The tiny Liverpool restaurant winning rave reviews for ‘best Caribbean food in England’
4 months ago
A tiny Jamaican restaurant in south Liverpool is winning rave reviews for what’s been praised as ‘the best Caribbean food in England’.
Chefs Andrea and Stephan Lebbie opened Mahoe Blue on Aigburth Road in December last year and since then they’ve had diners coming from all over the city for a taste of their authentic dishes.
The couple created the menu based on recipes and techniques which Andrea was taught by her grandma when she was growing up in the Jamaican city of Mandeville.
Then, they were made using fresh produce picked from the garden, but Andrea says although the location has changed, the tradition and love that goes into the food is still the same and that’s why so many people love it.
“Sharing food is something that’s very important in Jamaican culture, it really is our way of connecting,” says Andrea. “I know that was how it was for my grandma, she connected with a lot of people through her open door and her food.
“One of our starters is green banana chips with avocado salsa and when my grandma made it she would ask my grandad to go and cut her down a hand of bananas and pick her an avocado from their garden.
“Me walking into the market or a supermarket to get the produce is never going to be quite the same as having it on hand like that. But when I’m standing in the kitchen and prepping, my memories are the same, even down to the way my grandma taught me how to peel a green banana, so every dish is very personal.”
Andrea was born in London but spent many years during her childhood in Mandeville so she feels very connected with her Jamaican heritage.
“I come from a large, very close-knit family and my gran was just the greatest cook,” she remembers. “Every day she would cook a big pot of food and if someone was passing they’d pop in and no sooner had they said hi than they’d be sat down with a plate in front of them!
“I grew up around my gran, and my mother’s sister who really took a shine to cooking, so those two had a real hand in my passion for cooking from a young age. I’d just find my way into the kitchen to sit and watch and slowly but surely I’d be asked to add that or marinade this.
“My gran’s recipes were really authentic in the way she would marinade, the way she would make her rice and peas, her curried goat – there was a process of how to do it and you don’t mess with grandma and the way she does her thing!
“Being around that it comes naturally to me, so I just followed suit with the recipes and methods in the bistro. Even our best-selling rum punch is made from my grandma’s own special recipe. She was known by everyone as Miss Tapper, so we’ve named it after her.”
Andrea and Stephan ran their first restaurant in Mandeville, then a daytime one serving hot food and sub sandwiches in London before relocating to Liverpool five years ago.
“We used to come here to visit a relative and every time we came we couldn’t get over how chatty and helpful the folks were. I was born and bred in London and Liverpool is so different, we just loved how friendly everyone was.”
Mahoe Blue is the couple’s little gem, designed to give customers a genuine sense of Jamaica as soon as they walk through the door.
“When we were getting Mahoe Blue ready I said to my husband, ‘if we’re going to do it, we’ve got to do it properly.’ I want people when they come in to feel like for that hour or two hours, they could imagine themselves in a little eaterie in Jamaica. That’s why we asked Jason, a local artist, to do the mural map on the wall that people always comment on and take pictures of. It looks like Jamaica is coming to you.”
Andrea says she’s proud of the reputation she and Stephan have built for signature dishes like ackee and saltfish, spicy okra fries and jerk specials.
And the reviews reflect not just their skills in the kitchen but her late grandma’s too.
“When I see them, I still get emotional. They say the food’s amazing and I just have this warm fuzzy feeling every time because we’re sharing a piece of Jamaica and a piece of my family’s story.”