You haven’t experienced Barbados until you’ve been to a fish fry at Oistins. The modest restaurant cooks swordfish, mahi-mahi, flying fish (a Bajan specialty), and marlin on huge outdoor grills, serving patrons seated at plastic tables and chairs. It’s all incredibly informal, but the fish is show-stopping: moist, soft filets (the flying fish is the winner here) cooked on the spot and topped with spices and rubs are piled onto a selection of hearty side dishes. The casualness of the setting paired with the magnificence of the food is the beauty of Oistins, and what makes it such a great opening party location for the 2016 Barbados Food and Rum Festival.
Taking place on the island nation since 2000, the festival celebrates the best of Caribbean food and hospitality. Some chefs, like three-Michelin starred Jean-Georges Vongerichten, and Toronto-based Craig Harding, fly in for special one-night-only dinners. Other chefs are local but with global experience, such as Jason Howard, who did a stint at the two-Michelin-starred Connaught in London.
“It’s fair to say that Barbados is a year-round epicurean escape,” says William (but everyone calls him Billy) Griffith, CEO of Barbados Tourism Marketing Inc., speaking to a small cocktail party gathering at The Crane Resort. Still, “the festival is a great way to be baptized into the food culture here.”
Each event speaks to the inventiveness that lives on the island, including the Taste the Exotic party at the Concorde Museum, an old airplane hangar. Here, chefs at different stations cook little two-bite tasting plates; half the fun is going to each posting and watching the cooks plate their little masterpieces. Stations serving up rum cocktails—because rum is as important as food here—round out the experience.
“The festival is a great way to be baptized into the food culture here.”
It’s not all about classic rum punch, although that is prevalent around the island, and is known to be the best at Cutters of Barbados: a tiny deli offering a calming change in pace from the festival and serving up flying fish cutters (sandwiches) with some of the most delicious house-made hot sauce.
Festival participants may also enjoy the Taste the Spirits of Polo afternoon event, which allows for the sampling of small plates while sipping bubbly and cocktails—and watching a polo match, of course. Fashion comes out in high gear, with the mix of visitors and locals dressing to impress, even in the heat.
Craig Harding, who operates the Italian restaurant Campagnolo on Toronto’s Dundas Street West, worked with his hosts at The Crane to come up with a tasting menu that combined Canadian, Italian, and Bajan flavours and ingredients. It began with amberjack carpaccio with melon, Scotch bonnet peppers, and baby pumpkin, a great entrance to the evening. The following black barrel rum-soaked jujube sorbet left a little to be desired, but everything was forgotten with the main course of cassava gnocchi with braised oxtail and tarragon orange gremolata: comforting, flavourful, every-last-morsel-worthy.
But there is more delicious food to eat: though not part of the festival, the boutique Silverpoint Hotel is a wonderful place for brunch, with unforgettable French toast dusted with Caribbean spices. These slices of battered bread encapsulate the best of Barbados cuisine: fantastic, but unassumingly so. Like the best fish you’ve ever tasted, eaten with a plastic fork.