Lil Negril Island Grill
Address: 261 Centrepoint Dr, Ottawa
Hours: 12 – 8pm (M – Th), 12 -8:30pm (F – Sat), 12:30 – 7:30pm (Sun)
For a traditional post-blood donation meal, I headed further west to Lil Negril in the heart of Centrepoint, where the Jamaican restaurant is located in a strip mall with legendary dumpling maker, Dumpling? Dumpling!
The interior is well-polished, and combined with the tablecloths and nice dinnerware, it gives the space a more high-end vibe than a lot of Afro-Caribbean places in the city which tend to be very casual and/or geared toward takeout.
Having done my research beforehand, I had a good idea of what I wanted to order. To start, I ordered festivals, a type of donut, and for my main I went with Jamaica’s national dish – salt fish and ackee.
I had arrived shortly after the lunch rush, so things were pretty quiet except for my affable, easy-going server talking with another customer/friend, so the festivals came out quite quickly.
The festivals ($6.50) came four to an order, and while the phallic festivals were served plain, there was a lightly sweet, cinnamon-y syrup for dipping. They were lightly crisp on the outside and quite dense on the interior, and although I don’t have a point of reference, I enjoyed them well enough.
The ackee and saltfish ($17) was a wonderful introduction to the dish. The mild sweetness of the almost creamy ackee fruit paired well with the lightly salty, cured fish.
Tender, sautéed veg filled out what is effectively a stir fry, while a side salad and generous bowl of rice and peas made for a very filling meal. Truth be told, I took a couple of the festivals home because one man should only have so many donuts with lunch!
My second visit to Lil Negril had me once again looking to rebuild my red blood cell count. This time I went for the oxtail platter ($19) and a side order of stamp and go fritters ($7).
First off the bat, “stamp and go” is such a great name for a fritter and definitely tracks as a Jamaican thing. Technically speaking, “deep fry” should be in between the stamping and the going, but brevity is definitely catchier.
The roughly-shaped, codfish fritters were lightly crisp on the outside, with a pleasant denseness to the interior. The salted cod flavour was there, but not in your face, and bits of green onion and bell pepper kept them from being one note. Almost usurping the fritters was their dipping sauce, which I was told is a mix of the house hot sauce, mayo, BBQ sauce and some other things. Tons of flavour, lightly sweet, and a hint of heat. So good!
For my main, the oxtail platter was on point with ultra-tender, richly flavoured pieces of oxtail swimming in a pool of hearty jus. My rice and peas quickly got spooned out of my bowl to absorb as much as possible!
The accoutrements of rice and peas, steamed veg and plantains were all good, but definitely took a backseat to the oxtail itself.
Lil Negril is doing serious justice to their Jamaican roots while setting themselves apart from their peers with their aesthetic atmosphere. This isn’t a hole in the wall takeout spot, but the flavours are just as good as one, so go on down and enjoy!