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Dennis Jones is a Jamaican-born international economist, who has lived most of the time in the UK and USA, and latterly in Guinea, west Africa. He moved back to the Caribbean in 2007. This blog contains his observations on life on this small eastern Caribbean island, as well as views on life and issues on a broader landscape, especially the Caribbean and Africa.

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Wednesday, October 08, 2008

As Good As ZAGAT: The Restaurant at South Sea Gets Due Praise.

Last night's "Taste of Barbados" offering included dinner at The Restaurant at South Sea (see web site), and the "celebrity" chef was Eoghain O'Neill, of Raffles Resort, Canouan Island, The Grenadines. O'Neill is of Irish and Trinidadian parentage--so a perfectly typical Caribbean fusion--and trained in England and elsewhere in Europe. His menu reflected that training, as he offered a selection of cold pumpkin soup with a scent of truffle essence; then foie gras; followed by three portions of snapper--seared, poached and ceviche--on a bed of creamed potatoes; the entree was roast beef and steamed spinach. We then washed all of that down with a shot of water melon juice, and finished with a dessert of chocolate mousse cake and sour sop sorbet.

I've been to this restaurant once before and rate it certainly the best by far for service. The ZAGAT Guide Best of Barbados 2008, which was recently published, notes that staff set a new standard for pampering, though some find the servers "too attentive". I agree in a positive way with both comments. I don't need to be accompanied to the bathroom but it's nice to be led all the way there.

Last night I ventured into the kitchen before the meal and was amazed that it was a simple cooking space in which all the magic is prepared. I looked on as things were getting started and did not get a chance to ask Chef O'Neill if he spoke Gaelic.

We were graced by a little moonlight and that made the normally wonderful ambiance, even better. The evening was being filmed and I found the occasional glare of floodlights in the dining area intrusive, especially as part of the normal ambiance comes from the low level of lighting.

I'm always impressed when a restaurant has one of more sommeliers, as does South Sea. Our poured the wine well and decanted it as needed to let more air get to the delicate flavour of the Italian wine my wife chose.

My own impression was a little mixed. The service was good but not as pampering as I had on a previous visit and the format of a set meal and almost all tables filled meant that the staff had their hands full. I also found it a little off putting that our table had to be shared with two other couples--nothing against them, but people often prefer to eat in the same space as their friends and acquaintances. Even with late arrivals or cancellations, it would have been better to set up for separate tables. We got to overhear some interesting conversation as an Australian couple from Perth shared cultural information with a Bajan couple. I got to learn that western Australia was not populated by ex-convicts, who were sent to the eastern part of the country. The seating caused confusion at the end because the restaurant presented a bill for everyone to the lady at the head of the table and then had to work out the bill for three separate groups. After the weekend's experience, I had started off the evening with lower than usual expectations, even jokingly cheering to disappointment! But overall, the evening was good. The food came at a good pace, though there was a snafu as our snapper dish arrived ahead of the advertised foie gras. My palate was not really ready for goose liver after the fish.

My wife had a good impression. She thought the general service was good, and even better from the sommelier. The food was attractive and tasty but not overwhelmingly so. She was still not sure why a celebrity chef was trumpeted when in fact he makes no appearance to clarify any menu mysteries (though hardly any in this case). Friendly, attentive staff in gorgeous setting. She gave it a B+. [In defence of South Sea, they gave a "loot bag" at the end that included recipes for the foie gras and fish dishes, and full explanations of how they were crafted.]

Our friend, "Striddy", enjoyed the fabulous company in an elegant yet homey ambiance, enhanced by the waves lapping gently on the floodlit beach just below our table. Service was competent although she had to ask three times for her water glass to be refilled. The menu was appealing although not too exotic as to be off-putting.

Brian thought the whole evening was delightful. Great ambiance. Congenial company. Service that tried. Fine food well presented but perhaps the balance of flavours was too much over on the sweet side. [The foie gras had a mango and hazelnut chutney, and the fish dishes had apple puree.] The snapper dish was excellent and diverting.

"Sones" gave her descending order of preferences. First place, the spot, love the setting, dramatic lighting of the beach and the sound of the waves ... hard to beat. Second, liked the attentive sommelier, who was not in your face, but discreet; few are able to strike this balance. Third, enjoyable food, though she concluded that chilled soup is still not her cup of tea; but give her ceviche any day of the week. She was disappointed by the mix up of courses. The watermelon water was a much better option for the palate, not as jolting to the system as sorbet. Fourth, attendants who tried hard but did not seem as confident or as competent as the sommelier. And tenth (!), a celebrity chef who seemed selective about which tables he visited.

My final observation on the evening was that it seemed much better attended by black patrons than one usually sees--maybe it was the Trini attraction. We know that fewer tourists are in town--and the Gap was so quiet as to be eerie--so these food events should be snapped up by those of us who are on the island most of the time. I saw that Mr. "Bizzy" Williams was there, having his usual good time.

We missed watching live the second presidential debate for this enjoyable evening. We can always watch replays of the debates, but it's hard to replay a good meal in good company.

2 comments:

Roberta Tromboni said...

I'm sorry I can leave a comment about this post so late, but I just find your blog today.
I am suprised that in both of the posts regarding Taste of Barbados the main complain is regarding how much time the two "celebrity chefs" spent with their guests. It maight sound strange to you but cooking for 70-80 guests and entertain each one of them at the same time could be rader difficoult...maybe impossible? And that probably the few table visited were composed by "the Press" invited by the organizers? I'm sure that if you would have waited until the end of the night you would have had a chance to chat with each of them as much as you'd like, like I did.
And if we really request that, in these "special dinners", a chef could come and explain to each single table each single dish,why don't we suggest to the food festival organizer to limit the number of guests for each dinner? Do you think they could still cover the costs?
Few things I learned by these kind dinners in food festival (in January you can try the "Food and Rhum" festival in St. Lucia)...you never get to see the chef, you usually receive a much worse service than the restaurant normally offers, and you may not completely enjoy the menu! Why I do still spend money on these dinners? Because sometime you do get to eat absolutely fantastic food at a reasonable price...like the food served that night at the restaurant at South Sea. I don't know about you, but in Barbados I never eat so well, for not so much money, before!

Dennis Jones said...

Roberta,

There was never any suggestion that the chefs entertain the guests "at the same time". My take is that given that the meal is set, then even at the dessert stage, which is about the same for most/all tables, there could be an opportunity to meet/greet the guests. Chef O'Neill provided a recipe sheet for some dishes and that was good. Madhur Jaffrey passed by several tables, and so it looked odd to ignore the others (press or not); at that dinner we were the last to leave (after nearly 5 hours at the restaurant). If the press are to be impressed, then do a dinner for them so that the can do their reviews. We ordinary customers are also "deviners" of good taste.

Like you, I can think about the value for money for the meal, but I also measure the value of the experience by the chance to meet a "great chef".

The dissatisfaction is similar to going to a concert billed with a major name, then waiting through a late start, having the back up act play for an hour and a half, and then the main star doing six songs before walking off the stage. For that, I can stay at home and listen to the CD/record/tape.