Where is Anguilla? People ask me. I’m vacationing on this tiny quiet sanctuary, surrounded by an idyllic white halo of sand. The island’s motto, “tranquility wrapped in blue,” could not be more appropriate. An eight-minute puddle jump from St. Maarten, this culinary capital of the Caribbean is where we go to see and not be seen.
Island-trained chefs prepare simple local food at high-end restaurants and beach shacks. There are no international food chains because most of the food is imported, and it is the best. There are more than 100 restaurants for 13,000 residents—that means one restaurant for every 130 people. Competition demands high quality food and service.
What is Anguillan cuisine? Chefs tend to be creative with what they’ve got, using spices and techniques from around the world. The menu at Veya Restaurant showcases local seafood in styles as varied as Creole, Moroccan, Vietnamese and Indian. Grilled watermelon with poached shrimp, sliced pecans and fresh mint, and conch fritters drizzled with lime chili aioli rev up our taste buds for giant grilled lobster with passion fruit mustard sauce partnered with gingered sweet potato and toasted garlic spinach.
Each restaurant boldly explores different ingredients and recipes to elicit true flavours. Pimm’s, at the beautiful Moorish designed Cap Juluca, serves meaty olive, sesame and chive crusted grouper, tender olive-poached swordfish and dreamy lobster pappardelle with roasted garlic and champagne butter sauce. There is no shortage of flavour in a romantic candlelit dinner amidst rustling palms at Blanchard’s. Chunky lobster and shrimp cakes, plump mussels luxuriating in sweet coconut curry and a Caribbean sampler of oven-crisped mahi mahi, citrus splashed crayfish and jerk chicken with cinnamon rum bananas are palate-exploding delights. At da’Vida Bayside Bar the menu is deceptive, a complete reinvention of classics. Caesar Salad Pizza with grilled and spiced shrimp combines two iconic dishes into one Caribbean twist that I obsessively devour. Island cocktails are an extravaganza of colour and flare. After platters of savoury steak sandwiches and chicken pineapple quesadillas, I need to roll over onto the beach and hibernate. The island’s AAA Four Diamond restaurant is Le Bistro at Santorini at the CuisinArt Golf Resort & Spa and offers grilled whole snapper with fennel and roast crayfish in velvety red curry, with apple and pineapple salsa.
Each hotel is a destination. The Miami-chic Viceroy Anguilla is the perfect perch to view infinity. Seated at a cozy banquet on a cliff, we indulge in a platter of maki rolls of succulent tuna, salmon, eel and yellow tail, melt-in-your-mouth Kobe beef sliders with Boursin cheese and truffled mushrooms, ridiculously tender 24-hour marinated bulgogi skirt steak kebobs and a piquant snapper ceviche. Ultimacy Villa Retreat overlooks the renowned and pristine Shoal Bay Beach. Private villas with butler service and personal chefs attract Hollywood A-listers who want seclusion, anonymity and all the joys of luxury. In addition to the championship golf course and fitness programs at CuisinArt Resort & Spa, is a 1,800-square-foot hydroponic farm to guarantee the quality of food year round. Leafy greens, herbal towers, sprouts and vegetables supply the resort’s restaurants and spa services.
One main road leads us to art galleries, hiking trails and local street food. Delicious conch soup and lobster quesadillas at Hungry’s Food Van, tender charcoal-grilled snapper on the beach at Uncle Ernie’s, lip-smacking smoky barbeque ribs at Ken’s BBQ, hot wings with tangy Caribbean sauce and pizza chock full of fish at Corner Bar Pizza. Off the beaten path, and off the shore, is the restaurant at Scilly Cay. Upon arrival by boat at this sun-kissed sandy island, I am handed a colossal rum punch in which the punch is just for colour. Who can choose between chicken, crayfish and lobster? Now it’s time to lay in the sand, swim and snorkel. Lunch is served. Grilled on the barbeque, lemon curry crayfish are ample and tantalizing, and a “small” sweet lobster weighs in at six pounds. I am told a “large” Anguillan lobster can weigh as much as 12 pounds!
And here, there’s always time for tranquility: Back at the CuisinArt beach, I walk far out into the turquoise water, float peacefully and breathe in the warm ocean air.