It might seem like just a takeaway, but to Jenessa Williams it tastes like home
Sometimes, only home cooking will do. On gloomy Autumn days where nostalgia is thick in the air and the idea of fancy menus served on reclaimed wooden boards is just too much to bear, you need a chipped plate on the sofa, delivering all the flavour and heartiness of a well-cooked meal with none of the pretense.
Growing up, most of my fondest food memories revolved around the kitchen of my grandfather. A man of the Windrush, he was a fantastic cook – as adept at ackee and saltfish as he was a British roast dinner. He kept his recipes tight to his chest, taking pride in a full day spent tasting and stirring, Classic FM booming out of his radio. I haven’t experienced food like his for a decade, and I feared I never would again. Then, into my life, came Maureen.
I'm tempted to get married just so that I can have these guys as my caterers
Sitting humbly on Roundhay Road for the past fifteen years, you’d walk past Maureen’s if you weren’t looking for it. Once inside, it’s an instant comfort. Staff chat with patrons who crowd around basic tables, the décor cheerful in oranges and pinks. We’re served by Maureen hersel (positively unheard of for a restaurant that has been going as long as this, but a true testament to the heart and soul that goes into the food.
We order big. Squeaking polystyrene tubs groan with weight as we lift them out of the bag, perspiring slightly from the cold outside but letting out a smell that already feels like home. Dishing everything evenly between two, it’s tricky to know where to start, but tearing off a strip of fried chicken (£3.50), it’s clear that this is a very special meal indeed. Not overly greasy, countering perfectly with the subtly fruity gravy, infused with meats and spices, it’s the biggest challenge to vegetarianism I have ever encountered.
The rice and peas (£3.50 or included with a meat meal for £5) make it clear that Maureen is a pro, achieving the perfect texture for such a dish. The kidney beans have split just enough to become fluffy, and the rice is soft but still grainy – Turtle Bay this certainly ain’t.
Again, there is the pleasant hum of seasoning that when combined with a mouthful of curry goat (£3.50), makes me do a literal small cry upon my lap tray – dissolving in the mouth like a Sunday practice wafer, it’s meaty but light, falling apart to reveal garlic, Scotch bonnet and thyme.
Cleansing one’s palette with mac and cheese (£2) is the Jamaican way, and before reloading on the BBQ wings (£2.50, sticky and just the right amount of sweetness), we take time to indulge in some cheesy goodness. Far from the runny consistency that is traditional in British gastropubs, Caribbean mac is served stodgy and sliceable, the creamy dairy cutting through the richness of meat. My granddad might have suggested a few more spring onions in the mix, but other than that, it’s a pretty moreish side, with plenty leftover for the next day.
And then of course, there is the pièce de résistance: jerk chicken (£3.50). It proves to be nothing short of majestic. If KFC serve eleven herbs and spices, this may offer one hundred and eleven, such is the flavour. A subtle heat that builds enough to allow you to need a sip of water, but not enough to stop you shovelling it in your mouth as fast as humanly possible. Luckily, like all the meats before it, it also falls off the bone, aiding swift consumption.
Something people so often get wrong with commercial Caribbean food is that it doesn't have to be spicy, it can just be warming. And warming this dish certainly is. Upon laying down my fork, I’m halfway off the sofa to pull out the family photo album and remember just how wonderful it was to grow up in a half Jamaican household.
As far as takeaway/café eating goes, Maureen's is basically perfection. No ingredient is there without purpose, the environment is warm and relaxing, and you are served by its very namesake at very sensible price points. Best of all, it’s indulgent without the heaviness that comes from your typical Deliveroo – no weird preservatives or defrosted sachets here.
I'm tempted to get married just so that I can have these guys as my caterers, and considering the look on my boyfriend's face as he first bit into that fried chicken, I reckon I’m safe to start looking at rings. I just wish my granddad could be there to see it. Do yourself a favour, cancel that table in the city and stay home with Maureen’s – this is the very realest of deals.
Maureen’s, 105 Roundhay Road, Leeds, LS8 5AJ
All scored reviews are unannounced, impartial, paid for by Confidential and completely independent of any commercial relationship. Venues are rated against the best examples of their type: 1-5: saw your leg off and eat it, 6-9: Netflix and chill, 10-11: if you're passing, 12-13: good, 14-15: very good, 16-17: excellent, 18-19: pure class, 20: cooked by God him/herself.
Fried Chicken 9, Jerk Chicken 10, Curry Goat 9, Rice&Peas 9, BBQ Wings 9, Mac&Cheese 8
We love Maureen
We didn’t eat in, but happily would have – strong community feel