The Reef Caribbean restaurant has come a long way since it’s original inception on Main Street. Started in 1999 by long time friends and business partners Simon Cotton and Liz da Mata, they opened a large casual and openly fun spot on Main at a time when there were very few dining options around, especially for a younger and fun loving crowd looking for a cool, affordable bar/restaurant hangout.
The bright and colourful room helps bring much needed cheer to the long drab Vancouver fall and winter season. Rich reds, yellows, oranges and greens with complementary island artwork bring an authentic and lively Caribbean ambience. You can temporarily convince yourself you are on vacation, at least during your lunch or dinner visit.
The service is similarly friendly and accomodating, helping the Reef quickly gain and maintain a popular following in the Main Street neighbourhood.
Caribbean cuisine’s origins come from a wide variety of influences, mainly Africa and East Indian combined with local ingredients. The menu covers Caribbean favorites like curries, rotis, oxtail and jerk dishes along with island influenced dishes like St. Barts lamb shank, dominican beef and Vincy fish. The curries while spicy are not overwhelming and is mangeable but if you want hotter the kitchen can certainly accomodate you.
Every table gets the Reef’s famous Johnny Cakes instead of bread. It is a savory, slightly dense and warm doughnut ball that is perfect with a pat of butter. On weekend brunches they toss it with sugar to make a nice warm doughnut to go with your eggs. Savory or sweet, the johnny cakes are delicious either way.
If you feel like experimenting, the Jamaican national dish, ackee and saltfish is a tasty one to try. Ackee is a fruit that was introduced to Jamaica from West Africa and in this dish it’s mixed with salt cod, onion, tomatos, peppers and served with rice and peas with coleslaw. The ackee is pale yellow and has a very mild flavour with the texture of avocado.
There are enough options to satisfy a vegetarian and there are gluten free items as well.
The Reef wouldn’t be a Caribbean restaurant if it did not have a decent offering of rums and it does not dissapoint. The rum offering is the best on Main St. and probably one of the best in town. You can pick from the huge selection of rums and even sample a rum flight of 3 rums. The ginger beer is freshly made on the premises so a ginger rum drink like a Dark and Stormy would be a good rum cocktail to test out the waters. Umbrella attached fruit cocktails, a decent selection of bottle beers with Caribbean staples like Carib, Red Stripe and Dragon Stout and 4 on tap with a small wine list round out the rest of the drink menu.
The small but lively bar with a dj station on the side adds to the comfy neighbourhood character that makes the Reef one of the popular hangouts for locals and new visitors, proven by all the local restaurant awards the Reef has garnered over the years. Awards such as:
- Westender Vancouver Best City Dining Out Gold Caribbean/West Indies 3 years running 2010 to 2012!
- Q magazine’s best Caribbean restaurant 2000-2010
- Georgia Straight – Multiple Readers Choice Awards
- The Province, Queue Magazine, Winner Best Caribbean 4 years running
- many other earlier awards from Vancouver Magazine (2002-2004), Dose Magazine, Where Magazine and recommendations in guides such as Zagat, Frommers & Time Out
About Simon Cotton and Liz da Mata
Proving they are not one hit wonders, these two restaurant partners opened up their second Reef location on Commercial Drive in 200…. and Reef Victoria in 200…… with their unique brand of Caribbean fare with West Coast inputs. Simon and Liz also provides their tasty comfort food to weddings, parties and events by offering a reliable catering service of Caribbean treats customized for each event. You can download The Reef catering package at the link. In 2010 Simon and Liz opened their first Reef franchise restaurant in Chilliwack to great local acclaim. On top of that Simon can be seen manning The Reef food cart at community events like the Gay Pride event.
If you like the Reef’s sauces, marinades, and West Indian specialties you can enjoy them at home by purchasing from their online store. Miss Paulette’s Fancy Jerk Marinade and Miss Kitty’s Hot Sauce are both available online up to packages of 4
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