From road-side fish shacks to refined clifftop restaurants, Barbados serves up a seriously impressive food scene. If a foodventure is on the menu, these are the places you need to know about.
Words: Lauren Romano
Main Image: Fish Pot
There’s no better way to experience a new culture than through its cuisine. Whether you’re a seasoned epicurean or not, if you want to really get under the skin of a destination, go through your stomach. It’s said that you can trace the history of a country through what’s on its plate. In Barbados, the island’s colonial past is as evident in its sprawling plantation houses as its food – a melting pot of flavours peppered with West Indian, African and European influences. Take the must-try national dish – flying fish and cou cou (cornmeal infused with okra) – which nods to the African traditions of many Bajans.
For centuries Barbados was the epicentre of the global sugar trade. While sugar cane is still rooted in the food heritage here – it is the birthplace of rum, after all – the island has turned to the mindset of eating what you grow and catch. For the island’s glut of eating establishments, this means provenance holds sway, which is great news for when you set off on a culinary escapade.
Good food is as nourishing for the body as it is the mind. Understanding where produce comes from can forge greater respect for the people involved in the process – and the environment.
If you want to connect with your surroundings, pay a visit to PEG Farm and Nature Reserve – where holistic and biodynamic practices restore soil damaged by sugar cane production. Founder and Barbados native Paul Bourne believes the health of the landscape is inextricably linked to that of its inhabitants – you’ll be encouraged to immerse yourself in the beauty of the land, both physically and mentally.
Don’t pass the opportunity to sample the fruits of the farm’s labour at the on-site café, where the locally grown and reared produce makes its way onto the plate (the chicken and papaya salad with tarragon marinated tomatoes is a gratifying indulgence). The sweeping views of undulating, biodynamic hills that roll down to high-five the horizon only add to the spiritually uplifting experience.
The surroundings you’ll find yourself in aren’t just a source of innovative farm-to-table meals, but a place of inspiration and healing.
For food that is as much a feast for the soul as the stomach, The Fish Pot on the northwest of the island is a reason in itself to visit Barbados. Founded almost two decades ago by husband and wife Andrew and Patricia Warden, it sits on the water’s edge in a 17th century fort. The rhythmic ebb and flow of the waves provides the sound-track, while uninterrupted sea views come courtesy of the covered terrace’s picture windows, where you might just spot the local fishermen hauling in the catch of the day – food really doesn’t come much fresher than that.
Simplicity and honesty underscore the menu – and the setting – making it easy to switch off and be present in the moment and your surroundings. Certainly, the sights and sounds give The Fish Pot a laid-back, unhurried tempo, one that invites you to take your time, breathe in the ocean air and savour every mouthful of fresh-as-can be market fish. Platefuls of flying fish are followed by spicy lobster risotto and washed down with the tropical ripeness of a Chalk Hill Chardonnay. For the grand finale, a glass of Mount Gay rum provides the perfect after-meal ritual and a taste of Barbadian heritage.
The combination of postcard-worthy vistas and plentiful local produce might be the reason Barbados has become a culinary stomping ground for acclaimed international chefs, many with a constellation of Michelin stars to their name.
Take The Cliff. The legendary St. James restaurant often credited with putting the island on the international epicurean map, reopened in the autumn with a new look and a new culinary director, Matt Worswick (former executive head chef at Gordon Ramsey’s Savoy Grill) at the helm.
As recipes for success go, The Cliff has it all: Dramatic clifftop location? Tick. Atmospheric torchlit dining? Tick. Artfully presented dishes that look (almost) too good to eat? Tick,tick, tick. But what sets the establishment apart – and has earned it a reputation that proceeds itself – is its commitment to taking simple, homegrown produce and transforming it into dishes that intrigue and surprise.
Innovation and imagination collide in once-in-a-lifetime flavour combinations that tingle the tastebuds. Like local Mount Gay rum-soaked savarin accompanied by mango and coconut and lime sorbet, or barbecued carabineros prawns and spiced crab with bois boudran sauce. These are Bajan tastes with an elevated twist. If you’re after a taste of something a little closer to home, however, Worswick also oversees the equally memorable Italian-inspired QP Bistro, found next door.
Meanwhile, The Cliff’s former executive chef Paul Owens has struck out with his own eponymous eatery, Paul Owens At The Beach House, which has garnered a loyal following since opening last year.
The tasting menu offers a comprehensive tour of the island’s freshest and most exciting produce, from tuna tartare with wasabi yoghurt to tandoori spiced salmon with pickled cucumber,mango salsa and coriander vinaigrette, as well as mahi mahi with creamed potatoes. The passion the chefs have for their craft is infectious and takes the dining experience far beyond the ordinary,where every meal overflows with enthusiasm.
This type of fine dining might be a million miles away from the fuss-free fish cutters (pillowy salt bread sandwiches stuffed with fried blue marlin and seasoned with local spices) served at the beach, but they’re both examples of what can be achieved with a pinch of imagination and the best possible local ingredients.
No matter how you choose to experience the local cuisine, dining in Barbados is a form of cultural immersion. Particularly if you find yourself at one of the island’s many weekend fish fries – the liveliest being at Oistins fish market where catches are served with traditional macaroni pie, coleslaw and plantain, and a side order of calypso beats. The crowd is around 80 per cent Bajan, so it’s one of the best spots to feel like a local.
Certainly, there’s nothing like sharing a meal with someone to find common ground. Not that it takes much to break the ice with warm and inclusive-spirited Bajans, especially if you’re shooting the breeze with a rum in hand (the variety of the island’s restaurants pales in comparison to the brightly coloured rum shacks – there are some 1,500 to choose from).
While some come to Barbados just for its coral sands, its cuisine most certainly sets it apart from other beach destinations. But if you ignore the island outside your hotel gates,you’re really missing out. Once you tuck into the flavours and stories of these shores, they will stay with you long after your last bite.