It’s always been hard to find good Caribbean cuisine in Brisbane. Or it was until July, at least, when Colombian-born chef Camila Mendieta opened Maria Caribbean Kitchen in Toowong.
Originally Mendieta’s plan was to open a Cuban restaurant, but after a research trip with her mother around the Caribbean, Mendieta decided to shift the focus. “We decided there’s much more diversity and fun [with a Caribbean concept],” says Mendieta. “There’s [nothing else like it] in Brisbane.”
Mendieta says she’s not sure why it’s taken this long for a Caribbean restaurant to open in Brisbane, but it could be because it’s a challenging cuisine in terms of getting the balance right. Caribbean food features lots of heavy dishes such as stews, so you need to offset the richness with fresh salads and sides. “We want [our food] to be something that’s still healthy … food that makes you feel good rather than guilty,” she says.
Popular items on the menu include chicharron (crispy pork belly), plantain poppers and Maria’s version of Jamaican jerk chicken – instead of being served on the bone the chicken comes de-boned and skewered. There’s also a number of bowls – such as barramundi covered in hogao (a creole sauce that originated from northern Colombia) with coconut rice – and chuzo (chargrilled skewers).
The fit-out was a family effort; Mendieta called upon the services of her industrial designer and carpenter father. Along with Mendieta’s mother, they made the lights and did most of the joinery work themselves. The result is a vibrant space with lots of timber, greenery and a huge, colourful mural.
Drinks include a short wine list, and a bunch of local and imported beers. But Mendieta suggests one of the rum cocktails to best complement the flavours of the Caribbean.