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Winter Escape: Barbados in Three Bites

Winter Escape: Barbados in Three Bites
Martin Guttridge-Hewitt bites into Barbados; from marlin to flying fish and tilapia.
Arriving at the small fishing village of Oistins shortly after sundown and you could be forgiven for assuming it’s carnival time, irrespective of the month. The main road, boasting a quintessentially Bajan-looking pool hall and a handful of bars, is literally teeming with people of all ages and walks of life, meanwhile the market area behind is even busier.
Yet it’s just another average Friday evening in this corner of southern Barbados. The Fish Fry marks an end to the working week, and has developed from a small local event wherein residents of the nearby towns and villages would meet, mingle, dance, drink and indulge on the fruits of the sea, into a fully fledged must-do for international visitors too, providing they’re looking for a traditional party atmosphere and fantastically tasty grilled creatures from the deep.
Needless to say, we’re in our element. The platters don’t vary from oven to oven, with every option sourced from just off the perfect white shores of this paradise island, and all tables and chairs communal. Stomachs rumbling at the smell of lobsters on a gas fired BBQ, we move towards the largest collection of seats, and are quickly invited to perch between two American travellers and folk who grew up in the area, whilst three young men take to a makeshift performance area in the centre of it all, and begin break-dancing to Michael Jackson.
Ordering a plate of marlin and another of flying fish, our preferred refreshments- a pair of Barbados’ finest bottles, Banks Beer- are the first to arrive. Given the decidedly balmy 29-degree daytime temperature it doesn’t take long for the drinks to be half-emptied, but thankfully two plates of food show up soon after. Even if the wait had been longer, though, it would have been worthwhile, as both are piled with truly delicious ingredients, at an unbelievable price of under £10.
Opting for sides of macaroni pie, peas and rice (apparently rice and peas isn’t how it’s done around here) we begin tucking in. Both types of fish are cooked to absolute perfection, with the marlin’s chunky flesh prepared in a mildly spiced marinade, lashings of lemon juice and very little else. Most of the flavour already being present when the fishermen’s nets were pulled in to reveal their catch earlier that day, it proves that often times simpler is far better than any complex recipe.
In contrast the flying fish almost melts in the mouth, flaking away under the weight of its own delectable piquancy. A few minutes later and all that’s left are the carbs, which need little explanation, other than to say macaroni pie occupies a middle ground somewhere between the more commonly found ‘and cheese’ variety and a kind of pasta bake. Just the trick to complement all that protein, by now we understand Barbados likes to eat, and likes to eat very well indeed.
Waking the next morning and, following a paddle in the crystal blue waters of Brown’s Bay- the capital Bridgetown’s most prominent beach- it’s time for brunch. Claiming to be one of the world’s best street food vendors, we’re under no illusion that the only place for a mid-morning snack is Cuzz’s Fish Shack, a hut tucked away in the corner of a car park, spitting distance from the imposingly modernist Hilton hotel.
Passed on from Cuzz Senior to Cuzz Junior and his sister, Angela, even though it’s still relatively early on a queue has already formed at the hatch, from which intoxicating smells are pervading. With very few choices on the menu, other than which strength of hot sauce to punt for, we gratefully order two sandwiches, which come loaded with a burger-like slab of marlin, green salad and grated cheese.
Again, it’s a world away from haute cuisine, and all the better for it. Taking a single bite one phrase comes to mind; “If Carlsberg made fish sandwiches…” OK, so Copenhagen’s best-known booze brand is a bad reference, given it’s not the best lager available (potentially ranking amongst the worst), but still, you get the point. With every mouthful the quality of the produce used becomes more evident, and given the generous helpings involved we can’t help but wonder if there will be any room for lunch, albeit not for too long.
The west coast of Barbados is renowned for elegance and opulence. Here historic settlements such as Holetown play host to multi-million dollar condominium apartments, and estates so vast it takes our taxi minutes to pass from one end to another. It’s a stark and sad contrast to the homes of many islanders, accentuating the duality of this Caribbean retreat. Nevertheless, occasionally we all deserve pampering, and we’ve been told several times that one of the best places to do this is Cobblers Cove, a boutique Relais & Châteaux address where luxury, privacy and individuality are core principles.
Comprising just two suites and 40 rooms, we make our way through the pristine tropical gardens to an intimate terrace. Taking in unspoilt views of yet more transparent waters, along with a near-deserted, palm-fringed beach stretching north towards Speightstown, it’s hard to imagine a more idyllic spot to sample dishes. This stunning vista is matched by the flavours too, which are served up by Head Chef Michael Harrison, a Barbadian cook whose CV boasts time spent at Gleneagles in Scotland and London eatery, Le Gavroche.
Quaffing a French Muscadet, just one of many impressive wines on a truly vintage list, our mains appears and appetites return despite the fact it’s only an hour after that sizeable snack. The blackened tilapia is served alongside home made chips, zesty salsa and fresh salad; whilst the tempura flying fish and Greek salad ensures there’s no dinner jealousy. Thoughts on the irrelevance of refinement fading fast, when it comes to filling one’s belly there’s no denying the experience impresses.
But, despite feeding the rich and infamous (including the Beckhams and former-President Bush), when we steal five minutes of Harrison’s time he’s quick to point out the focus is on uncomplicated indulgence. Pointing to a colourful row boat moored close by he explains how ‘Barker’s catch of the day’, a favourite on the menu, depends on the owner of the vessel’s yield; a chap called Barker, who turns up each morning clutching what must be some of the finest seafood known to mankind. More than satisfied, not least after deserts of home made mango ice cream, strawberry mille feuille and crème Anglaise, fear of never again gorging on beyond-market fresh fish weighs heavy on the mind.
Understandably then, we’ve already booked our flights to return, and heartily implore anyone, from anywhere in the world, to join us.
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17 December 2013
By: Martin Guttridge-Hewitt
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