Visit this laid-back, sun-soaked island and discover why it’s known as the culinary capital of the Caribbean
With its turquoise-blue seas, white-sand beaches and upscale resorts, Barbados has long been a favourite destination for those who appreciate the finer things in life. But it’s also garnering a reputation as something of a foodie hotspot, with those in the know flocking to the small island for its buzzing culinary scene.
From high-end restaurants where you can enjoy sophisticated cooking while looking out over the crystal-clear sea, to bustling street markets where you can sample sizzling finger-food as you walk, the style of food on offer is as diverse as the flavours themselves.
Indeed, the island is a true melting pot when it comes to cultural and culinary styles, with clear influences from Europe, Asia and the US, as well as the Caribbean.
Barbados has retained its strong historical links with the UK, which is why it’s not uncommon to see traditionally British sights like cricket greens and cream teas, and British place names such as Dover, Hastings and Worthing – hardly surprising, then, that the island is often referred to as Little England.
One thing it doesn’t have in common with England, though, is the weather. With year-round sunshine and a low level of humidity, the days are warm and the evenings comfortable – perfect conditions for getting out and exploring. Barbados is renowned for its safe and harmonious society, so you can be as independent as you like in your exploration, with charming, friendly locals always ready to point you in the right direction.
Culturally, there is much to do here, such as visiting former plantation houses, Harrison’s Cave and the capital Bridgetown (pictured) and its historic Garrison area – a UNESCO World Heritage site. But food plays a huge part in Bajan culture. The locals take their food traditions very seriously, and they love to eat – so it’s almost impossible to spend time here without embarking on your own culinary adventure, whatever your taste or budget.
West coast wonders
For refined dining, head to the fashionable west coast – home of the exclusive Sandy Lane beach – where there are many renowned eateries, including The Tides. Set in a former grand seafront home it serves superior seafood dishes such as a tower of poached lobster, king crab leg, mussels, smoked salmon, jumbo shrimp and fresh Mersea.
Another exclusive retreat is The Cliff (pictured), a torch-lit beachfront restaurant with a creative menu that features dishes such as sautéed scallops with truffle mash, or chargrilled swordfish in a Thai yellow curry sauce with grilled pineapple, and is a favourite with the in-crowd.
At the northern tip of the island you’ll find the Animal Flower Cave Restaurant in St Lucy, a family-run restaurant offering traditional dishes including Bajan fish cakes with house dips or saltfish with fire-roasted breadfruit, as well as a panoramic view of the ocean from the island’s only accessible sea cave.
For a more laid-back vibe, there are acclaimed bistros all over Barbados, including Scarlet in St James, or Café Luna in Christ Church. And there are plenty of hip beachfront bars and cafes too, such as Bombas Beach Bar, Bo’s Place or Cuz’s Fish Stand, where the dress code is more swimsuits and bare feet, but the fare is far from average.
And no culinary tour would be complete without a visit to the weekly ‘fish fry’, held every Friday night in Oistins Bay Gardens, where the aromas of grilled mahi-mahi, swordfish, marlin, tuna and, of course, flying fish fill the air. Pick the street-food vendor with the longest queue (the locals know who’s best!) and soak up the cool festival atmosphere.
A feast for the senses
Shining a light on the island’s diverse restaurant scene later this year is the annual Barbados Food & Rum Festival (pictured), where world-class local and international chefs, wine experts and mixologists come together for the annual event. Established in 2010, and this year being held from 16 to 19 November, the festival celebrates the island’s gastronomic talents through a programme of events that includes cooking demonstrations, rum and wine tastings and gourmet dinners. This year’s line-up includes the Oistins Bay Gardens cook-off and a dinner at The Tides from acclaimed UK chef Tom Aikens. The youngest ever British chef to receive two Michelin stars, Aikens has restaurants in Hong Kong and Dubai as well as the Tom’s Kitchen chain of laid-back brasseries. There’ll also be plenty of opportunity to sample the island’s famous tipple, Mount Gay Rum, at a series of food-and-rum-pairing events during the festival.
But whenever you choose to visit the island, you’ll find that Barbados has a year-round festival atmosphere, thanks to its vibrant food-and-drink scene, unbeatable climate, and, of course, it’s warm and friendly locals, keen to share their slice of paradise with you.
This article was published 7 August 2017