In the backstreets of Southampton, just down the road from where I live, there’s a Afro-Caribbean-Aboriginal restaurant that goes by the name of Coco Rio. It is in such a surreptitious and inconspicuous location, you can go on living in this city for two years, as I have, without even knowing of its existence.
Despite its seeming low profile, it appears to have built quite a fan-base – it filled up considerably quickly after I arrived. A few of families and couples dining out, as well as a large birthday party near the entrance. A stage in the corner gives me to understand it welcomes live music from time to time.
On the cold October night that I dined here, I arranged myself next to the radiator, which gave me ample opportunity to people-watch while I was waiting for a waitress to attend to me. My starter was a tricky choice – I was torn between the Red Snapper and Prawn Patties and the Charred Kangaroo Rump. Eventually I decided upon the latter (see pictured).
It’s a decently-sized portion, consisting of seven or eight cutlets of meat. Served on a bed of couscous with a Cajun sauce, I thought I was taking quite a risk ordering this dish. But even though the menu said it was spiced, the couscous only carried a slight peppery aftertaste to it. As for the sauce, I would have a huge ramequin of it on the side and it would still not be enough. I loved it. Once again, not overly spicy so it did all that was necessary and no more to perk up the flavour of the kangaroo meat.
When I first bit into the kangaroo rump, I detected the flavour and texture of pork, but upon further consumption decided that it better resembles beef as I had previously expected. Went gorgeously with the couscous and the sauce, and made for an excellent starter.
The next of the courses came out only shortly after the starter was taken away, and in the meantime I enjoyed small, intermittent chats with the lady serving me – I believe she was the manageress – higher-up than the regular waitress by any means. She was very interested to find out how I had discovered the restaurant, and also very keen to see if I would come back now that I knew where it was. From this, I deduce they take great value in regular customers.
My main course was called a Cuban-Style Gumbo (see pictured) – a judicious, delicious mixture of pork fillet, chicken, mussels, spinach and chorizo in a chilli and tomato sauce. It had a little bit of salad and a pair of pitta bread slices.
The only issue with this dish is they cram so much into such a little bowl – you have to take the time to remove the mussels from their shells and then take the shells out – just to make room, or you’ll just make a mess. Once again, unfamiliar with Cuban cuisine as I am, I was not sure what to expect in the way of spices when it came to the Gumbo. I am delighted to say, as with the starter, that it was only a light kick after the swallow. There’s so much going on in there that if there was a real spiciness to the dish I would have to make a considered effort to notice! Over the paprika flavours of the sautéed chorizo, which in turn infused the chicken and pork meats, plus the tomato flavours in the sauce. It is, with no understatement, an assault on the taste buds. A very welcome one, to be sure.
But why end there? Coco Rio has a small range of desserts on offer, such as a White Chocolate Crème Brûlée and a Coconut Iced Parfait with Charred Pineapple and Rum Syrup – both of which I was very tempted towards. But instead, I ultimately opted for a simple Chocolate and Havana Rum Brownie served with Ginger Ice Cream (see pictured). Just to keep in with the Cuban theme.
I did not feel a major Havana Rum presence in the brownie – I felt there could be a lot more booze in there. It was nice and rich nevertheless, not by any means overly heavy or stodgy, and went well with the unusual ginger-flavoured ice cream, which I kept forgetting about, thinking it was regular vanilla.
Well now we get onto the price:- given I had an alcoholic drink with this, and the Cuban-style Gumbo was nearly £17 in its own right, the fact that this meal came to £33-odd was not all that surprising. I tipped £2 to the waitresses, who were flawlessly attentive and capable of decent conversation around their work. Well worth a visit; I will definitely eat there again – preferably when there’s a little entertainment on perhaps?