It is beloved by all those working in Westminster and even has its own Twitter handle. But just what makes Parliament’s jerk chicken so tasty? Alain Tolhurst reports
As a place that runs on conflict, there isn’t much people in Parliament agree on – in fact, just about the only consensus in Westminster these days is how good the jerk chicken is in the estate’s many restaurants.
Parliament’s catering staff work hard to come up with new ways of spicing up lunch for the thousands of passholders who take their meals in SW1 every day, but of all the many tasty meals on offer, jerk chicken is the one MPs, peers, staffers, journalists and everyone else keep coming back to.
Sous chef Marvin Beckles came up with the jerk recipe two decades ago; he says it is the warm and welcoming flavours that keep drawing people back.
“You feel like it does transport you, like you could be on a beach somewhere,” Beckles told The
House, revealing that Parliament’s passholders and guests work their way through more than 18,000 servings a year of both the chicken and its equally popular spin-off, jerk pork.
The catering department did try a fish version a few years ago, but it proved less popular. However, the vegetarian take on jerk, and jerk chicken wraps with plantain are both popular choices. There was even a memorable occasion when jerk duck made it on to the menu.
Beckles says that when Portcullis House opened at the turn of the century it brought with it a younger generation, and jerk was a way to cater to diners comfortable with the street food markets and global cuisine available elsewhere in the capital.
Still a mainstay in PCH, Strangers,’ the River Restaurant and Bellamy’s, people are constantly asking for the recipe to make at home. A precious set of copies which were handed out briefly a few years ago are now guarded like first edition manuscripts. Beckles admits making the same thing week after week can get “a little tedious,” but the team “enjoy that people are enjoying it,” adding: “I know people that have travelled from Millbank and gone to Bellamy’s just because jerk has been on.”
The dish is the only food available in Parliament that has its own Twitter account – @SpeakerJerkow – and although the pandemic has meant only sporadic alerts, in the past it proved a valuable service, letting enthusiasts know when jerk was available and where. Followers include what seems to be half the lobby as well as a number of special advisers, researchers, officials and several MPs. Minister Paul Scully is known to be a devotee. “Are you serious?” Beckles says when asked about the Twitter tribute. “I might need to get my jerk wrap onto that alert!”