Enjoying Bajan Food and Rum in Barbados – Enjoying a week of fabulous food and rum in Barbados, as well as visiting some of the Island’s beautiful historic areas of interest……and, celebrating the Island’s diversity, culture and sunny countryside through the 10th Barbados Food and Rum Festival.
The 10th Barbados Food and Rum Festival
The sun slipped over the horizon as the waves lapped seductively on to the shore…..candles flickered in glass holders on tables and the rhythmic beat of a steel drum added to the atmosphere in the background. A bonfire threw its radiant, golden light over the twilight beach and a nearby swinging hammock seat…..with a rum punch in my hand, I gazed as I swung in beat to the music, and enjoyed the moment. This was my second night in Barbados, where I was visiting as part of a media/press trip, exploring the island through its culinary history and beautiful landscape. Today, I’m sharing a dairy of sorts with you, about my six days in Barbados, from visiting some of the island’s famous landmarks and places of special interest, to 4 x 4 safaris, swimming with turtles, and of course all of the delectable food AND rum I enjoyed as part of the 10th Barbados Food & Rum Festival. I hope you enjoy this “Virtual Trip” around this most fascinating and friendly of Caribbean islands with me.
I have been to Barbados before, but many years ago, and very briefly last year before boarding a cruise ship from the the island. So, it was lovely to be able to reacquaint myself with this sunny island, and to be honest, not much has changed since all those years ago when I first visited – the island was still the same as I remembered it……colourful, vibrant, friendly and filled with opportunities to enjoy the scenery, beaches, restaurants, resorts as well as join in with the local festivals. I was invited to Barbados by The Barbados Tourism Marketing Incorporation and Visit Barbados. In conjunction with their British PR representatives and the FABULOUS Katie, we five writers and journalists were treated to a varied programme, with a fabulous schedule, which helped us to really get to know the island, its people and of course, to explore and enjoy the food and rum scene, but, with enough spare time to wind down each day too. (Always essential on a press/media trip) Before I share my travel dairy notes (and with a handy fact file at the end of this post) here’s a mini gallery of photos of Barbados, just to get you in a “totally tropical” mood……
Where to stay and what to do in Barbados:
We stayed at Sugar Bay Barbados Beach Resort, this idyllic beach resort hotel was a real “home away from home” with an amazing all inclusive food and drinks package included. The tranquil location was part of the hotel’s charm, and my king-size room with large en-suite faced the beach with its own small terrace…..and, many an afternoon was spent here, as well as reading a book whilst chilling out on one of the numerous beach hammocks. As well as the main Reef restaurant and bar, there’s also another five restaurants and bars, all with a speciality theme, so there’s plenty of culinary choice on offer. I enjoyed breakfast (outside with a sea view) every morning in the Reef Restaurant, the buffet style breakfast offered everything from French style pastries, local sweet breads and cake, fresh fruit and yogurts to hot food of traditional bacon, eggs and sausages, as well as Bajan specialities and a cooked to order Omelette Station. The evening buffet dinners offer daily speciality cuisine, such as Bajan BBQ, Mexican, Italian and a British style Sunday lunch. Sugar Bay also offers Spa treatments on-site*, childcare facilities, water sports, nightly entertainment and free Wi-Fi as part of its all-inclusive package. *(for an extra charge)
Barbados is a small island, but that doesn’t impinge on what you can do whilst holidaying there. On our first full day, we explored the northern part of Barbados, namely in the parishes of St Thomas, St Joseph, St Andrew and St Lucy which is right at the top of the island. Our driver for the week was Dane, he was mine of information as well as a careful and considerate driver, and shared numerous facts and stories about his island home. On our way out to explore the interior and north of the island, we had an impromptu stop at a Rum Shop, where we indulged in a rum, obviously, as well as stopping to see a beautiful old church, now deconsecrated due to local land slippage. We then went on to explore Harrison’s Caves, which is well worth a visit, and the stunning Andromeda Botanical Gardens, where we were given a private guided tour.
Other ideas for lots of fun and local adventure, as enjoyed by all of us, is a Catamaran Cruise, and a chance to swim with turtles, our trip was with Cool Runnings, and it was an AMAZING trip, complete with a free bar on board, that’s a LOT of Rum Punch, and a delicious Bajan style lunch on board too.
Or, for those who are not great on the water, why not go on a 4 x 4 Island Jeep Safari, which comprises a lot of “off-road” and a lovely lunch in a local restaurant en-route. If you are interested in the history of the island, especially its sugar plantation heritage and rum, then a trip to one of the rum distilleries is a must, as well as the old plantation house of St Nicholas Abbey in the parish of St Peter. We visited the abbey as well as the nearby Foursquare Rum Distillery, where some rum tasting was laid on for us, after a fabulous tour of the distillery.
Where to eat and drink in Barbados:
I was in Barbados for the Food and Rum Festival, so it’s true to say that there was lots of eating and drinking going on throughout my week there! We, as a group, were treated to food and rum in a multitude of venues, both relaxed and informal dining as well as fine dining, street food and picnics. Barbados is the birthplace of rum, and the Mount Gay distillery (founded in 1703) is believed to produce the oldest rum found anywhere in the world. Rum is the essence of this Caribbean nation’s culture. It ignites the gossip in the bars and sometimes even binds big business deals. It is celebrated by every sector of their society, from farm workers to property tycoons. Barbados rum is the spirit of the island’s culture and history. The media reception for the festival was held at the Mount Gay Visitor Centre, where we were told the “story of rum”, watched a cooking demonstration and enjoyed a Bajan lunch, and had a chance to savour “the best rum in the world” as Barbadian people call it!
Our first lunch on the island was taken at the historic Round House on the rugged east coast of Barbados. Overlooking the Atlantic, the beach as fringed with palm trees. The menu suggested pumpkin fritters or coconut fried shrimp to start with, followed by cou cou and flying fish (the island’s national dish), grilled or blackened catch of the day, and assorted salads. I opted for the flying fish sandwich in Bajan salt bread, which was delicious – crispy fried fish was served inside a salt bread bun with salad and was accompanied by breadfruit chips (fries) We all imbibed in a couple of cocktails as we gazed out over the azure sea and skies.
That evening we were treated to a beach bar and bonfire meal at La Cabane. It was a magical evening, as I mentioned in my introduction. La Cabane has a very laid-back atmosphere, with a boho meets chic style of beach bar design, which is not surprising given that the two owners, Clement and Jules are transplanted French Barbadians. The food was simple but beautifully cooked, Bajan with a Mediterranean twist, and 80% of the ingredients are organic and are sourced locally. We were served several plates to start our culinary journey, ceviche, fish brochettes, mango salad and tabbouleh……we were then offered a choice of main course, which comprised grilled lobster, half a chicken, pork belly, beef or a whole locally caught fish. These were served with a selection of sides to include grilled vegetables, hand cut chips and jacket potatoes. A rum soused flambeed banana was offered for dessert with ice cream and the restaurant’s signature drink, a “Coco Loco” (which is a whole coconut in which a miniature bottle of rum has been inserted, so you sip a mixture of fresh coconut milk and rum in this unique cocktail) finished the proceedings. If you visit Barbados, do book a table at La Cabane, the whole beach-side and dining experience is one of the best I’ve enjoyed anywhere in the world. The music was amazing, both the live band and the ambient, chilled soundtracks they play, it really is an UBER COOL place.
Oistins Fish Fry is a culinary institution on Barbados, and we attended a special media Fish Fry whilst we where there. Oistins is an active fishing town on the south coast and is a hub of activity on weekend nights. On Friday night particularly, the big thing to do is go to the fish fry at Oistins Bay Gardens. The food is the main draw – excellent local fish, (tuna, swordfish, King fish, marlin, mahi-mahi, flying fish), lobster and chicken etc are served in an extremely informal setting. You can get your fish grilled or fried depending on which vendor you choose from. It’s all cooked on the spot in front of you, and the atmosphere is vibrant and fun. (A plate of fish, and there’s plenty fish on it) and a beer will cost you about Bds$30 – $35, which is about £12 to £15 at time of posting. I had lobster and chips, which was huge, utterly delicious, beautifully grilled with crisp, golden chips and coleslaw.
As part of the Food and Rum Festival, after our Fish Fry at Oistins, we then went onto the Sea Breeze Beach House for a special media Desserts for Dinner event, where Michelin star chef Tom Aikens joined our table for this special tasting menu. Sea Breeze Beach House was hosting this bespoke dining experience ‘Desserts for Dinner’ as part of the Food and Rum Festival. A totally new concept, it was the first of its kind in Barbados. Internationally acclaimed UK Pastry Chef Simon Jenkins paired some of his masterpieces with the Sea Breeze’s celebrated culinary team led by Chef Michael Harrison and Chef Ron Maynard. The evening began with an elegant cocktail hour featuring wonderful canapes and a champagne station before the sweet menu took us on a unique journey of Caribbean flavours which mingled with the chef’s interpretation of traditional Bajan recipes which were deconstructed into a tasting menu of desserts. I’ve shared some of the dishes that we served for Desserts for Dinner below, with thanks to the Sea Breeze Beach House for sending them to me. There were some intriguing dishes on offer, and although some of them could be called “challenging”, they were beautifully presented and the concept was innovative and exciting.
The next evening saw us all dining at the festival’s “Food Truck Mash Up”, where locals across the island brought their small trucks and vehicles to this special event. Barbados food trucks have been around for many years, and have traditionally taken the form of small passenger vehicles with locals plying their own home-cooked meals. Locals often refer to them “food-vans” and can be found today on every corner of the island. This was the very first Food Truck Mashup, where the very best of Bajan mobile culinary experiences merged into one location. There was a diverse selection of food on offer, from coconut milk ice lollies, hot-dogs, jerk chicken and fish cutters to fish cakes, burgers, sweets and of course beer and rum.
The Food and Rum Festival ended with a spectacular Epicure event at the Prime Minister’s residence. A large Marquee housed numerous “food stations”, where local and visiting chefs, from hotels and restaurants, offered “tasting” plates of tempting food. There was live music, a photo booth for fun souvenir photos all set in the stunning grounds if the Prime Minister’s residence. As well as the food stations, there were numerous bars which offered rum, of course, beer, wine and some delectable bespoke cocktails. My favourite was a cocktail made with rum, called a Bajan Dialect, it also had fresh coconut and smoked tea added to it, and I am sure I was speaking in a Bajan dialect after a few!
We ended our trip with a visit to the Coral Reef Club for lunch. Part of the Elegant Resorts portfolio, this 5 star hotel is set amongst 12 acres of beautifully landscaped gardens on the West Coast of Barbados in historic Holetown. Coral Reef Club is the epitome of West Indian elegance, with charming cottage and apartment accommodation, as well as a superb restaurant. A family owned-and-run luxury resort renowned for its special ambience and classic island style, Coral Reef Club is an award-winning five-star luxury boutique hotel which is recognised as one of the best hotels in Barbados. Accommodation is traditionally designed with wooden balustrades, fretwork and shutters, and the landscaped grounds and gardens were exquisite. Overlooking the sea, the restaurant offers outdoor dining at its best. The Coral Reef restaurant features daily changing a la carte menus, offering choices of fresh seafood and dishes combining classical cuisine with Caribbean ingredients and flavours. Executive Chef, Hance Bannister, heads a team of professional chefs with experience in some of the finest European and Caribbean restaurants. I enjoyed a classic Rum Punch before lunch, which was the daily special “catch of the day”, a delectable plate of King Fish with asparagus, orzo and a fresh tomato salsa with olives, served with a crisp sweet potato chips, and a glass of Rose de Provence wine. This was followed by a plate of gooey, chocolate brownies with vanilla ice cream.
As well as the venues I enjoyed as part of the Food and Rum Festival, I must also recommend Cuz’s, which is a small fast-food “Fish Shack” where the island’s signature sandwich, a *Fish Cutter, can be enjoyed. Cuz’s has appeared in numerous international magazines with claims that he makes the best fish sandwich (aka cutter) anywhere in Barbados, and I can concur with that, as I loved my fish cutter when I visited. I hope you have enjoyed this “virtual trip” around Barbados, I have shared a handy fact file below, which will help with flights, accommodation and where to dine. Barbados may be a small island, but it has so many things to offer visitors, and I plan to visit with my family for a private holiday in the future, for a relaxing, culinary break with great weather, sandy beaches and the opportunity to explore. Karen
*Disclaimer: I was a guest of The Barbados Tourism Marketing Incorporation and Visit Barbados. All of my flights, transfers, transport, activities, accommodation, food and drinks were paid for. I was not asked to write a favourable review about my stay, and all opinions are my own.
NB: *Cutters: Perfect for when you’re after a light meal or an afternoon snack, a cutter is a Barbadian sandwich. What makes it different to a normal sandwich, however, is that it made using fresh salt bread, which are a staple on the island. Like any sandwich, they can be filled with ingredients such as ham, cheese or egg and garnished with salad. What gives them their distinctive flavour, though, is the heavenly dollop of Bajan pepper sauce.
Virgin Atlantic Airlines:
Virgin Atlantic flies daily from London Gatwick to Barbados with return Economy fares starting from £453 per person return. For further information and to book please visit www.virginatlantic.com
Harrison’s Cave: http://www.harrisonscave.com/
Cool Runnings Catamaran Cruise https://www.coolrunningsbarbados.com/
Food and Rum Festival:
Sugar Bay Hotel: https://sugarbaybarbados.com
Where to eat and drink:
La Cabane: https://www.lacabanebarbados.com/
Round House: http://www.roundhousebarbados.com/
Sea Breeze Beach House: https://www.sea-breeze.com/
Oistins Fish Fry: https://barbados.org/oistins-fish-fry.htm#.XcfywFX7TIU
Coral Reef Club: https://www.coralreefbarbados.com/restaurant-bar/