The flavours of the Caribbean – coconut, spices, rum, sumptuous fresh fish and seafood…
They all spring to mind when I think of the Caribbean, yet up until recently I had never been there. Would my first taste of these exotic islands live up to my expectations?
They certainly did. And then some. Every meal was a delight. Maybe I was lucky enough to go to the right places, or maybe the food really is that good everywhere. Either way, here are my culinary highlights from a fabulous week on the unspoilt island of St Kitts.
Seafood and coconut dumplings at Arthur’s
Part of the uber luxurious Belle Mont Farm, this beachside restaurant at Dieppe Bay serves the most delicious fish and seafood. Built right at the water’s edge, we had a wonderful view of the ocean, with the odd pelican bobbing on the waves, and a fisherman bringing in his catch of conches balanced on a surfboard. You don’t get any fresher than that. However, it was the coconut dumplings, a national dish, that stole the show (them, and the smile of chef Pascal, that is).
Above, starting at the top from left to right – Conch Ceviche (US$16), Grilled Wahoo with bell peppers and mash (US$22), Coconut ‘Old Wives’ Chowder (US$14), Grilled Lobster with garlic butter, papaya, cabbage slaw and baked sweet potato (US$35), the ever smiling Chef Pascal and Grilled Snapper in a Creole sauce with steamed pumpkin and those scrumptious coconut dumplings (US$22).
Cocktails at Salt Plage
Salt Plage, in Christophe Harbour, has to be one of the hottest spots for cocktails on the island. It was named by Condé Nast as one of the top 8 beachside cafés in the world. Both the food and drinks were excellent, but it’s the location that makes Salt Plage a real winner and the perfect place to be at sunset.
Smoked Wahoo Bagels at the Gallery Café
One of my favourite places in the whole of St Kitts is The Gallery Café, a delightful little art gallery come café overlooking Independence Square in the capital Basseterre. It’s owned by artist Rosey Cameron Smith, and, with her daughter Leah doing all the cooking, they make a winning pair. It is popular with locals and visitors, as well as students from the island’s excellent universities (who love the free WiFi as much as the coffee and cakes).
A freshly squeezed fruit juice (EC$10) and smoked wahoo bagels (EC$24) make the perfect breakfast. The bagels were superb, smothered in cream cheese, slivers of locally caught and smoked wahoo fish, and served with a squeeze of lemon and a sprinkle of paprika and black pepper. Their quiches and cakes all looked so tempting. I was sorry I only had one chance to pop in here. I’d love to return one day and loiter for a while. It’s the perfect place to hang out, meet a few locals and get to know island life a little better.
The British first brought beer to the Caribbean in 1880, but it was not until the depression that followed World War 1 that the Trinidad Brewing Company was established, producing Royal Lion Ale, Royal Extra Stout and Black Velvet Stout. In 1950, as the traditional sugar and oil industries waned, another brewery was established as part of a regeneration drive, introducing the still popular Carib lager. The two original breweries are now one company, Carib Brewery, producing an extensive range of alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks. A glass of Carib lager hits the spot while relaxing on the beach or with lunch.
Seafood and Chicken Roti at Reggae Beach Bar & Grill
Kayaking in the sea was a great way to work up an appetite for the hearty fare served at Reggae Beach Bar and Grill by Cockleshell Bay on the South East Peninsula of the island. I had a Reggae Colada (US$6.50 or EC$17) and a Chicken Roti, a traditional West Indian curried chicken burrito (US$11 or EC$29). Both were good, although I was a little envious of the grilled fish (catch of the day) salad (US$17 or EC$45). Lobster fans will enjoy their lobster sandwich with fries (US$19 or EC$49).
Rum Punch, Johnny cakes and Goat Water at Ocean Terrace inn
The Verandah Restaurant at Ocean Terrace Inn on Wigley Avenue, Fortlands near Basseterre, holds a Caribbean buffet on a Saturday night – a chance to sample a selection of local dishes. We stayed here for a few nights, and it’s a great hotel that I’d happily recommend. I loved eating on their terrace with a view across Basseterre Bay. Be sure to try their Johnny Cakes (pictured below) – slightly sweet, deep-fried unleavened bread – and their Goat Water, which is much more appealing than the name suggests. It’s actually a delicious goat stew with breadfruit, green papaya and mini dumplings in a tomato broth.
The restaurant’s à la carte dinner menu includes such delights as Seared Local Red Snapper with green curry butter sauce, steamed Thai Jasmine rice and garlic crisp (EC$79). You could also opt for their ‘The Little Sampler’ menu, with a choice of one of two starters and one of two main courses (EC$49.00 or US$18.15). Great value if you don’t mind the limited choice.
The hotel has a second restaurant,Fisherman’s Wharf, reputedly serving excellent fish dishes. It’s in a romantic location, built on a pier over the sea. While I didn’t get the chance to eat here, I can vouch for their excellent cocktails. From 5 to 7pm on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights, many drinks are half price.
While I sampled many a rum punch on St Kitts, none could compare to the one (or more) I had at Ocean Terrace Inn (about $18 – once you’ve added in the 10% service charge, 10% VAT and 2% I.E.T).
Sunday Brunch at Ottley’s Plantation Inn
What better setting for a decadent Sunday Brunch (US$36) than a former 16th-century sugar plantation, now a historic resort? Within the walls of the old sugar factory, you’ll find the lovely Royal Palm Restaurant which serves an excellent Sunday Brunch. To begin we were offered a tempting selection of tropical fruits, pastries and homemade cakes washed down with either rum punch or champagne mimosa. This was followed by my main course, Baked Banana – toasted Coconut French Toast stuffed with mascarpone cheese, pineapple-papaya salad and guava-cinnamon syrup. So good. You can read more about Ottley’s and their Sunday Brunch in my review on Boutique Travel Blog.
Vegetarian and Vegan, Ital Creations
Although I quite often eat meat and fish when travelling, most of my time is actually spent at home, where I eat a mainly vegan diet, not so much because it’s better for me (although it is), but because of my concerns about the impact of animal farming on climate change. It’s the biggest culprit of all. So I was delighted to discover Ital Creations on St Kitts. The Rastafarian Ital diet is based on the spiritual belief that the body is a temple and must be kept clean and pure. So while caffeine, alcohol and animal products, as well as processed foods and pesticides are out, seasonal fruit, vegetables, whole grains, beans and legumes are in.
Ital Creations is so much more than it first seems – an unassuming shack by the side of the road with a few tables and benches under the shade of a tree. Children’s toys are scattered around and yoga classes are held here in the afternoon at 5.30pm. It would be easy to pass by and barely notice it, but please, don’t pass it by. The food and drinks here are excellent, fresh, seasonal, organic and healthy, and great value too. Green smoothies start from EC$15 and meals from EC$25. The family who run Ital’s are extremely welcoming and happy to show you around their adjoining organic farm. It’s popular with locals and the students from the nearby university. The moringa smoothies are particularly good. Be good to yourself and try it out.
Fruit and Veg and Paulette’s Hot Sauce at Basseterre Public Market
Saturday mornings are a great time to check out the market on Bay Road, on the seafront opposite the fishermen selling their catch. Housed in a green and red tin-roofed building, you’ll find stall after stall of brightly coloured fruits and vegetables, perfect if you fancy trying your hand at some cooking, or you simply want some fruit for a picnic. Also look out for Paulette and her hot sauce, which we found on a stall next to the fishermen just opposite the market. A bottle of Caribbean hot sauce makes a great souvenir or gift.
Ting with a Sting by Frigate Bay
For the second half of my week on St Kitts I stayed in a self-catering apartment at Timothy Beach Resort by the beautiful Frigate Bay, a sweeping stretch of soft sand lined with palm trees and a collection of colourful beach shacks serving good food and great cocktails. While not as stylish or luxurious as Ocean Terrace Inn, my apartment was comfortable and spacious, and the location was an absolute winner.
My drink of choice, alternating with the rum punches throughout the week, was Ting with a Sting, preferably on Frigate Bay. Ting is the local grapefruit fizzy drink, a deliciously refreshing non-alcoholic drink which I loved (even though I don’t like grapefruit). Add a shot (or two) of local white rum, and you have Ting with a sting – the perfect drink for hot weather.