Last July, before returning to indoor dining, I went to an undisclosed address in the Liberties to pick up an order for Trinidadian food that was handed to me through the window of a ground floor apartment. I miss some of the food adventures I’ve had throughout the various lockdowns and restrictions, although at least the indelible stain of turmeric on the front seat of my car gives a lasting reminder of this special one.
Anyway, before I had a chance to write about the excellent food – including a coconut marinated pork belly roulade with an amazing crust that I’d love to emulate – Eamon de Freita’s ‘Auntie Anne’s (as it was known back then, before he got the name already occupied and switched to AA, which happens to sound like the Trinidadian “ay ay”, an expression of surprise or excitement) had ceased operations. De Freitas had gone home to Trinidad to visit his family for the first time in a few years. I learned from his social media that he had plans for a stationary building and apparently took the opportunity to do on-site research.
De Freitas grew up in Trinidad in a family of four children with an Irish mother and a Trinidadian father. His parents met when his father and brother were sent to boarding school at Presentation College Bray in the 1970s. (“There were many Irish priests in Trinidad at the time,” de Freitas tells me, “and I think one of them told my grandparents that this place would sort out their weak sons.”) De Freitas went to college in Canada, where he met his wife and the two – “grew up on sloppy love stories” – decided to give Ireland a chance.
Until last January, de Freitas had a well-paying job in engineering, but he didn’t like working from home. “I’m a sociable person,” he says. He has always had an interest in food, helping his mother in the kitchen as a child and becoming addicted to cooking videos during the pandemic. So he quit his job and started making Jamaican patties for friends and family, giving him an excuse to chat by the window. Orders piled up, the menu expanded, chefs stopped by and said nice things. “I thought I was definitely up to something,” he says.
While waiting to find the right spot, he’s taken the food truck route. He parked at Harold’s Cross on St. Patrick’s Day and has been there Thursday through Sunday lunchtime ever since. AA’s has a habit of selling out.
I’m on my way to Ballymaloe with a friend from LA for the 12 week course. She grew up as a student of Jonathan Gold, the late food critic for the LA timesthe high priest and culinary geographer of the city and the subject of the city of gold Documentary. They’re the perfect companions for this mission, although I have to admit that a journey from downtown to Harold’s Cross doesn’t equate to one of Gold’s expeditions deep into the valley in search of mall gems.
Trinidad experienced forced labor longer than slavery, and its population is evenly split between people of African and East Indian heritage, as well as a few people of Chinese, Venezuelan, and white European descent. The influences on its food are diverse, from India, France, Spain and England, as well as its Caribbean neighbors. Flavors are full-bodied, with a base of ginger, garlic and paprika forming the foundation of many dishes, and hints of sweetness running through everything.
We sit at a picnic table and eat delicious Jamaican beef patties (€6) in a buttery curry-flavored batter, the minced meat layered with various spices. Aloo Pie with Channa – Curried Chickpeas – (€8.50) is topped with sweet tamarind and a green herb sauce, the simple pastry (just water, flour, yeast and sugar) is crunchy, delicious and surprisingly vegan. The jerk pork in a filling lunch box (€12.50) that includes channa, rice, and pineapple salad/salsa is more of a stew than the charred jerk I remember eating in Jamaica — de Freitas says , it is not traditional but has the benefit of making a very good sauce. (That’s right.) A flame-grilled version is in the works.
AA’s food is spicy without being mind-bogglingly hot, although de Freitas says he doesn’t pull punches to encourage Irish cowardice. The only sweet option are chocolate chip and sea salt cookies (€5) which are great but unexciting. There may be sourdough brioche buns with coconut jam in the near future that I like the sound of.
AA’s is off to a good start at Harold’s Cross, where de Freitas plans to stay until at least the end of the summer and should also be open for dinner by now. With two bottles of water we spend almost 50 €.
The spicy beef patty is €6.
If you share a beef patty and a jerk pork aloo pie, and each have a box with a shared packet of biscuits to finish with, you’ll be spending €47.50 between two.
AA’s Caribbean, 348 Harold’s Cross Road, Dublin 6. Instagram @aacaribbeandublin
https://www.independent.ie/life/food-drink/food-reviews/aas-caribbean-restaurant-review-the-food-is-spicy-without-being-blow-your-head-off-hot-41638618.html AA’s Caribbean Restaurant Review: “The food is spicy without being mind-blowingly hot”