The Caribbean is a happy riot of islands that offers a halcyon of beaches, parching sun and lush topography and Barbados — the most developed in the family — is considered its posh pinnacle. Mellow and void of any pretense, the island is not only renowned for having the best panoramas and oceans swims in the world, but it also happens to be the first Zagat-rated island that plays home to international chefs intent on tweaking local delicacies into world-class cuisine.
My assignment for this journey is a challenging one (cue the sarcasm): I’ve got four days to eat my way through the north, south, east to west coast in search of #foodporn and a story.
If I’m going to embark on this food tour anywhere in the region, I’m happy it’s Barbados. Not only because The Crane Resort in St. Phillip can then be my luxurious home base, but because as well-traveled friends are quick to tell me, Barbados offers the most authentic Caribbean experience, cuisine included. These same people also dutifully warning me of the area’s most-ingested libation in the same breath, the rum punch: “It will knock your socks off…even yours.”
I suppose they, along with the half a million people who visit annually, can’t be wrong. With an empty belly and a liver at the rum-ready, I track the island to give you the best ways to kill off all your three squares a day, with special mentions going to Happy Hour nibbles and the most awesome place to dance, munch and mingle late into the night. Happy travels!
Barbadian, or Bajan, food is a hybrid of flavours combining the spices and peppers of African cooking with a true mishmash of Spanish, French, Indian and even Chinese influences. Papaya, soursop, yams and breadfruits make it on many-a-menu while virtually everywhere on the island — from beach bars to five-stars — you will find the most popular component to local cooking: the flying fish.
Hell-bent on eating as proverbially farm-to-table as possible, my first meal of a most sunny and steamy day is found in the idyll parish of St. Charles. Located on the northwestern coast and dead centre to the aquamarine Caribbean Sea, the 22-acre community is premiere. They have a marina; they have luxury yachts; they have beautiful people — a real trifecta of la-di-da.
I am already anticipating an epic, Instagram-worthy breakfast when I walk into the doors of La Mer; the gourmet flagship restaurant of celebrated master, Chef Hans Schweitzer, formerly of Sandy Lane Hotel. Their Sunday buffet is revered by foodies and after scoring a prime seat under their covered veranda with a view of the boats and the harbour in eyesight, I beeline straight for the appetizer table. Laden with buttery smoked salmon, jumbo shrimp and oysters, I dive right in and practice seminal restraint when I catch a glimpse of pecan pie, cream profiteroles and blueberry tarts, a mere few meters ahead. Click-click-click responds the iPhone.
You know what goes great with Flying Fish? Rum. Lots and lots ‘o’ rum. If ever there was a place that I could perceivably dine at each day of the week and doubly on the weekends, it would be this little — not so hidden gem — Cutters Deli. Minutes from the gorgeous Crane Beach, this homage to the West Indian experience is a true neighbourhood joint for friends to meet, eat cheap and cheerful food and share a few laughs. The hominess is visible everywhere from the wooden picnic benches on the canary-yellow porch outside to the walls covered with past customers praiseful comments on the inside.
The origin of the name is the Bajan word “cutter” referring to a traditional sandwich made with a hearty salted bread roll. In the pursuit of proper investigative journalism, I order two (they’re small. Trust!), the first being the classic Flying Fish: Two filets that are lightly batter fried on freshly baked penny bread. How to put pen to paper on this one… imagine it like an East Coast lobster roll times, oh, a bazillion. It offers up the most satisfying mouth-feel when crunched (or let’s face it, inhaled) in your mouth, especially when gussied up with a sharp tincture of pepper sauce. Next up is the Baked Ham: sliced from the bone, the ham legs are hickory cured in-house and baked with a local sugar called falernum, a sweet indigenous syrup that is characterized by the most resonate aroma of clove. The effect is soft and luxurious and, however out of place this sounds, sexy.
Ok, back to the rum. It’s a core product of the restaurant so, naturally, it is my duty to taste. Titled Cutters Very Special Rum Punch and internationally known as the #1 Rum Punch in Barbados, after first sip I begin to understand the reason for its pedestal. Mixed with 3-parts non-spiced rum, lime, simple syrup, a dash of nutmeg and water to desired strength (or, “if you’re feeling lucky, ice only”) this cocktail is no joke. After first sip I am acutely aware that my beach afternoon of boogie boarding the mad waves on Crane Beach will almost certainly be replaced by a buzzy nap on the lounger.
Just a few feet from the sprawling sun-kissed Accra beach on the south coast of the island, Tapas in Christ Church is a place to see and be seen for locals most weekends or, in my case, a random Wednesday afternoon. Along a newly developed boardwalk, the two-floored restaurant with wide-open wall windows is airy and ethereal all at once, especially when given a corner table that caresses with soft breezes. Tropical cuisine with an Italian influence is Tapas’ owners aim, so armed with a chilled glass of Sancerre Blanc I tuck into decadent Shark Fritters in panko crust and sweet chili sauce to be followed by an even more dangerous Lobster Bisque with leek and mascarpone drizzle.
The Crane Resort in St. Phillip has a most-clever moniker: We don’t come here to be seen, we come here to disappear. The Crane is world famous for its panoramic views and service; infamous for its super-secluded villas and beach. Anticipate lots of privacy and skinny-dips in your future. Doors first opened in 1887 and hints of this old-world charm and romance — like the original pink coral-stone hotel building — is centerpiece in its fully restored architecture, original antiques and historic hotel rooms.
Reef-protected Crane Beach is a hundred steps (or a glass-walled elevator ride) down the cliff, but more advisable is to work up the appetite first by taking dinner at L’Azure. Hugging the seaside cliff, this fine dining restaurant is lit by candlelight, while soft guitar music emboldens a menu rife with fresh seafood straight off the local fishermen’s boats: Blue Swimmer Crab Cakes with Cucumber Relish, Pan-Seared Mahi Mahi with Spicy Lentils and Tamarind-Glazed Snapper.
Late Night Eats (and maybe a street dance, or two):
Every Friday evening, the fishing village of Oistins hosts a major street party along the fish market where the smells of frying fish – swordfish, mahi-mahi, snapper et al – fill the bustling streets along with the deafening sounds of reggae beats. Opt for a dance-off on stage or take pleasure in watching the locals play a round of dominoes. Either way, cold drinks are at every corner, as is quaint shopping stalls with artisanal jewellery and crafts.
The second option for late night shenanigans is five minutes from the Bridgetown port in Carlisle Bay. Called Harbour Lights, this is where you go to dance all the day’s transgressions away; at least until you spot their fully stocked bar conveniently located on the beach deck. By all accounts, the grilling BBQ, $25 all-you-can-drink price tag, DJs and limbo dancing warrants the cliché tourist trap, but it’s hard not to be baited by the incredible live (and local) Soca music and classic Caribbean scenery.
Last, but certainly not least — particularly in the eyes of the locals — The St. Lawrence Gap or “The Gap” as it’s most commonly known. Here you will witness nightclubbers descending en masse, and there’s a pretty big select on where to get your groove on. Reggae Lounge is an open-air club under the stars with calypso and rhythm and blues; Lipgloss has a regular rotation of DJs and Sugar Ultra Lounge is a slightly more dressy, dress code-mandated lounge with dance tunes and punchy lighting production to pull the whole vibe together.