Spicing up the Southside with Caribbean Heat – Nick Reynolds Lil Portie Interview
If you know me at all, you will know that I’m constantly looking for restaurants to visit and new food experiences. I have an ever-growing list of places to try saved to my phone, and slowly but surely I’m ticking them off. For longer than I should have allowed Lil Portie was on that list. One day an energetic young man popped up on my timeline and I was intrigued. He was cooking up exotic dishes I hadn’t tried and I was eager to taste the food on offer.
That man was Nick Reynolds, the Sandymount native behind the Lil Portie pop up restaurant, that has its temporary home in TwoFifty Square Rathmines. Inspired by the area of Northeastern Jamaica where the locals are known as “Porties” the food here is full on flavour and made to be eaten with gusto.
Nick has no formal training, but instead has a passion for food and an understanding of flavours (I’ve eaten at Lil Portie and can say the food is some of the tastiest I’ve had). Nick says, “I’ve been cooking from a very young age and I’m an only child. My mother passed away when I was young, so I was left in the house a lot to fiddle around with things. My dad would encourage me to cook with whatever was in the fridge. Still, to this day those experiences have stuck with me and I’d say 95% of the food I eat I make it myself.”
“I rarely eat out, I just cook for myself. I got more into cooking when I moved to Buenos Aries in 2011. I went there on a bit of a whim actually. The father of a friend of mine had set up a bar and restaurant, and originally we went over just to check it out. I kind of wanted to get into the cooking game after that.”
Luckily for us diners Nick headed off to South America, where he picked up heaps of influences to add to his cooking, which he then brought back to Ireland. “I was on the verge of going to Australia with my then girlfriend but I ended up going to Argentina. After about three days of being there, I wanted to live there. So, when I came home I just put the head down and worked 7 days a week for about three months, and saved some money to head back over.”
Ironically Nick moved to Argentina once again on St.Patrick’s Day 2012, and tried his hand at a number of different jobs before settling into cooking. “I didn’t know anybody and I didn’t know the language. I started off working in a bar, then I was teaching English and eventually myself and my friend set up a production company. That started off very organically. We luckily found ourselves living in a huge house over there and one day we had a party where about 50 people showed up. I was cooking and everyone really enjoyed it, so I thought “why don’t we do that again?”
“We started playing funk and soul music at the dinners. On Sundays, we had jazz quartets and made traditional Irish roast dinners”. A simple dish to Irish palates but to the Argentinian locals this was an exotic treat. “We started doing pop-up restaurants and sit down dinners. We had a really interesting dinner which was based on Irish mythology. We had an actress come out and recite the salmon of knowledge and stuff like that.”
Inspired by his family heritage, Nick uses this in his style of cookimg. “I have a Jamaican background and I started mixing those elements into my cooking and I started Lil Portie last year (2018) in 250 Square.” This coffee shop lends itself to Nick’s weekend pop up restaurant.
“The whole idea of Lil Portie comes from my grandmother’s hot sauce. My grandmother learned how to cook from her aunt and taught me. Before I have my own permanent place I’d like to have some spice mixes and hot sauces out there. Some of the dishes are Jamaican but with different influences.” Nick describes Lil Portie as “Caribbean cooking with Latin American influences via Ireland.”
So where does Nick come up with these vibrant dishes I ask? To this question he takes a notebook from his bag. Its pages are full of writings, scribbles and even a few pictures. I want that notebook, I can almost taste the flavours coming from each page. “Lately I’ve been thinking about doing a Jerk Chicken and Guinness Gumbo. That’s one of the advantages of doing a pop-up, you can tweak the menu whenever you like.” Perhaps a cookbook could be in the works I say to him, and immediately call dibs on the first copy.
Nick tends not to eat out much, preferring to whip up his own dishes at home, “my favourite way to eat a meal is with a group of friends at home, with a really nice wine.” One of the dishes he really enjoyed creating at Lil Portie was the prawn and chorizo gumbo. However, he took this off the menu to make way for new dishes, including my personal favourite Jerk Chicken and Curried Goat.
Imparting advice to anyone who’s thinking of starting out in the industry Nick says “know what you want”. Having an end goal in sight is important to Nick, and he is working tirelessly towards his own aspirations.
Reflecting back over the past year Nick says one of the highlights was when he realised Lil Portie has actually worked and was a success. Remembering the exact date he says it was the 23rd of December when things fell into place, “I had a really intense couple of months coming up to Christmas, and then when I realised it had worked I just wanted to keep going with it.”
What does the future hold for Nick and Lil Portie? “I’d love to have a Caribbean snack bar, that’s where my mind has always gone. But I wouldn’t like to do it by myself.” Looking ahead Nick says he thinks in Ireland there will be “much more tastes to cater for”, as our food scene is ever evolving.
I’ve sung Nick’s praises since eating at Lil Portie and firmly believe it’s a place where everyone should eat and enjoy. I, for one, am eager to see what this young and energetic man has up his sleeve. Now I’m off to book a table before Nick moves on to the next Lil Portie venture.