The Best Of The Best Dining In Barbados

Patricia and Dennis Cleveland-Peck investigate the food scene on the Glorious Caribbean isle of Barbados

Setting up at the Food Festival

Setting up at the Food Festival

Chef Michael Harrison at Cobblers Cove

Chef Michael Harrison at Cobblers Cove

Caviar at Cobblers Cove

Caviar at Cobblers Cove

Tropical Collins at the Cliff

Tropical Collins at the Cliff

Carpaccio at the Cliff

Carpaccio at the Cliff

A Dish at Daphne's

A Dish at Daphne's

Daphne's at sunset

Daphne's at sunset

We were fortunate in that our visit coincided with the annual Food & Wine and Rum Festival, an event which attracts foodies from across the Caribbean and beyond. As well as showcasing the work of local chefs, visiting celebrity chefs including Ed Baines from the UK and Tyler Florence from the US, give talks and demonstrations. The events range from genuine street food (for which a ‘food trail’ map indicating authentic establishments out in the villages is provided) to some very fine dining in hotels, restaurants and even aboard ships.

We attended Ambrosia, the lavish Flagship event of the festival at which the majority of the chefs involved produced tapas-sized portions of their signature dishes and top quality wines, rum, cocktails and beer were dispensed. The little platefuls ( for which the $100 dollar ticket permits guests to consume as many as they can…) were perfect examples of mini high-end cuisine, not easy to produce en masse.

The event was held in a massive tent in the grounds of Illaro Court, the Presidential mansion and it attracted a vast crowd. Just watching the guests was entertaining,for most had donned their party garb. We saw ladies with figures ranging from the traditional to the gazelle in exotic strapless, glittery and skin tight creations escorted by handsome men in lemon suits and fancy shoes – all clearly bent on enjoying themselves.

We had been allowed in early enough to see the chefs setting up which enabled us to appreciate their skill and artistry up close because as the evening wore on and the music got louder, the coloured lights flashier and the crowds denser it was hard to move at all. Still we drank well and all ate plenty. It was hard to pick favourites from the scores of little plates on offer but Patricia particularly liked the dish of sweet potato noodles with a spicy sauce and Dennis, the take on mini-burgers created by chef Michael Harrison.

Michael is the chef at Cobblers Cove the hotel in which we staying at the time, so we had several further opportunities to sample his creations. The restaurant, Camelot, was in 2014, voted best restaurant in Barbados by the Hotel and Tourism Authority. Michael first trained in Barbados but later worked at Gleneagles in Scotland and in London with Michel Roux (who earlier in the year came as a visiting chef to Cobblers Cove) at Le Gavroche. Fresh and local ingredients are essential to Michael – the fish is bought straight off the beach from local boats and there is always a daily fish special on the menu.

Dennis particularly enjoyed Olive Crusted Red Sapper served with plantains dusted with cinnamon powder, semi confit tomatoes, and spinach and leeks in a pink peppercorn sauce. Also superb were such starters as the Grilled Octopus Salad decorated with edible flowers with cherry tomatoes and tiny green leaves, and the Lobster & Melon Tasting which is made up lobster salad and grilled watermelon served with a tiny ‘cappucino’ of lobster. Michael’s soups too were delicious. The Roasted Sweet Potato and Coconut soup was such a favourite of Patricia’s that she persuaded Michael to give her the recipe to pass on to you. (Click here… to see it) Every Friday a Seafood Buffet with a variety of Iced and chilled Japanese and American Caviars was served together with blinis, oysters, smoked salmon, seared and peppered tuna loins and Caribbean corn and seafood chowder.

The standard is high in many of the restaurants dotted along the ritzy western Platinum Coast for it is here that the celebrities who hole up in such retreats as Sandy Lane slip out for a change of menu from time to time. One of the most frequented by such luminaries is The Cliff, the setting for which is pure theatre. We began with a cocktail, an excellent Tropical Collins, long and refreshing in the lounge is high above the sea. It overlooks the series of descending terraces cut into the cliff face each of which is illuminated by flaming torches and the lowest level ‘the rail’ ( for which bookings are taken months in advance) is almost lapped by the sea. There are few places which can equal this setting especially on a warm moon-lit Caribbean night.

It is a truth universally acknowledged however that no restaurant attains a top reputation on looks alone and we soon found out that at The Cliff both the service and the food are of a very high calibre.

Patricia began with a carpaccio of beef tenderloin, a dish which she’d last enjoyed at Harry’s Bar in Venice where it was invented. This one did not disappoint. The favour and quality of the meat (the true test of this dish) were superb and the mustardy mayonnaise, parmesan shavings and rocket complemented it perfectly. Dennis chose a crab cake which was attractively served on a criss-crossing of red curry oil and green coriander cream and tasted good. For the main course we both enjoyed Caribbean shrimp with Thai green curry coconut sauce, coriander rice, char grilled zucchini and fried basil.

Chef Paul Owen and his brigade of 14 produce a range of international rather than purely Caribbean dishes – the menu offers Gressingham duck, Welsh lamb, Chinese moo shu pork as well as Cajun swordfish and barracuda but the attention to detail, presentation and quality is impeccable. The desserts too are evidence of talent in the pastry section. The Valronha Chocolate Mousse in a crisp almond basket with orange scented crème anglaise looked a picture and tasted blissful.

Although we were extremely fortunate of course we did not eat every meal at a top-end establishment. A lunch in the pretty little courtyard at Sunbury Plantation House, a museum-house property belonging to the Barbados National Trust was served from a rather canteen-like buffet. Consisting of local dishes such as peas ’n rice, pan fried flying fish, fried plantain and macaroni pie ( which is classed as a vegetable ) followed by coconut pie and coconut ice cream, it was nevertheless very enjoyable indeed.

In the beautifully situated semi-alfresco restaurant at the Coral Reef Club we enjoyed some sumptuous meals from the large and frequently changing menu which featured classic dishes given a Caribbean twist created in the main from fresh local fish, seafood and market vegetables and fruit. It is fair to say that there wasn’t a meal which we did not enjoy – in fact most exceeded our expectations.

In this climate nothing is more refreshing than chilled soup and here the mint and peas soup was a triumph. We also sampled and enjoyed Sautéed Jumbo Prawns served on watercress with torched watermelon, mango papaya; Pineapple Platter with poached plums, kiwi salsa and mint; Carpaccio of Tuna with pickled cucumber, green mango and bell pepper salad and an emulsion of ginger orange and coriander; Baked Mahi Mahi with vegetables, drizzled with avocado salsa and chorizo oil and Seabass ith Miso Risotto, sundried tomatoes and spaghetti vegetables. All were flavoursome and beautifully presented. The restaurant offered further variety at the weekly barbeque where a huge variety of meats and fish are cooked to order. Needless to say there was a choice of delectable puddings: Marbled Chocolate Cheesecake with Bailey’s anglaise and crispy tuille. Iced Strawberry Parfait set in coconut and lemongrass soup and Raspberry Crême Brûlée, being some of the best.

One evening we dined at the restaurant of The Sandpiper, sister hotel of Coral Reef, and were similarly impressed with the menu of Chef Christophe Poupardin. As well as appetizers, soups and salads there was a whole section of pasta and risotto, another of grills and one of local dishes which included Salad of Pickled Chicken and Breadfruit with spiced cumber souse; Bajan Steamed Flying Fish and Salt Fish Cou Cou..

In the end Dennis opted for Salad of Seared Tuna Nicoise with a poached egg and Cape anchovy salsa verde as a starter and a main course of Coconut Crusted Fillet of Mahi Mahi with a chilli black bean purée and pineapple salsa and Patricia, a Salad of Cold Poached Caribbean Lobster with Japanese noodles ( the chef substituted udon for soba as Patricia is gluten intolerant) pickled mango and mirin dressing. This delicious dish aptly illustrated a perfect combination of Asian and Caribbean flavours.

One establishment we had been advised not to miss was Daphne’s, an offshoot of the eponymous Italian restaurant in Chelsea founded by theatre agent Daphne Rye over 50 years ago. The Barbados restaurant is younger but has gained a starry reputation and now draws celebrities, VIPs and locals for its cuisine and relaxed ambience.

The restaurant is right on the beach and we were warmly welcomed and soon seated at a table with wonderful views overlooking Payne’s Bay. The atmosphere was buzzy and full of laughter. Patricia was happy to see that there was even a gluten free menu, reminding us that the Italians are in the vanguard when it comes to gluten free products. As a starter she chose the Iced Plum Tomato soup with basil oil which was simply delectable, as was the Risotto with Black Perigord Truffle and Asparagus which she chose to follow. Dennis opted for Baked Goat Cheese with roasted beets and endive with balsamic vinegar and walnut Oil dressing followed by Local Spiny Lobster Tail with garlic broccoli, sweet potato chips and spicy mayonnaise. These meals were some of the best we’d eaten and we were so satisfied that we substituted a Bajan Coffee, a local take on Irish Coffee using rum instead of whiskey, for pudding and simply sat purring with contentment.

Daphne’s owes its success to chef Marco Festini Cromer who began his career on Lake Garda and for 28 years worked all over Europe before bringing his talents to Barbados. Here he combines Italian ideas with Bajan ingredients to create these amazing tasting dishes. Not only does his fresh approach infuse the traditional with a new vigour but his attention to detail – everything, bread, pasta, pastries, gelati and sorbets are hand- made in house – and his presentation are superlative.

Our last suggestion for a unique dining experience is Lancaster Great House which is situated high on a ridge overlooking Holetown. This is not a conventional restaurant but a private house, the home of John and Rain Chandler, who previously ran a similar enterprise hosting dinners and weddings at Fisherpond House in the centre of the island. What they offer truly is unique – the opportunity, in the elegant setting of a great plantation house furnished with antiques and chandeliers and filled with exotic flowers, to sample genuine Bajan food made to old family recipes in the company of a couple who know all there is to know about the island.

The Chandlers had only just moved into Lancaster House when we arrived so we were too early to sample the famous Planters Buffet lunches which by now are held in their new setting on Thursdays and Sundays. Within the newly-built Dining Pavilion, a sumptuous display of more than 25 dishes are displayed for the lunch. Callaloo with Shrimp, Caribbean Pepperpot, Lancaster Broccoli Salsa, Green Banana Pudding, Shrimp and Breadfruit Cous Cous Balls, Jamaican Saltfish and Akee, Orange Glazed Sweet Potato, Plantain Fritters,, Martinique coconut flan and Barbadian Rum Truffle are but some of them.

Sadly we were too early to sample this but we did attend the launch party of a book Hotel Barbados which John had just written about his life as a hotelier on the island. At this we learned of another exciting project which will soon be up and running, Mr Chandler’s Dinner Parties. These will take place every Friday when 20 guests, having first been offered cocktails and canapés, will take their places in the dining room named Sam Lord’s Dining Room after the famous buccaneer, at a long antique mahogany table previously graced by Her Majesty the Queen, Princess Anne, the Princes Edward and Harry, Helen Mirren and numerous other well- known people, to enjoy a five-course dinner with wine and liqueurs while John entertains them with stories about Barbados and anecdotes from his book.

These meals at Lancaster Great House are events no discerning visitor to the island should miss. They are unique – there is no better opportunity to enjoy traditional dishes cooked and prepared to a very high standard hosted by a couple whose name is synonymous with Barbadian hospitality.

Dining in Barbados

General information on Barbados – www.visitbarbados.co.uk
Cobblers Cove Hotel – www.cobblerscove.com
The Cliff Restaurant -www.thecliffbarbados.com
Sunbury Plantation House – www.barbadosgreathouse.com
Coral Reef Club – www.coralreefbarbados.com
The Sandpiper – www.sandpiperbarbados.com
Daphne’s Restaurant – www.daphnesbarbados.com
Lancaster Great House – www.facebook.com/lancastergreathouse

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