8). Listed on the menu as ‘big meaty muthers’, they easily lived up to their billing and provided a rare excuse to exercise our best Louisiana finger-pickin’ skills. Rounding it all off were Spanish-style patatas bravas (£4.50), without which as we all know no tapas table is complete, slightly less spicy than their Iberian cousins but still a satisfying accompaniment.
We washed it all down with Prosecco, available, in another Rodells quirk, on tap, and two glasses of the house red, provenance unclear and not volunteered but like the rest of the evening good value and cheerful. As a quick count will show, we barely scratched the surface of what is on offer here and there are plenty of intriguing dishes awaiting a return visit, but it was a fun and relaxed introduction to a style of eating out that Watford has clearly taken to its heart.
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The cost of this dinner for two was £46, including wine. Service was extra.
This is an independent review featuring a restaurant selected and experienced by our food and drink editor. The restaurant was not told it was being reviewed.
BOOK A TABLE
1a St John’s Road
Watford WD17 1PU
01923 229 899