Epicurean Caribbean: 10 Restaurants Worth the Splurge

There was a time when fine dining in the Caribbean meant price gouging, painfully laid-back service, and generic continental cuisine. But now, with star chefs from colder climes opening beachfront outposts, and a few homegrown restaurants gaining recognition on the international stage, the scene has changed. Turn your next sun-and-sand vacation into an epicurean experience at one of these island hot spots.

Blue, Grand Cayman

It makes perfect sense that four-star Frenchman Eric Ripert, perhaps the most acclaimed seafood chef in America, chose an ocean view for his first venture outside New York. The Caribbean flavors he’s played with for years at Le Bernardin in Manhattan have moved to the fore at his new flagship spot at the Ritz Carlton Grand Cayman. Though the food is light on its toes (despite the occasional foie gras cameo), big city formality and prices endure. Still there’s value in the three-course $100 prix-fixe menu featuring mahi mahi with cucumber and apple, and coconut ginger soup with local lobster, avocado, and mango. Ritz Carlton Grand Cayman, West Bay Rd., Seven Mile Beach, Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands. 345/943-9000. Dinner only Tues-Sat. $$$$

The Pavilion, Antigua

New Orleans native Andrew Knoll, an alumnus of Emeril Lagasse’s kitchen, brought Big Easy flair to the Caribbean two years ago when he became the Pavilion’s inaugural chef. Antigua’s most ambitious restaurant is set in a pastoral locale, overlooking a cricket field in an opulent plantation style home. Begin with cocktails on the wraparound porch before heading inside for a rich white-tablecloth feast. But make this the last meal of your Antigua idyll. Knoll’s complex food — crab cakes with chile lime butter and ham hock black bean ragout, veal porterhouse with wild mushrooms and bacon veal jus — surely won’t leave you feeling svelte for the beach. No. 7 Pavilion Drive, Coolidge, Antigua. 268/480-6800. Dinner only Tues-Sat. $$$$

Blanchard’s, Anguilla

Bob and Melinda Blanchard moved to Anguilla 12 years ago, opening their dream restaurant in a tropical garden overlooking the sea. The former Vermonters have made a cottage industry of their lives’ second act — penning two cookbooks and two autobiographies. But there’s much more than mythmaking behind their restaurant success. Beyond the gorgeous setting and the Blanchards’ warm welcome you’ll find self-taught chef Melinda’s inventive, fuss-free cooking. Her Caribbean sampler includes jerk chicken with cinnamon-rum bananas, roasted spiny lobster, and coconut-ginger mahi mahi. Meads Bay, Anguilla. 264/497-6100. Dinner only Mon-Sat. $$$

Café Martinique, Paradise Island

The Café Martinique of old dates back to the days when Merv Griffin still ran most of Paradise Island (James Bond famously dined there in 1965’s Thunderball). Re-imagined by designer Adam Tihany, the restaurant came back to life recently under the gilded hand of Jean-Georges Vongerichten. The superstar chef channels the restaurant’s retro French past with updated takes on classic dishes like dover sole meuniere. New creations include a dazzling local lobster tartine. Atlantis Resort, One Casino Drive, Paradise Island, Bahamas. 888/528-7155. Dinner only Mon-Sat. $$$$

The Dining Room at Round Hill, Jamaica

The signature restaurant at the Round Hill resort is as buttoned-up glamorous as the hotel it’s ensconced in, a classic colonial-styled getaway on a former sugar plantation featuring design touches by Ralph Lauren (he owns a villa on the property). Chef Trevor Duncan brings an elegant touch to classic Jamaican ingredients and flavors, offering up bright seafood salads, Caribbean pasta, and crab cakes with jerk mayonnaise. The stunning al fresco setting may be the most romantic on the island. Round Hill Hotel & Villas, N. Coast Hwy., Box 64, Montego Bay, Jamaica. 876/956-7050. Lunch and dinner daily. $$$$

Daphne’s, Barbados

Italian cuisine may not be the first thing you crave when you land in Barbados, the most properly British of the Caribbean isles. After a few days at the beach, however, you might find yourself migrating to Daphne’s for the most ethereal handmade pasta (try the papardelle with lamb ragu) in the region. An offshoot of a legendary London hot spot of the same name, the clubby restaurant attracts an A-list Brit clientele, royals among them. Lunches are languid affairs featuring fine wine and fish of the region, such as marlin, smoked and sliced into carpaccio. Paynes Bay, St. James, Barbados. 234/432-2731. Lunch and dinner daily. $$$$

Dune, New Providence Island

Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s first Bahamian venture is just up the beach from his second (Café Martinique — see above). Both restaurants have had their 15 minutes with Bond — Dune shows up in the new film Casino Royale. Ensconced in the Ocean Club, the most exclusive resort on Paradise Island, the restaurant was one of the first celeb-chef helmed spots in the region when it opened five years ago. Sleekly designed by Christian Liaigre, it remains a destination for modern cooking that combines Asian touches with regional ingredients. Tuna spring rolls are served with soybean salsa; Caribbean shrimp are flanked by artichokes and arugula. One & Only Ocean Club, Ocean Club Dr., Paradise Island, New Providence Island, Bahamas. 242/363-2501. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner daily. $$$$

Rhodes Restaurant, Grenada

Michelin-starred Brit Gary Rhodes, who runs two London restaurants, opened his first overseas outpost two years ago in the low-key Calabash resort on Grenada. The restaurant is a major new draw for an island that is among the least trafficked in the Caribbean. Rhodes’ fine touch with local ingredients and preparations — he serves Grenadian fish stew with saffron and jerk chicken fillets with papaya salad — are well worth an island-hopping detour. Calabash Hotel & Villas, St. George’s, Grenada. 473/444-4334. Dinner only daily. $$$$

The Cliff, Barbados

The only Caribbean spot included in last year’s “top 50 restaurants in the world” list in U.K.’s Restaurant magazine, the Cliff entices well-heeled customers with its creative cuisine and stunning cliff-top locale (every table faces the ocean). Chef Paul Owen’s eclectic repertoire ranges from classic French snails in puff pastry to fiery Thai curried shrimp. A fine-wine list and art covered walls complete the very civilized picture. Highway 1, Derricks, St. James, Barbados. 246/432-1922. Dinner only daily. $$$$

Dasheene, St. Lucia

Dasheene is the local word for taro, the starchy vegetable served at the St. Lucian restaurant that bears its name. Homegrown chef Orlando Satchell delivers traditional island cooking with boutique-hotel polish, grilling jerk-seasoned shrimp on sugarcane skewers, turning rack of lamb into a St. Lucian curry, and pairing dasheene fries with a lime and pepper-doused filet mignon. Nestled in the hilltop Ladera resort, Dasheene offers spectacular views — of the ocean below and the Piton Mountains above. Ladera Resort, 2 mi (3 km) south of Soufrière, Soufrière, St. Lucia. 758/459-7323. Lunch and dinner daily. $$$$

Jay Cheshes