Eating out: Totally tropical Ealing

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The Independent Culture
BB's Crabback

3 Chignell Place, Ealing, London W13, 0181 840 8322. Lunch Mon-Fri 12.30-2.30pm, dinner Mon-Sat 6.30-11.30pm. Three-course dinner about pounds 20. Credit cards accepted, except Diners and Amex

THE VAST SKY twinkled pink like the smooth interior of a newly evacuated conch shell, the warm air throbbed with reggae and the scent of marinating goat, the rum flowed, and the delirious locals danced in the gloaming. Ahhh... There is truly nothing to compare with a summer evening in Ealing.

This is a time of year when, habitually, I eat Caribbean food, because it is a time of year when, habitually, I am in the Caribbean. But now that my girlfriend has chucked me out of the cramped, steamy kitchen of love it is she alone who Septembers in her rich father's Bahamian pile. And I, if I want my fried plantain and rum punch, make do with turning off the North Circular at the Hanger Lane gyratory, and looking for a shady spot with a view of the A4020. Sometimes life is like that. Actually, it is always like that.

But make the right turn off the A4020, just after it has become Ealing Broadway, and you will find . Step into the dark interior lined with greenery, coloured lights and the mad wall-scrawlings of a thousand psychotically satisfied customers and that fickle world does not follow you in. Watch the packed room eating noisily, and in time to the loud reggae, and you forget that it is even waiting for you outside. For BB's is, very possibly, the best restaurant in the world.

Ealing has had only a flirtatious relationship with world significance. As a prefix to the word "Comedy" it had a brief spell in the spotlight in the 1950s, and there is also a limerick about a man who spat on the ceiling. The rest is silence. But do not worry, people of W13, for Brian Benjamin (known to his friends as BB) has the matter well in hand.

He was trained on his grandmother's knee in Grenada, and then worked in corporate catering for London Transport, which, after luring a generation of West Indians away from their homes to this urban grot-hole, is finally giving something back in the form of a great cook with an arsenal of knock-out dishes. BB was this year's UK Afro-Caribbean Master Chef, and the world is now beating a path to Ealing.

You should start with a rum punch, really. It always carries cringeworthy connotations of sunburnt British holidaymakers and Lilt-ad cliches, but it gets you in the mood if you're still worrying about the world outside. Better still, try Karen's Special. They won't say what's in it, but it is clearly two kinds of rum, Kahlua, soda and something else, which the waitress denied was Triple Sec. You'll just have to hope it isn't the house special dark rum infused with insects, worms and centipedes.

, which is the big deal, is fresh crabmeat baked in wine, cream and cheese, and served in a crab shell. It is Coquilles Saint-Jacques with a bit of balls. The barbecued ribs are sticky and spicy, and the taste of the lime in the marinade pleasingly strong. There is not as much meat on the bones as you get in those rib-shack places, but at least it tastes of pork, and the pig may have had at least one natural parent.

King Prawns Seretse is named after BB's second son, and I hope he is grateful. It is a show-stopping pink pile of fat prawns in lobster sauce with mango and pimentos. BB's first son, Ashley, gets a scampi dish which is excellent without being quite on a par with Seretse's, but I am sure BB loves him just as much. Peas and rice comes in a sawn-off bamboo trunk and the exotic odour it gives off reminds you that a clove, after all, is simply "love" with a "c" in front of it.

And the goat curry. Oh, the goat. I can barely write for the drool falling on to my fingers and clogging up the keyboard. Very, very spicy but coconutted down to a mellowness that allows the full flavour of the meat to get to you. And this is no Billy Goat Gruff. It is the gamiest, cheekiest red meat you could hope for. It laughs in the face of lamb and throws a V-sign in venison's general direction. I guess it has been hung a while and marinated longer, because there is no toughness (a problem with the dish in many of London's Caribbean restaurants). This is an emperor among bleating things.

You may have done the Koffmans and Nicos and Marcos of this world - and they are chefs of genius - but if you want to get back to what we are really about as humans, then you have to nuzzle your tongue into the slippery socket of an old goat's knee bone to ferret out a half-mouthful of marrow. It is like sucking a very strong goat-porridge. It is like hunkering down by a carcass you have only recently slain with your bare claws.

The fried plantain is crispy and sweet, so too are the pumpkin fritters. They are perfect, rugged complements to such robust main dishes. The pudding of which they are most proud is the flaming bananas. The flames are fun but the pud itself was dreary, the only bum note. But by then the waitress was swaying her hips to the music and the whole place was smiling. The world was sweet enough.


Richard Ehrlich's selection

Anyone who drinks fancy wine with Caribbean dishes should have their head examined. The food simply dislikes it. So it's easy to ignore the dull selection of wines here and stick to the food's natural companions, beer and rum.

Rum Punch, pounds 4.95

A good rum punch is a thing of beauty, and a stern test of a bartender's skill. Worth a try before you retreat, if necessary, to beer

Carib Lager, pounds 2.80

This is better than the more famous Red Stripe and as good as Beck's and Holsten Pils, which also feature in the beer list

Wray & Nephew Rum, pounds 3.60 per shot

This can be good rum. A shot on ice would make an agreeable aperitif here if you don't want to take a chance on the punch