Back on the restaurant review trail Murray Chalmers checked out The Gidi Grill, a Caribbean restaurant in Dundee.
The Gidi Grill is somewhere I’ve been meaning to go to for ages, based on the fact quite a few friends have recommended it.
My gym trainer Dan Woods was positively evangelical about it whilst friend, café owner and fellow Courier columnist Mary-Jane Duncan told me Gidi’s Rasta Pasta was a revelation, amalgamating such intense flavours that her taste buds felt like they’d been jolted into a new stratosphere after the first explosive mouthful.
Tripadvisor comments – which I try to ignore before setting out on reviews – have also been largely effusive, with just the occasional gripe that’s largely expected now we’re all armchair critics seeking affirmation through our Instagram profiles and TikTok clips.
So far, so optimistic – Dundee’s only Caribbean restaurant sounded just the ticket for these troubled, monochromatic times, a sharp and much-needed infusion of pungent colour and spice into a fairly homogenised, tired dining scene.
Tough getting a table
The initial problem with Gidi Grill is getting a table – the place always seems to be fully booked, which made me feel like the last man at the party, who still couldn’t get in. Obviously, this isn’t their fault and, if anything, failing to get a reservation here was positive news because it showed that the restaurant must be pretty buoyant in these tough times.
It’s not such good news for me though, as I’m not the kind of person who books a table for dinner weeks in advance, because I like to respond to how I’m feeling that same day. I might book a fancy restaurant for three months ahead and then feel like a cheese toastie on the day; worse, I might look like a cheese toastie on the day and thus wouldn’t want to venture anywhere other than the sofa, slumped in track pants, eating Dairy Milk and Häagen-Dazs, shouting “It’s not me, it’s you” at Newsnight.
When red wine inevitably joins this miscreant’s Holy Trinity of Temple Food – those days when it just feels so good to be bad – then the evening will inevitably end with a bout of vintage youth skanking to dub reggae and a prayer that God might spare us all to remember that happiness is an option for the next new morning.
Hitting the redial
Generally, then, I like to keep things free and easy, which is why life post-lockdown takes a bit of perseverance for someone with the organisational abilities of a spring onion.
After six attempts at booking Gidi Grill (and I have to say I’d normally give up after three), we finally got a table for a Thursday night at 7pm, the only time available. Frustrating as it is when hitting redial, this place is obviously doing something right!
I’ve never actually been to any restaurant in Dundee’s City Quay, although I’d always hoped that the vast potential of the area would be fulfilled by somewhere that could become a destination in itself. Despite the attractive waterfront and docks, for me City Quay has always felt so incohesive, underused and unloved, and the only times I’ve gone there have been to visit the Apex Hotel, still an oasis in this particularly odd desert.
Really, the area feels badly planned, which is so typical of much of Dundee, where bulldozers and arterial roads seem to take precedence over architecture, people and quality of life. City Quay is an example of somewhere that has effectively been marooned from the rest of the city and it takes a mighty leap of aesthetic faith to go there, a faith hardly bolstered by the thunderingly busy road that cuts a swathe before it.
Gidi Grill heaving
Gidi Grill was heaving when we got there at 6.50pm and, even taking into account our early arrival, it was obvious that this isn’t a place to kick back and chill. We stood at the entrance, and we stood a bit longer and…basically we somehow seemed to have arrived without trace. It took a few minutes for a staff member – mere feet away – to approach us and I have to say there was the oddest feeling of mild tension in the air, which is something I’d also picked up during a couple of phone conversations when trying to book a table.
Naturally, we must now factor in problems that currently beset most restaurants and bars, the most obvious being lack of enough staff, or lack of enough competent staff. Here I don’t think that’s so much of an issue – the service is informal yet pretty good, and certainly good natured – but what became apparent is that no one seems to be in charge, and staff are expected to multi-task.
This might explain why our server broke off from taking our order to answer a call on his mobile phone – a first for us and one that suddenly makes the experience of ordering feel slightly tentative.
In fairness, I do think this was a diverted call from a customer trying to make a reservation rather than from the server’s partner asking them to bring a few beers home, but that doesn’t excuse the fact that I don’t really want to have to wait for someone to get off the phone so I can finish ordering my food.
In a bit of a grump
Ashamedly, I have to admit that by now I was in a bit of a grump. One of my pet hates about modern life is when we customers are treated as numbers, part of a process that’s soulless, an experience more harried than happy. I want to walk into a restaurant and feel welcomed – not as an inconvenience, part of a transactional exchange that just ends with me giving money for an hour of their time. It has to be more than that.
On reflection, I think Gidi Grill would probably work best when visited in a large group, and I think it might also work best when you’re a bit merry. Then the casual vibe of the place might merge with the punchiness of the food to create a more joyful, celebratory experience than was apparent the night of our visit.
As it was, on this wet night when the two of us couldn’t much channel our inner Dionysus, the pared-down shack-like environment at Gidi wasn’t quite intoxicating or transformative enough – which admittedly might say more about us than them.
The room itself is narrow and we were seated at a table right in front of the kitchen. Again, in fairness to our server, we were offered this larger table because our table for two hadn’t yet been vacated. However, the heat from the kitchen, combined with the narrowness of the room, made me feel uncomfortable and slightly claustrophobic. As far as I could tell there was no ventilation apart from an unused ceiling fan above us and closed doors at either end of the room. The heat from the grill in the kitchen felt oppressive in such a small space.
This intimacy brought home how much has changed during the pandemic. Pre Covid there was nothing I loved more than a bustling, busy, cramped restaurant, where the atmosphere verged on frenetic and the conversations clattered against the walls like volleys. Right now though, in response to everything we’re going through, I just don’t want that so much. I know that as restrictions ease and normality returns I will want it again and I also think this might be a generational thing because younger diners around us didn’t seem at all fazed. But, for whatever reason, I wasn’t able to relax here.
Had the evening been less rainy, I would definitely have requested to sit outside where the tables overlook the water – and on a sunny day I can think of nothing nicer than sitting there with some jerk chicken and a cold beer.
The Gidi Grill food …
The food at Gidi Grill is really good and I can’t wait to return to explore the menu more fully. Things I wish we’d ordered included Pepper Pot Soup (£7), the famous Rasta Pasta (pasta with asparagus, ackee, bell pepper, pak choi and cherry tomatoes, £10.50) and the Ital Veg Stew (£10.50).
But really there was only one thing I needed to order here and that was the jerk chicken (£11.95) which comes with gourmet skinny fries, but with which I preferred to eat with a classic rice and peas (£3.50).
Although it was surprising that the jerk chicken was only served as a breast fillet (I would have expected thighs that are more flavoursome and would have taken up the jerk seasoning better) it was absolutely delicious. A grilled half-chicken is offered here on the bone for £12.95, although it’s not jerked.
My starter of a sizzling prawn skewer with plantain and Gidi green sauce (£8) was equally as delightful as the chicken and very assertively and happily spiced. The rice and peas was excellent, a bit too cloyingly predominant with cinnamon but, again, great stuff. Portions are large.
It’s worth noting that many dishes here are vegetarian and David really enjoyed his fried plantain with garlic vegan mayo (£6.50), the vegetable tempura (£5.90) and a Caribbean take on coleslaw that was notably good (£2). Oddly, bread had sold out at 7pm, so we ordered roti, which was a better choice anyway. A large bottle of Peroni was £7, whilst my red velvet mocktail, from a welcome list of five, was £4 and delicious.
Gidi Grill brings something different and good to Dundee dining and I look forward to trying to bag one of their outside tables as the summer progresses.
Food = 4/5
Service = 3/5
Surroundings = 3/5