Photos: Timothy Leland, except where noted
Visiting tiny Nevis - just 36 square miles - is treat enough, with its ravishing nature, pristine beaches, friendly, laid back locals and charming inns (including several in centuries-old former sugar plantations). But it´s also packed with 40 or so of some of the finest restaurants anywhere, with food from local farm-to-table and sea-to-table found on culturally diversified menus on a par to what you might find in some of the world´s culinary capitals. My husband and I would have liked to try them all, but here’s a sample of how wonderfully we ate while visiting this beautiful little gem in the Caribbean.
Mount Nevis Hotel - Chef Liam Haddow
This charming boutique property on a former 19th-century lime plantation, has a new chef, and he’s a treasure. From England’s Lake District, Liam Haddow’s lilting English accent adds an extra touch of class to the menus he presents. He trained under the legendary Len Unwin, which may account for his special prowess with desserts. (Unwin is known for his gorgeous spun sugar and chocolate creations.) But we’re getting ahead of the meal.
For dinner, my husband Tim had red snapper that had just been brought up the hill by a local fisherman; with sweet-potato mash, sautéed vegetable in a creole sauce, and garnished with pea shoots. I enjoyed a tender rack of lamb in a rich sauce made from pigs’ feet reduction and three kinds of red wine. Dessert was a piña colada panna cotta with pineapple, chili and lime salsa. An extra fudge brownie came too, and although not needed, was gobbled down. All this in a restaurant that looks out on the Caribbean Sea and the island of St. Kitts in the near distance, with a tropical moon overhead. A dreamy dinner experience. (By the way, have you ever had a warm chocolate croissant made in-house just before breakfast by the head chef?)
Drift - Chef Nicole Merchant
This outdoor restaurant is so close to the Caribbean Sea it is practically in it. Drift is one of two spectacular restaurants owned by Mark Fuller, originally from British Columbia. Its young chef Nicole Merchant, as so many on Nevis, made her bones at the Four Seasons, the largest and oldest resort still in operation on the island. It´s like a mother ship, sending out a fleet of young chefs to other restaurants on Nevis after training them in their art.
Born on nearby St. Kitts, Merchant features a playful menu emphasizing her local heritage. Fried local shrimp with a mango and aioli sauce; a fresh lobster salad using Nevis lobster rather than an imported Maine version (Nevis lobster has no claws but has plenty of tasty meat); delicious smoked wahoo carpaccio; “Chef’s Whim,” Merchant’s healthy creation of fresh vegetables . . . and a digestif “as sweet as a goodnight kiss,” served in a snifter. The dinner menu at Drift is similar to the lunch menu but adds heartier dishes such as Louisiana barbecued ribs.
Luna - Chef Kamal DCosta
This indoor restaurant is so named because you can see the moon, stars and anything else in the sky from a table in the center, surrounded by royal palms, under an open ceiling. Its chef Kamal DCosta “knocked on the door one day and asked if he could work here,” explains Mark Fuller, the owner. “I told him I had 12 friends coming in that night. Make a multiple-course dinner for them using only what I have already in the kitchen,” I said. “He created a meal at the end of which all the diners stood up and gave him a standing ovation. I hired him on the spot.” Originally from Kolkata (aka Calcutta), India, he first learned how to cook from his chef grandfather (and worked with him at a Holiday Inn in Mumbai, aka Bombay), and studied cooking in India, then French and Italian methods in New York.
When you ask his philosophy of food, DCosta replies “Keep it simple, don’t add extra spice, and don’t make diners feel stuffed.” He loves the local hand-caught lobster (above, grilled) as well as paté of all kinds, has his own method of making butter (which he insists is healthier than the normal kind) and is a proponent of an Ayurvedic lifestyle. From his menu Tim enjoyed a slow roast pork pate on garlic toast and a vegan ensemble. I chose fire-grilled, cinnamon-flavored local lobster garnished with star anise and accompanied by saffron rice. Luna is decorated with the large realistic paintings of monkeys and other Nevisian fauna done by the owner´s wife, artist Vikki Fuller.
Bananas - Chefs Local women trained by Banana’s dynamo owner Gillian Smith
Smith says she named the restaurant to reflect her state of mind — and the electric energy, the pulsating music, the swirl of colors and the overflowing guests that are a part of the restaurant are indeed a bit “bananas.” The restaurant sits at the top of a steep hill on property she purchased after moving to Nevis from Great Britain. “Starting a restaurant was the most challenging thing I’ve ever done, save for the time I ice-skated topless in Korea,” she smiled. Smith turned her restaurant into a nightly carnival that entices people to drive the winding bumpy road up and around to get to it. When they arrive, they climb even higher on foot through a garden lit by flaming torches.
Wearing different bright colors every night, the waiters serve fun drinks like chili margaritas and passion rum punches (above) and a menu prepared by local women like Kate Freeman (above) that includes succulent pork ribs with bourbon BBQ sauce; a “Bananas Buddha bowl” of grains, pulses (edible seeds) and veggies; pan seared mahi mahi with roast red pepper coulis and risotto cake, and the locally beloved “goat water,” a goat stew. Some say dining here is like eating in a tree house. True or not, it’s as if you’re at a party no matter what night you choose. At the end of our dinner, we told our waiter that Smith seemed like a force of nature. She paused, smiling. “A hurricane,” she said.
Mango (in the Four Seasons) - Sous Chef Xavier Phillips
At 27, Xavier Phillips oversees the menu of the most popular of this the most famous resort’s three restaurants. Following a round of golf at Four Season’s 18-hole course (the only one on the island), we had a memorable lunch overlooking Pinneys Beach, with a picturesque schooner moored in the distance.
The menu that day included calabaza and quinoa soup using local pumpkin, mango and coconut cream; a piña colada dish with shrimp and pineapple salsa; “Volcano Curry,” a West Indian coconut milk curry with caramelized plantain; and a black-belly lamb ragout with basil, parmesan aioli and “Caribbean fried mush” (frizzled cornmeal). When asked his favorite food to cook, Phillips, wearing his custom-designed purple apron, replied: “Anything that people love; whatever brings a smile. Like a child getting a new toy, I get excited when I discover new foods and ingredients. My mind feels ‘at home’ when it’s in the process of creating in the kitchen.”
750 at the Montpelier Plantation - Chef Halva Browne
Built on and incorporating the ruins of an old sugar estate, this is one of Nevis’ most exclusive properties (Princess Diana once brought young William and Harry here because of its privacy and elegance). Its restaurant 750 — the number of feet it sits above sea level — is considered one of the best on the island, as is its chef, Halva Browne, 35. Browne, modestly says his own favorite food is “mac and cheese,” but his menu is sublimely complex and creative. He changes the menu every night so his guests, who sometimes stay for two weeks, “won’t get bored with it,” according to the hotel owner.
Browne, whose specialty is plant-based food, is a winner in the prestigious Nevis Mango Festival, an annual three-day event featuring dining experiences, cooking demonstrations and master cook-along classes conducted by international and local celebrity chefs. His amuse bouche on the night we were (above) there used, among other ingredients, the “tanya,” a local root vegetable. Be sure to try his tamarind and carrot soup with walnut crumble; his cocoa spiced seafood pasta; and the deconstructed vanilla goat cheesecake with passion fruit curd, beetroot jelly and meringue. Not to be misses, also, is his mango and red wine sorbet.
The Rocks at Golden Rock Inn - Chef James Eaton
The luxurious Golden Rock Inn, another historic sugar plantation turned into private cottages set amidst 40 acres of stunning tropical gardens, offers a menu that brings travelers from all over the world. Head chef James Eaton, 42, apprenticed under German, French, Japanese and South African chefs. That may account for why his international clientele feel so at home. “You must have passion to be a good chef,” he notes, and his cosmopolitan cuisine reflects it, including a particular specialty of the Rocks, the creation of the resort’s owner, artist Helen Harden: “Helen’s Moroccan Chicken” with green cracked olives, house preserved lemon, and couscous.
This passion extends even to breakfast: Eaton’s eggs Benedict with local homemade brioche, sautéed spinach and Creole hollandaise sauce can come with either local wahoo or Canadian bacon, while his pancakes (above) are flavored with spiced rum berry compote and creme Chantilly. For dinner we both especially enjoyed a perfect pan-seared rack of lamb with rosemary baby potatoes and cauliflower puree. The meals at Golden Rock can be taken outdoors in a stone gazebo next to a koi pool or at a private table in the tropical garden in addition to the main restaurant, an outdoor tented site overlooking the koi pool. The staff will even carry it up a hill for you to have at the swimming pool.
Sunshine’s Beach Bar & Grill - Chef Llewelyn “Sunshine” Caines
Sunshine’s may not be the fanciest beach restaurant on Nevis, but it’s arguably the most popular, primarily because of its charismatic, flamboyant owner, Llewellyn “Sunshine” Caines. Known throughout this small island, the fifty-ish Caines left his native St. Kitts in 1991 and came to Nevis on a friend’s boat, bringing with him $100 and a barbecue grill, which he set up on Pinneys Beach near where the Four Seasons is now. He learned to cook from his grandmother, but otherwise is self-taught.
Either way, the ribs, burgers and Caribbean cuisine he cooked eventually became a huge draw. As did one other thing: his now-famous “Killer Bee” cocktail, the recipe for which is so secret that he says he’d have to kill anyone who found it out. To partake of it — and all the other hearty Caribbean food served here— celebrities such as Meryl Streep, Wayne Gretzky, Oprah Winfrey, and Al Sharpton have found their way to this colorful joint, where the good cooking, good music, good service and casual atmosphere make everyone happy.
Passion Bar & Grill - Chef Karen Belle
This is another humble restaurant with great Caribbean food and a one-of-a-kind owner. . . And chef. And greeter. And waitress. And bill tabulator. On the night we were there, 50-year-old Karen Belle was all of these —and never lost her infectious smile throughout our stay. Passion Bar & Grill is a transformed mini mart with a corrugated aluminum roof and a series of add-on dining rooms. Belle, the baby of 12 children, was a waitress for 11 years at —where else? — Four Seasons, vowing to “have my own place by the time I turn 40.” And she did.
Her restaurant, which she opened in 2012, has a huge banner on the outside wall reading “Faith, Not Fear,” a motto that helps explain how this single woman created one of the island’s favorite local eating places. Don’t expect foie gras or tuna tartare here but her own recipe for passion rum punch makes up for the lack of luxury. When you dine at Passion you will be getting the essence of West Indian cooking, which she learned from her mother and grandmother: Creole fish, honey mustard ribs, baked chicken wings and stewed oxtail will almost certainly be on the menu - and all delicious!
To learn more about the Island of Nevis, visit their NevisIsland.com. And help plan your trip, use this Expedia affiliate link which, if used, doesn’t change your pricing or booking experience at all. But it may provide a small commission to support the running of RealFoodTraveler.com.
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Disclaimer: Julie and her husband were hosted for portions of their visit to Nevis. But as is our policy, that does not influence their reporting of their experience.