If you wander down Wandsworth Road, there’s one spot sure to stand out against London’s grey skies and pavements: Paradise Cove. With its brightly coloured sign, handpainted by its founder, Tarell McIntosh, the Caribbean restaurant (formerly known as Sugarcane London) carves out a welcoming spot for the locals to hang out, have some drinks, and enjoy abundant Caribbean meals. With galvanise steel sheeting leading to the open kitchen, and vines along the ceiling, take a step into island life.
Community is at the heart of this place. At first glance, the main islands that seem to influence the menu are Jamaica, St Lucia and Trinidad. However, after speaking to Tarell, we learnt that the influences are more the people in his life, rather than the places. The Trinidadian mac and cheese, for example, is inspired by a friend who taught him the recipe aged 17. The vibe here is proper, home cooked food, but in a restaurant setting – something that draws in the regulars and newbies alike. In fact, when we visited, a couple came in and Tarell, who was fulfilling the waiter role on the busy Friday, knew their order already.
80% of the menu at Paradise Cove is vegan friendly. We’re talking plantain, pineapple, sweet peppers, callaloo, coconut… the Caribbean is abound with verdant crops, after all. For the meat-eaters among us, the authentic menu also offers curried favourites, like chicken and goat, and the iconic oxtail stew. From light bites to full-on sharing platters, there is plenty to choose from. We opted to start with mini patties served on a bed of spinach – they were filled a perfect amount, and the spicy meat filling with peas and sweetcorn gave a satisfying gentle heat at the back of your mouth – plus roti with jerk gravy. The roti was so soft and light; finding good quality roti in London can often be a mean feat, but Paradise Cove succeeded. For our mains, we went for fish: ackee and saltfish, with jerk rice, and jerk sea bass with plain rice. The seabass was oh so succulent and both meals packed a punch with heat. The coleslaw side, topped with desiccated coconut, was a welcome cooling relief.
Oh, and the desserts. The helpings are generous. The banana and vanilla cake is satisfying and not overly sweet, while the chocolate and Disaronno slice has that familiar alcohol warmth, yet is moist and melts in your mouth. To say you’ll leave with a full belly is an understatement.
When it comes to the drinks menu, Paradise Cove honours its heritage from the cocktails to the coffee, while simultaneously championing local businesses. The likes of Wray and Nephew and Ting sodas stand side by side with Brixton rum and beers from local breweries. There are a range of fruity juices, alcoholic slushie jugs and homemade lemonades, plus a comprehensive list of rum cocktails – naturally. The Wray Ting, which uses arguably the best rum of the Caribbean, is refreshing, while Paradise Cove’s take on the Dark and Stormy is dangerously moreish. If you’re looking for something a little more warming, there are a whole heap of herbal tea blends on offer, as well as coffee that uses beans from Jamaica’s Blue Mountains. These mountains are hailed as producing some of the best coffee in the world.
Tarell describes the restaurant as a “physical manifestation of [himself]” and it’s easy to see why; he put the flooring in, he secured the ceiling, he tiled the walls. One of the tables in the restaurant was once his dining table, while the frames around the artwork previously held his degrees. Even today, when the kitchen needs a cook, the team are a waiter down, or someone extra is needed behind the bar, he’s there. It’s the familial feeling you don’t often find in a restaurant as a diner – a sense of ‘home’ that Tarell feels too.
Paradise Cove opened at the height of the pandemic in August 2020, just two weeks after Tarell spotted the vacant storefront, and after a break-in, reopened thanks to crowdfunding from the local community. This sense of ‘family’ doesn’t stop there either; the founder prides himself on offering young people a foot onto the hospitality ladder in the restaurant. Tarell’s personality and friendly service shine bright at the restaurant, making the dining experience even better.
Now, Tarell has opened a second spot this year: Guava London. Situated just an easy 15-minute stroll from Paradise Cove, this vegan-friendly cocktail bar offers even more delicious drinks, inspired by island life. He also has a cookbook soon to be released: The Sugar Cane Caribbean Cookbook: 75 recipes celebrating the fresh vibrant taste of island cooking – he is really taking the Caribbean cuisine scene here in London by storm.