There’s no denying that Fiji is a long way from pretty much everywhere. Despite the distances involved, the South Pacific’s largest and most populous island has long attracted travellers from around the world for its picture-perfect beaches and laid-back lifestyle but not, historically, for its food. However, this may be set to change, as Fiji’s breath-taking produce is championed by a growing number of chefs taking cuisine in new and exciting directions.
Traditional Fijian farming methods are used to grow a huge variety of fruits, vegetables and flowers: fresh chilis or wild pumpkin, coffee, coconuts galore, cassava or seasonal fruit such as papaya, mangos, glass apple, star fruit, breadfruit and bush limes. Every conceivable herb is also grown, while the islands’ farms raise pigs, chickens, wagyu cattle and more. As for the freshest fish imaginable, crystal clear waters surround you. Here are some recommendations to enjoy the best restaurants in Fiji.
Laucala Island: Eating on a Private Island
Nowhere is this more evident than dining at the Laucala resort on the private island owned by Red Bull’s billionaire co-founder, Dietrich Mateschitz. Spanning 12 square kilometres, Laucala is one of three small islands off the northeast coast of Fiji. Twenty-four villas redefine luxury and privacy, as recent guests including Harrison Ford and Miranda Kerr would attest. The Executive Chef Jean-Luc Amann was formerly based in locations including The Peninsula Hotels in Hong Kong and Beijing, as well as across the Middle East and the Maître Cuisinier de France benefits from an extraordinary island farm, which provides 85% of the produce prepared in the kitchens.
Among Laucala’s five restaurants and bars, relaxed fine dining at Plantation House, an elegant colonial-style mansion, brings beautifully-plated contemporary French cuisine while the beach bar serves classic Fijian dishes such as Kokoda. This local favourite takes seafood such as mahi-mahi, lobster or shrimp, before marinating them in coconut milk, lime juice, herbs and chilli. Simple but utterly delicious on a steamy tropical day.
Laucala also celebrate the traditional Fijian feast cooked underground, known as a lovo. Polynesian cultures have their own versions of the unique, ingenious technique to cook large amounts of food in one go, but in Fiji it involves a large pit filled with hot stones, covered in a mesh of leaves, with raw food woven intricately in banana leaves then placed on top before being covered with branches and soil.
The oven essentially slow steam-cooks the food, so the shoulders of pork, beef and chicken sit on the bottom with cassava, pumpkin and other root vegetables towards the top. The results are spectacularly tender, lightly-smoked and infused with the flavours of the jungle. To accompany, ota is a type of fern blanched quickly and served with fresh coconut milk, capsicum and tomatoes while rourou takes the young leaves of the taro plant and simmers them with coconut milk and spices.
Viti Levu: Where to Eat on Fiji's Main Island
Fiji’s main island is Viti Levu, home to the capital Suva and the majority of the population, as well as some of the country’s most well-known restaurants. Approximately 40% of Fijians have Indian heritage, meaning that regional Indian cuisines are seen across the islands.
South Indian cuisine specialists Maya Dhaba serve some of the best thalis in town, bringing platters covered with small katori bowls of dhal, vegetable curries, curd, pickles, rice and more, with brilliant chapatis slick with ghee. Almost all their produce is locally-sourced, while their fermented rice pancake or dhosas are crisp and hot, perfect to scoop the masala potato specked with mustard seed.
Another dining option showcasing Fjii’s culinary heritage is The Governor’s, the elegant former residence of the Fijian High Chief. Nautical flags, maritime-themed movie posters and an upturned canoe used as wine storage show Fiji’s unique relationship to the sea. Their take on the marinated seafood dish Kokoda is served in a coconut shell, but it’s their flawless beef rendang which steals the show as the balance and nuance of flavours is spot-on in a dish famous for dozens of herbs and spices.
46-50 Knolly Street, Suva, FijiWebsite
Now a three-Michelin-star restaurant, Noma has changed, but not necessarily on the plate. According to Kenneth Foong, it's all about the way the team works, which is closer to a tech company than a traditional restaurant. Read our exclusive interview with Noma's head chef.