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Completely new to the business, Plantation owner Beverley Forbes opened her restaurant in December 2003. Plantation soon became known as Bristol’s first major Caribbean restaurant, and has been serving up top quality food ever since.
Beverley Forbes has brought a distinctly Jamaican flavour to Bristol with her popular restaurant Plantation. Having cooked alongside TV chef’s Martin Blunos, Levi Roots and even the late singer/songwriter Amy Winehouse, Beverley remains down to earth. She talks Caribbean cooking with Bristol’s Evening Post journalist Sarah Feeley:
Beverley’s Cheltenham Road restaurant Plantation, near the Arches, is Bristol’s only 100 per cent Caribbean restaurant and has been a great success building up a loyal following.
Beverley said: “It’s been phenomenal. The beauty of it, which has been a real surprise, is that we don’t just get people from Bristol, we’ve got regulars who come to us from London, Gloucester, Birmingham, Reading and other places – it’s wonderful. It’s great when they all come back, just like rekindling old friendships.”
Bristol-born, raised in Montpelier and a former Fairfield Grammar School pupil who still lives in Montpelier, Beverley is extremely proud of her Jamaican heritage, which fuelled her passion to open her own Caribbean restaurant.
The menu boasts exotic dishes influenced by various Caribbean islands, with Indian and Chinese flavours which reached the Caribbean through slavery – a connection acknowledged in the restaurant’s name.
Beverley said: “When I was at school I was trying to decide whether to go into catering or nursing. I wanted to do something worthwhile, so I went into nursing. But in the back of my mind there’s always been this desire to do something within the catering industry. My family come from Jamaica and every time I went out to eat in Bristol I thought it would be really nice to have a Caribbean restaurant. Looking at the ethnic mix we’ve got in the city, the restaurants weren’t representative. I knew the person who previously had the restaurant on Cheltenham Road and for a long time I’d been saying: ‘Let me do it’. But he didn’t take me seriously. He rang me up one day and said: ‘If you want to give it a go you can take it on’. I wasn’t expecting that at all, so I frantically made phone calls to builders and decorators to come in. My mum’s been a huge influence on me. My dad died when I was very young leaving my mum with five young children. She’s always told us your destiny is down to you and if you want something, go for it – so I did.”
At the time, Beverley already had a full-time job as Bristol’s Sickle Cell and Thalassaemia Clinical Co-ordinator, offering emotional and practical help and support to people affected by these little-known, life-threatening blood disorders.
She said: “I was literally leaving work at 5pm or 6pm and going down to the restaurant with friends cleaning, stripping the walls, breaking fingernails, then getting home at 3am or 4am for a couple of hours’ sleep before going into work. I’m not afraid of hard work, but at times I never thought the restaurant would open.”
Disaster struck on opening night. The barbecue didn’t work, the roof in the kitchen was leaking because it was raining, not all the wine had arrived, the restaurant wasn’t ready and Beverley was in tears. But eight years on, that’s all a distant memory.
Main courses include Jamaican jerk chicken, curried goat, oxtail with spinners or dumplings, Chinese pork and escoveitched fish – a whole seasoned red snapper in a hot pickle sauce. There are also traditional side dishes such as rice and peas, yam, sweet potato, green banana and plantain, and breads like bammy and paratha to mop up the delicious sauces.
Beverley said: “A lot of people who’ve come in have never eaten Caribbean before and they’ve been so surprised – they love it.”
She buys most of the fruit and vegetables from a market in Bristol, but she gets the more tropical ingredients from Birmingham. The goat comes from a local butcher. Beverley said: “I’ve tried to create a menu that covers the main Caribbean islands. When you look at the history of the Caribbean, the slaves were brought over to work on the plantations, then slavery was abolished and the Chinese and Indians went to work on the plantations. So on the menu there are some Indian and Chinese dishes cooked in a Caribbean style.
“I feel sometimes vegetarians get left with really boring things, so I’ve adapted recipes by replacing the meat or fish with vegetables so vegetarians don’t miss out on tasting Caribbean flavours. We normally eat ackee with saltfish but I’ve done recipes with mushrooms and it works really well.”
She said: “The restaurant is very chilled, very relaxed, and the customers have been absolutely fantastic!”