Always on the hunt for the new gems in the restaurant scene in Ireland, we love telling the stories of the passionate people behind new start-ups and fledgling businesses, whose journey is just beginning. Nick Reynolds of Lil Portie pop-up restaurant in Rathmines is one of these people and Dee Laffan chatted to him about how it all came about. 

I have eaten plantain a few times in my life, the first many years ago in Aruba in the Caribbean and, most recently in a café in downtown Brooklyn that serves as-good-as-it-gets Dominican (Republic) food. Pigs trotters casserole, oxtail stew, lamb belly curry, and slow-cooked pork shoulder were among some of the meat dishes being served, along with rice, beans, yucca root, and fried plantain. It was a feast, and for a bargain price!

Until last week, I would have said that there is nowhere serving plantain in Dublin – you can buy them in Fallon & Byrne if you fancy cooking at home yourself – but my friends and I tried out a pop-up restaurant we had heard about called Lil Portie that serves Caribbean-style cuisine and turns out serving up some seriously good plantain!  

Nick Reynolds, Lil Portie

Nick Reynolds, Lil Portie

Lil Portie is run by Irish cook Nick Reynolds, who started the business at the start of April after returning from living in South America. Nick’s mum was Jamaican, so the style of cuisine is something he grew up with, his grandmother being his biggest influencer from a young age.  

“I’m reluctant to call myself a chef. I sort of fell into the profession really. I have always cooked from a young age, but I had never seen myself putting on chef whites and getting into the hospitality industry or anything like that. I was living in South America for a while and I had an event production company there; I was presented with a couple of opportunities, all of which I said ‘yes’ to and involved me cooking. It started with small groups and ended up setting up a members’ club in Argentina and I took over the kitchen there.”

Nick busy cooking in the kitchen

Nick busy cooking in the kitchen

“My mother died when I was younger so my food influence and cooking really came from my grandmother. She would make me these little bottles of Caribbean pepper sauce, her own hot sauce, and I would use it when I was in South America, mixing it in with things. A bottle of that could last six months; it’s a great way to flavour oils and things like that, so I was always playing around with it with other chefs there from around the world, it was always there influencing what I made and my cooking. I really got into cooking for more people and it just kept growing; it’s just one of those things I suppose, the more you keep doing and people enjoy it, the more you keep wanting to do it and grow it.”

When Nick came home from South America, he quickly thought of the idea of setting up Lil Portie and started off with small events in Camden Bites & Brews, The Sugar Club, but has ended up in a great location for his evening pop-up in TwoFifty Square, located on Williams Park, Rathmines (down the lane beside the swimming pool).

“The owners of TwoFifty Square really liked the idea and it all started to come together through that. I love the venue it has a nice sense of intimacy as well as being quite an open plan spot. I’ve been open there for seven weeks now. I had started off doing Lil Portie one day a week, but then extended it by a day and it’s three days – Thursday to Saturday. So, we’ll see how it goes!”

Nick's Jerk Chicken

Nick's Jerk Chicken

“My family is from Port Antonio, that’s where the ‘Lil Portie’ name came from as locals from there are known as 'porties'. Jamaican food definitely has regionality, so mine is a reflection of that part of the island, which would have a lot more seafood. It’s one of the regions that has the sea and mountains near it. It’s where the ‘Jerk’ originated from, in Portland, they have the best in the country there.”

“I always describe my food as Caribbean cooking, with Latin influence via Ireland. I definitely wouldn’t be comfortable describing the food as ‘authentic’ Jamaican food because my argument about the authenticity of something is – what can you truly call ‘authentic’? Mostly it’s just an echo of what went before it and where it’s from. You’d have to be precise about what you say and serve. For example, the goat curry we serve; the cookbooks would say it’s as authentic as it comes, but really it didn’t originate in Jamaica and was actually brought over by the English soldiers from India in the 1890s. Also, I wouldn’t have grown up eating Jerk Chicken as a dish, it would have been pork. It came from the Maroons, or runaway African slaves, who would cook it underground so the smoke wouldn’t be visible and it was then made with Wild Boar.”

A feast of plantain nachos, shredded jerk chicken tacos & jackfruit tacos and jerk rubbed pork ribs

A feast of plantain nachos, shredded jerk chicken tacos & jackfruit tacos and jerk rubbed pork ribs

On the menu, which Nick does change regularly, you’ll find a variety of bites or starters, and four main dishes plus a selection of sides. The menu is veggie-friendly with multiple options available. His latin influence definitely present with dishes like shredded Jerk Chicken Tacos and Plantain Nachos in the starters, while the mains remained heavily Caribbean influenced with two types of Gumbo and Jerk Chicken, along with a goat curry.

Hosting the restaurant in TwoFifty Square has other advantages other than the great space that it is, it also has a license so you can order from a neat menu of wine and cocktails.

“For the nachos dish, I made them from plantain – there’s a sort of dichotomy in it I guess because you have something that people don’t really know, the plantain, but coupled with something that people do recognise, the nachos. You would never find that in a Jamaican dish, ever, but I did it because of my Latin influence and I knew people would recognise it as a dish and maybe try this version. I had also never seen plantain served anywhere here so I thought I’d give it a go. I’ve also included baked plantain as a side dish on the menu. I love them, they are difficult to cook, but so incredibly moreish!”

Plaintain Nachos

Plaintain Nachos

“I tried out a couple of other dishes, like Oxtail, which we used to have on the menu and it is such a Jamaican dish, but I had to take it off because people didn’t like it. I think the fact it has bones puts people here off. It’s the same with the goat curry, but I’ve had more success with that as I think people taste it first and even though they realise there are bones in it, they like the taste of it so much they get over it. I find that people will say they don’t like food without actually tasting it, but if they taste it first and try it, then they do like it!”

A welcomed addition to Rathmines and Dublin, Lil Portie is open Thursday to Saturday every week so make sure and check it out, and don’t forget to order the plantains! Bookings can be made through their website.

If you do go to eat in Lil Portie, make sure and let us know what you think in the comments below.