By Sofia Perez
An opulent Caribbean resort where the food is equal parts Old World and New
[Published by Saveur.com, January 21, 2015]
Like its Caribbean neighbors, Saint Lucia’s history is marked by colonization, but this island was fought over so intensely—changing hands between the British and the French 14 times over a period of just 150 years—that it earned the nickname “Helen of the West Indies,” after the fabled Helen of Troy. While traveling the island with my friend Elizabeth, we cannot help but spot the imprint of the cultures that have inhabited the place—in the music, town names, and the local patois, a medley of French, Caribbean, and African languages with a hint of English and Spanish thrown in.
This mélange is also evident at Cap Maison, a boutique resort on Saint Lucia’s northern tip that was formerly the private estate of a British/Australian family before they converted it to a hotel in 2008. The design of the rooms, suites, and villas can best be described as Spanish-Caribbean hacienda.
As we explore our spacious king villa—complete with a large veranda and a private pool from which we can watch the sun set over the ocean—the first word that comes to mind is opulence, but what surprises both of us over the course of our visit is the resort’s warm, cozy feel. It’s more akin to being hosted by an especially well-to-do friend with an unflappable sense of hospitality than spending the night at a luxurious but impersonal hotel.
When we first arrive, tokens of both the Old World and the New await us on the table in the breakfast nook area of the villa’s full kitchen: a chilled bottle of Champagne alongside all of the fixings to mix ourselves a batch of the local rum punch. But it’s at Cap Maison’s two restaurants where the confluence of cultures really shines. Though chef Craig Jones is Welsh, and worked his way up the ranks of several Michelin-starred temples in Europe, he’s married to a Saint Lucian and has lived on the island for 17 years. At the high-end Cliff restaurant, perched on a bluff overlooking the ocean, Jones puts his classic French training to excellent use, but his reverence for the local farmers, fishermen, and culinary traditions is also unmistakable on the plate.
Pulling from both the Caribbean and Continental playbooks, he serves up dishes like short-rib pepper pot with creamed potatoes, a rich christophine (chayote) gratin, and an ethereal passion fruit soufflé. And when it comes to beverage pairings, sommelier Robinson George deftly matches the menu’s more unusual flavor combinations with the right wine or rum from the resort’s impressive collection.
Later in our stay, Elizabeth and I bask in that wonderfully Caribbean sense of languid contentment at the Naked Fisherman, Cap Maison’s informal eatery at the edge of Smugglers Cove Beach. Between sips of the signature “Naked Fisherman” cocktail (white tequila, vodka, dried-orange liqueur, and lime juice), we feast on a perfectly seasoned West Indian chicken roti and a platter of grilled seafood, which includes succulent razor clams and crab claws brushed with a sauce so good that I’d consider eating my left arm if it were covered in it. (Given that I was already somewhat sunburned by this point, my friend sagely advised against the idea.)
Though the concept of culinary fusion has gotten a bad rap (often justifiably so), chef Jones and his team prove that—like the beautiful resort and island they call home—it’s possible to take the best elements from different worlds and combine them with flair.
- The grilled seafood platter at the Naked Fisherman & the restaurant’s eponymous cocktail
- The tasting menu with wine pairings at the Cliff—if you’re there on a Tuesday night, be sure to choose the Creole menu
- A private rum tasting
- The “Soufrière Adventure” day cruise on the resort’s private yacht, which includes snorkeling, a picnic lunch, and a soak in the island’s volcanic mud baths
IN THE AREA
Castries Market: Visit the food market in nearby Castries, Saint Lucia’s capital, and take in the amazing variety of fruit, vegetables, fish, and spices. Cap Maison can set up a guided tour with the Cliff’s sous chef, Nicodemus Joseph, whose easy rapport with the vendors will have you feeling like a local. Open every day except Sunday, the market is liveliest on Saturdays. Make sure to try the fresh coconut. Jeremie and Peynier streets, Castries
Waterfront De Belle View Restaurant: At this casual eatery overlooking the water in Soufrière (about a half-hour’s drive from the island’s main airport), the view from our table—of locals engaged in a fierce match of dominoes—wasn’t necessarily “belle,” but the combination platters of stewed chicken or fish curry served with plantains, rice, and taro provided an appealing window onto the island’s Creole cuisine. Maurice Mason Street, Soufrière, 758/712-3663
Morne Coubaril Estate: During a visit to this still-active plantation, you can taste cocoa in its raw form, sample tropical fruits such as soursop and tamarind, or throw caution—and your body—to the wind by zip-lining.