Adventurers have come to Antigua from many parts of the world and have chosen to stay and follow their dreams of creating unique restaurants:
With an extraordinary sense of style, young British owners Kate Taylor and Alex Grimley have created a divine restaurant and inn that is terraced on a cliffside, protruding over the rocks right on the sea. We climb down a series of wooden stairs to be greeted by cocktails served while we relax on extravagant four-poster daybeds. A more seductive and romantic spot would be difficult to find. Leaving this luxury lounge for lunch in the airy bougainvillea-draped dining room is almost a pity. Alas, no opportunity today for a quick dip in the azure blue plunge pool. On this hot sunny day in February, a selection of exuberantly flavoured tapas dishes is just right for sharing. Simon Christey-French, the young Australian chef de cuisine, is proud to explain his innovative menu concept. Tempura pumpkin flowers with lemon ricotta is light but not weightless. Using locally sourced ingredients from artisan food producers, farmers and fishermen, Simon has created dishes that are intricate but unforced. Deceptively simple tuna carpaccio perfumed with pink peppercorns is quite perfect. Everything is made in-house, even the delectable ice cream and sorbet.
Papa Zouks’ Fish and Rum Bar
“Some people chase money, I prefer to chase happiness,” says German émigré, film producer Bert Kirchner. He found it in a funky little rum bar that he named Papa Zouk after a man who lived in poverty but loved to dance to zouk music. Bert will tell you the story of the fire that burned his place to the ground, and of the generosity of strangers and well-wishers who came bearing bottles and insisting he rebuild. This place is iconic, fun and friendly, where you might find yourself sitting with strangers, but its okay. Walk over the carefully groomed gravel courtyard into the dining room. Don’t expect formality or bother asking for a menu, Bert will come by and shmooze and tell you what fish is available. “Robert De Niro says that this is the best red snapper he ever had in his life,” says Kirchner. Yes, I will agree with De Niro and add, “This is the best rum punch I ever had in my life.”
Owner Lance Leonhardt is originally British, but I would not be remiss in calling him a charming “homme du monde.” He is a “been there, done that” kind of guy with impeccable taste who came upon this pristine property, recognized its potential, and could not leave. While Jackie O’s is in Antigua, it is not of Antigua. It is of St. Tropez or St. Barts and attracts a most interesting international, sophisticated clientele. The lunch menu is eloquent. Soup du jour is Champagne. Local utterly fresh fish and seafood, as in rock fish bouillabaisse, mahi mahi, spaghetti with clams, are prepared by a savvy kitchen with a light touch.
After lunch, one can relax at waters’ edge on 6-ft. circular lounges with giant clamshell shades. An espresso martini is nice. This is the life, my friends. Across the unbelievably blue sea, we see the smoking volcano on the island of Montserrat, and the craggy skyline of Nevis.
St. James Club
We drive to the St. James club for dinner. It gets dark early in winter, and much of the beauty of this all-inclusive beach resort is lost to us. There are several layers of security before we enter the handsome illuminated driveway that takes us through the vast estate to the impressive main building. Piccolo Mondo, the formal dining room with its white-clothed tables is set with starched napery and polished silver. Service is flawless, dishes are exemplary renditions of classic continental fare – with a Caribbean twist. At a nearby table, we’re told, are guests who have been coming here regularly for 25 years. The GM of the St. James Club, Mr. Antoine Brown, wakes at 4:30 a.m. daily and walks the property. Checking. We can rest assured that every day and every detail at the St. James Club unfolds as it should.
Galley Bay Resort and Spa
Even in the darkness, there is a sense of romance at Galley Bay. The tone was set in the 1940s when Greta Garbo and Paul Belmondo had their secret trysts at this charming property. Now, it is an “all inclusive,” a term unheard of in their day. At night, dining tables at The Ismays Restaurant are highlighted with subdued lighting that lends an air of intimacy to the large room. To my surprise, the menu is sophisticated French with a Caribbean accent, and offers dishes carefully crafted with wit and inspiration. The seduction begins with Snapper, in corn and coconut milk broth, with a herb float. It continues on to Duck breast with caramelized pineapple, crisp herb polenta, arugula and beetroot reduction. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen splendid Baked Alaska on the menu. This one has caramel, strawberry and chocolate ice cream and is enrobed with Sambuca-toasted meringue. I surrender to dessert. After all, it’s the last night of my vacation.
Sara Waxman, OOnt, is an award-winning restaurant critic, best-selling cookbook author, food and travel journalist and has eaten her way through much of the free world for four decades, while writing about it in books, newspapers and magazines. She is the Editor in Chief of DINE and Destinations magazine.