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A couple of years ago, I was asked to participate in the annual Barbados Food & Wine and Rum Festival. ‘Why not?’ I thought. Hot weather and golden beaches sounded rather more tempting than a cold, grey, depressing November in London. What I wasn’t fully prepared for was the phenomenal warmth of the welcome from the Bajan people and the tremendous diversity of the food and drink on offer on this Caribbean island.
The festival, which started in 2010, includes chef demonstrations and tasting seminars, with events held in some of the island’s leading hotels and restaurants. It assembles a world-class line-up of chefs, who bring their own particular cooking style to the occasion, but work with local ingredients and local chefs. While I was there, I hosted a cooking demonstration that included popular dishes at my London restaurant, Bistrot Bruno Loubet. One of the dishes was boudin blanc, which I adapted to the hot climate of Barbados by serving it with a delicate chicken stock and local vegetables.
Aside from the festival, I was able to experience some of what the Barbados restaurant and bar scene has to offer. The highlight for me was Sunday lunch in the beautiful gardens at the Fisherpond Great House, which the late Michael Winner often cited as his favourite restaurant in the world.
They serve a superb Bajan buffet in an enchanting garden setting, but be sure to book in advance, as it gets very busy.
A visit to a rum bar (or two) is also essential to experience the real Bajan lifestyle and the wonderful hospitality of the islanders. I was taken off the beaten track by my charming and informative guide and driver Arthur, who introduced me to some really quirky and fun local bars on the more rugged and less-frequented east coast of the island. The views were astounding and I truly felt I was seeing the real Barbados. Having never been a rum fan in the past, to my surprise, I am now hooked on Mount Gay 1703 Rum. This was one of my best discoveries from the trip.
Oistins Fish Market is another fascinating pit stop. It is open every day, and on Friday and Saturday nights you can eat the freshest fish fry at Oistins Bay Gardens, enjoy the buzz of the traders and wander around the adjacent art and crafts stalls, which sell jewellery, pottery, ceramics and leather goods.
Whenever I travel, I love to slip into neighbourhood supermarkets to buy local ingredients, and I came away with plenty of Bajan spices and sauces. Now I use the cayenne pepper, ginger, coriander and preserved lemon peel I bought there when I cook fish at home.
One of the main venues during the festival is the world-famous Cliff Restaurant in the St James district. Antonio Carluccio was cooking there the night I visited; sadly, I didn’t try the menu, but the restaurant certainly lived up to its reputation for one of the most breathtaking sea views on the island.
The House hotel, part of the Tamarind Hotel Group, was my home during the festival. Situated on the beach in Paynes Bay in St James, it has every five-star facility you could wish for, plus a branch of Daphne’s restaurant, with its top-class modern-Italian food.
This was my first visit to Barbados and I loved every minute – the warmth of the welcome, the excellent standard of restaurants and hotels, and the Barbados Food & Wine and Rum Festival itself. I would heartily recommend anyone planning a visit to this beautiful island to schedule their trip to coincide with the festival, for the chance to discover amazing dishes from both international and Bajan chefs. I can’t wait to return.
Bruno Loubet is chef-owner of Bistrot Bruno Loubet in Clerkenwell and the newly opened Grain Store near King’s Cross. His latest book, Mange Tout, is published by Ebury Press (£25).
Experience Barbados yourself with this special offer: 7 night package for £3409pp at 5* Sandy Lane for travel in November.
Terms and conditions apply: Limited availability. Price based on GBP per person, two adults sharing plus breakfast. Also includes return flights from LGW to Barbados. Price includes pre-payable taxes and charges, correct as at 21/06/13. Holidays are ATOL protected (number ATOL5985). For full details on full terms and conditions please visit ba.com