Grand Cayman bills itself as the culinary capital of the Caribbean, with over 200 restaurants including apres-beach tiki bars, casual gastro pubs and five-star dining rooms all packed onto a relatively minuscule stretch of sand. To help you navigate such a bustling food scene, Matthew Hague surveys four of the island’s top toques about their favourite local spots to find inspiration, and dinner.
Food in Grand Cayman is a multi-culti mash-up, reflecting a British-Caribbean history and diverse expatriate population from all over the world. Vidyadhara exemplifies the idea. Born and raised in Mumbai and classically trained in French techniques, he’s lived in the Caribbean for over 25 years where he’s mastered his own east-meets-west-meets-sunshine fusion. His popular resto-lounge, Blue Cilantro, offers fine dining in a club-like atmosphere (the tables are draped in white linens but bathed in a moody indigo hue). It’s hard to nail a precise classification for a dish such as his pork two ways, with guava-marinated ribs sided with apple chutney and a vindaloo sauce, but it hardly matters when the mix is so beguiling.
“Started in 1985, Pappagallo is one of the longest-running restaurants in Grand Cayman and is still one of the best. The name is Italian for parrot, and fittingly, the place is built in the middle of a 14-acre bird sanctuary, overlooking a calm, salt-water lagoon. Ducks, egrets and herons can be seen crossing the bridge to get into the restaurant, which is built over the water. But while the surroundings are stunning, the food is just as impressive. I am not a pasta lover but the pappardelle Bolognese is to die for. The extensive wine list is another reason to go. My favourite is the Kurni 2009 Oasi Degli Angeli, a great red from Italy.”
Blue Cilantro, Fidelity Financial Centre, Box 31414 West Bay Road, 345-945-4372. Ristorante Pappagallo, 444 Conch Point Rd., 345-949-1119.
Chef Dean Max comes from a foodie family. His father was a farmer in Virginia and his grandfather was a chef in upstate New York. His roots have inspired his culinary ethos of focusing only on the best local and seasonal ingredients, something common to each of his five restaurants. At the Brasserie, which Max has run for the last six years, his team has its own boat and every day the menu is updated with what’s coming out of the sea. Preparation is straightforward – dishes are cooked to order over hardwood coals – but when the snapper or wahoo is that fresh, it needs little else to taste impeccable.
“My favorite lunch spot on the island is Macabuca, a tiki bar overlooking the ocean. The food is great, especially the conch salad, done simply with onions, peppers and lime. Conch is the best mid-winter, when it’s in season and tastes the sweetest. Otherwise it comes frozen, and while still good, it isn’t quite the same. Macabuca’s rum punch is also nice, strong and not too sugary. The best reason to go, though, is the swimming. Just off the patio is Turtle Reef, one of the island’s best dive sites where I’ve seen large tarpon, lobsters and the occasional shark.”
The Brasserie, 171 Elgin Ave., 345-945-1815. Macabuca at the Cracked Conch, 857 N W Point Rd., 345-945-5217.
Before moving to the Cayman Islands nine years ago, chef and Food Network Canada host Dylan Benoit built an impressive resume. Originally from Barrie, Ont., he worked for Top Chef Canada’s Mark McEwan in Toronto and at three-Michelin starred restaurant Alinea in Chicago. In Cayman, he further developed at a number of notable spots, including French-fusion Osetra Bay and Yara, a Japanese-inflected surf-and-turf steakhouse, before setting out on his own. Now he runs Prime Group, a private, in-home catering company that turns any vacation rental into a private five-star restaurant for the evening (Benoit has visited over 40 countries, so can prepare a wide-array of dishes depending on the client’s tastes).
“Being the culinary capital of the Caribbean, it’s nearly impossible to select a single favourite restaurant in Cayman. For something casual after a fun-filled brunch and beach day, try the Cayman-style, sweet-meets-heat chicken wings from the Pirate’s Den sports bar. The wings have the perfect ratio of crispy on the outside, juicy on the inside. For something more refined, the Chef’s Counter at Avecita, overlooking the Seven Mile Beach in the Kimpton Seafire Hotel & Spa, has an ever evolving, Spanish-inspired tasting menu. Every time I go, the dishes, from fellow Canadian Massimo De Francesca, are different. I’ve had incredible octopus, wood-fire grilled steak, smoked duck and an avocado and caviar dish that was amazing.”
For private dinners, contact Prime Group, 345-326-2536. Pirate’s Den, 16/17 Galleria Plaza, 345-949-7144. Avecita, 60 Tanager Way, Suite 100, 345-746-4111.
Chef Federico Destro, who enrolled in culinary school at age 14 after many years as his mom’s kitchen helper, has not lived in his native Venice for the last 20 years. But although he’s been long gone from home, he still honours the traditions of his past. At Bacaro, his recently opened spot at the Cayman Islands Yacht Club, he serves cicchetti, the kind of small plates common at casual, after-work bacari bars in northern Italy. Some of the dishes are purely Mediterranean (buffalo-milk burrata and prosciutto, for example) while others have a distinct Caribbean inflection, including lobster bites licked with fire-y Scotch bonnet peppers.
“I like Agua as much for the cuisine as the ambiance. The room is Mediterranean-meets-Caribbean, with brass and marble clad columns contrasting with azure blue stained-glass windows and bright white, beadboard walls. It’s clean and fresh, and speaks to the unique approach with the food, which has both European and South American influences. My favourite dish is the rabbit ragout with Sardinian pecorino cheese and Caymanian greens. It has such a full flavour, and pairs well with an un-oaked chardonnay. The room can get busy at peak times – dinner on Friday or Saturday nights, say. But I like to go when it’s quieter so I can soak in the atmosphere in peace.”
Bacaro, Yacht Drive, 345-749-4800. Agua, 47 Forum Lane, 345-949-2482.
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