At her open-air restaurant, Fusion Rooftop, chef Rhea Gilkes is at its forefront, with dishes like slow-cooked black belly lamb and orange-tinged fresh turmeric risotto. She stuffs savoury baklava with wild mushrooms and tangy local goat cheese, dotting the plate with spicy harissa. She grills Caribbean lobster tails and coats them in a local saffron-infused cream sauce and serves it with tender-crisp snake beans. And she tosses a mixed green salad in a vinaigrette of beets, blueberries and jamoon, a sweet and sour stone fruit that resembles a blueberry but ties your mouth up with its astringency.
Gilkes own restaurant, Fusion Rooftop, is also stunning. “It’s located on the roof of the Limegrove Lifestyle Centre, three stories up, so it has these unique panoramic views of Holetown and the surrounding parish of St. James. Plus the roof retracts so on clear nights you dine under the stars" she says. Her own family of 21 people recently invaded the place for dinner to celebrate three birthdays and an anniversary. “They came at 6:30 p.m. and never left,” she jokes. “My aunties ate sushi for the first time and liked it. They’d never had it before. And the decor makes you want to look stylish and a little hip when you come out to eat. Plus you have the option of eating at our sushi bar where Naryan makes his amazing creations and the 'Bar boys,' as I call them, mix some scintillating concoctions. My favourite is the Red Geisha with its flecks of gold and plum sake.”
“The colour is spectacular,” says the 34-year-old chef who first Slow Food Iron Chef Barbados competition in 2014. She was so inspired by the local produce that they were given to work with for the competition that she joined the local chapter of the international movement along with a number of other local chefs.
From year-round mangoes to lychee-like ackee (not to be confused with the Jamaican ackee combined with salt fish in that country’s traditional dish) to local goat, lamb and poultry, Barbados has an incredible variety of produce. Much of it comes from small-scale farmers, a ready source for the growing number of Barbadian high-end restaurants looking for the sweetest local white-fleshed yams and juiciest Bajan cherries. Many restaurants are now growing their own vegetables and herbs like thyme and parsley – essential herbs for “pickling” everything from pork trotters to conch to cucumbers in salted lime juice.
Photo Kenneth Theysen
With so many options to choose from, Gilkes shares her tips on where to eat, drink and relax on the lush Caribbean island.
For markets, Gilkes likes the Sunday morning Holders Hill organic farmer’s market on Holders Estate, a 17th century plantation complete with orange-barked mahogany trees and a mix of colonial British and Barbadian architecture. From 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., vendors sell everything from local fruits and vegetables to sweet coconut-cassava loaves, raw Bajan honey, curry-stuffed roti, kombucha, hummus and medicinal tonics made from noni leaf and other foraged fruit and herbs.
“I like the Holder’s Hill market both for the colourful heirloom produce and the ambiance,” says Gilkes. “It's right across from the polo field and there’s this air of tranquillity. Plus they sometimes have live music, so you defiantly want to hang out for a bit. Ras Mike always has a nice selection of produce. I’m always on the look out for heirloom tomatoes and any local fruit.”
Holders Hill Farmer’s Market
Holders House, Holders Hill, St. James
Cheapside Market in the Barbados capital of Bridgetown is the biggest market for produce on the island. “On weekends, you not only find produce from Barbados but also from neighbouring islands, like St Vincent and St Lucia, so it’s always an adventure shopping there. You can grab your more interesting cuts of meat – pork ears, trotters and tongue for souse – along with more common cuts like shoulder and loin for roasting. It’s also where you find goat meat for making goat curry.”
A second-floor foodcourt sells affordable home-style dishes (like what your Bajan grandmother would make, says Gilkes), including whole fried fish, lamb stew, nutmeg- and cinnamon-spiced fried bakes, steamed eddoes and dumplings, green banana cou cou and yam and saltfish gravy. “I recently had a seriously hearty plate of creamed yams with saltfish gravy,” she says.
Cheapside Road at Temple Yard, Bridgetown
Fine Dining Restaurants in Barbados
“For the fine dining experience, there are some truly lovely restaurants on the island. Dockside at 13˚/59˚ is one. It’s in the Port Ferdinand marina, so you dine by the water. It’s French food with a twist, which makes every dish a little surprise.
Dockside at 13˚/59˚
Highway 1B at Maynard’s Retreat Rd.
You should try Tides as well. Every table and wall is picturesque and you can’t really beat having live trees growing through the dining room. Eat whatever is on as a special that night.
Highway 1 between Cemetary Lane and Sunset Blvd.
For special occasions, take the family to Pavão in Brittons Hill, Christ Church. The grounds are lovely, they do brunch and high tea, plus they serve well-executed local dishes and use local sweets as petit fours, like sugar cakes made with grated coconut, cane sugar and guava cheese, which is guavas stewed with sugar and set to the consistency of cheese.
Sweetfield Manor, Brittons Hill
Drinks and Cocktails
For drinks and food I go to La Cabane at Batts Rock. I think they perfectly execute the beach bar concept. They also grow their herbs and have undertaken a commitment to sourcing local produce. Order a coconut water and rum and a pork wrap. Also drop by in the evening and sit by the fire pit.
Batts Rock Beach
"For casual drinks, I go back to Speightstown to 1.11. It's an adorable garden/beach bar that’s especially relaxing on a Sunday morning along with a dip in the ocean".
One Eleven East Beach Bar
For creative cocktails, Gilkes leaves the beach in favour of Scarlet in Payne’s Bay. The downstairs cocktail bar is decorated with bright red walls and a long, raised and cushioned banquette, making for a speakeasy feel. The two French owners serve upscale international bar snacks and comfort food, from Bajan Welsh rarebit with spicy pepper sauce to local seafood pie to five spice-seared tuna. “I really love the colours in there.”
Highway 1 at Holders Hill
For a casual dinner on the resort-heavy west coast, Gilkes recommends Clay Oven, a few doors away from Scarlet, with its thin-crust pizza and big salads.
De Clay Oven
Highway 1 at Holders Hill
Further south, Salt Café serves sweet potato-crusted fish and crispy fried chicken. It’s casual, says Gilkes, but it fills up fast, so you should reserve in advance. “Eat the crispy chicken bao, then have the bao with the roasted marshmallows.”
Main Road, Hastings, Christ Church
“For lunch its Café Moya in Sunset Crest. They make their pastries and breads in-house and they always have a soup. Mrs Moe, the owner, is just the loveliest. And she's always happy to stop and chat about food – my favourite topic.”
Mahoe Ave., Holetown
Downstairs from Gilkes' own restaurant is Relish, where she’ll pop in for lunch before her shift starts. “Have the corn chowder with salt beef or the smocked marlin salad or the waffles.”
Limegrove Lifestyle Centre, Holetown