Whether you're after a food festival, a flavour tour or scouting out the best of the Islands solo, Cayman has it in spades.
By Shurna DeCou
With a well-established reputation as an international culinary destination, the talented chefs, restaurateurs, mixologists and foodie experts of the Cayman Islands are not taking anything for granted. The Islands continue to step up the momentum for all things food and drink.
Taste of Cayman Food & Drink Festival
Marking its 29th year, the Taste of Cayman Food & Drink Festival will be held on Saturday, January 28 at Festival Green Camana Bay. Sponsored by Cayman Airways and other local businesses, some 40-plus restaurants and a half dozen bars will be promoting their classic and newest creations to an estimated 5,000 visitors at this premier event, says executive director of Cayman Islands Tourism Association, Tiffany Dixon-Ebanks.
“Taste of Cayman is one of Cayman’s largest events and being a culinary nation with an abundance of incredible restaurants, the festival is the perfect way to showcase all the different food and flavours the island has to offer,” says Dixon-Ebanks. “Each year, the restaurants and bars step up their game and 2017 will be no exception. Taste of Cayman brings together all the wonderful food, drink and people of the island.”
“It’s eye opening for visiting tourists to see what an amazing variety of restaurants are hosted in this small Caribbean Island,” says Chef Dean James Max of the Brasserie. “For locals, this festival is about coming together to celebrate this food culture and share good food and drinks with our friends.”
Focus On Flavour
For foodie lovers, the Flavour Tour on Wednesday evenings at Camana Bay is a culinary journey of fresh locally-grown ingredients and small plated courses. The strong emphasis on local produce — much of which is acquired from farmers’ markets — is incorporated into the chefs’ creations.
Chef Will O’Hara from Abacus Restaurant features his small plates based on the farm-to-table concept. The kitchen garden right outside Abacus includes spinach, okra and a variety of herbs. Participants in the Flavour Tour get a close-up look at Abacus’ focus on local and seasonal produce.
“Growing our own plants allows me the freedom to ensure I can use those ingredients in a couple of dishes a day,” says chef O’Hara. “It’s nice to be able to add these touches to our dishes. I hope to ultimately expand it to peppers and more herbs as it allows us to have immediate access to these ingredients. The weekly market is right on our doorstep here, so it’s a huge advantage to just be able to step outside on a Wednesday and pick up the ingredients we need.”
The Flavour Tour starts off with a toast of bubbly at the casually elegant West Indies Wine Company. Guests then head off to a series of four restaurants, which offer a selection of chef’s specialties, each paired with a cocktail, beer or wine in a communal dining setting.
A cast of participating restaurants range from sophisticated to casual cuisine. On any given night, the four restaurants on the guided tour could include Abacus, The Brooklyn Pizza & Pasta, Mizu Asian Bistro, Michael’s Genuine Food & Drink and The Waterfront.
Each week, a participating restaurant may feature a tantalising appetizer and then the following week, it offers a mouthwatering desert. This approach makes each tour a one-of-a-kind experience and gives the chef an opportunity to highlight parts of its fuller menu.
A nice takeaway from the tour is the opportunity to try four signature restaurants at Camana Bay in one night, explains Kristy Rivers, Senior Manager, Experiences & Engagement.
“Many guests have actually booked a reservation for the very next night at one of the stops, because they just fell in love with the food on offer,” says Rivers.
The tour culminates with another visit to West Indies Wine Company, where guests indulge in one of its 80 vintages poured from its high-tech wine station machines.
Venturing Out On Your Own
For food lovers who prefer to venture out on their own, George Town features a wide array of hidden gems, offering unexpected delights — and all within a 10-minute walk of the harbour. Along the way, visitors will pass by numerous historical buildings in George Town. Of note is the island’s oldest public building, which housed the first jail and courthouse and is now the Cayman Islands National Museum. Other architectural points of interest include the George Town Post Office, Elmslie Memorial Church, the library, Heroes Square and the Wall of History.
Visitors beware: The Jamaican patties made by Tortuga Rum Company and served at their waterfront store are addicting. This traditional breakfast food features a flaky crust filled with either a spicy beef, chicken or veggie mixture, and it is difficult to stop at just one. This beloved patty is part of the intertwining history of Cayman and Jamaica.
The food is so authentic and flavourful at Casanova Ristorante by the Sea that even Italians rave about it. The tiramisu here is made with ladyfingers dipped in coffee and layered with a light mascarpone cheese — and it's unforgettable. Casanova’s freshly made pasta with a simple marinara sauce is completely satisfying on its own. But Casanova’s pasta combined with lobster, shrimp, calamari and baby clams has a regional flair that speaks to the restaurant’s roots in the Mediterranean and the Caribbean.
Walk a couple blocks deeper into George Town for a taste of Trinidad at Singh’s Roti Shop. The veggie dish is filled with pumpkin, spinach and potato and wrapped in a roti. For those who have never had a roti before, this dish is surprisingly hearty and filled with the complex flavours of Trinidadian spices. The lobster roti is so good that regulars frequently call in their orders before they run out for the day. In the West Indian ambience of this restaurant, a Red Stripe beer is the perfect complement to wash down a roti.
The Thai House Restaurant is another ethnic venue tucked away in George Town and a favourite of locals. The phad Thai is an amazing family recipe, and reminds guests how international the scope of the Islands has become. The red and yellow curry is another authentic dish, but guests should ask the cook to make it ‘Thai hot’ if they really want to kick up the heat. Karaoke nights add another element of adventure to this favourite spot, whilst generous wine pours and cocktails help bring out the inner rock star amongst its guests.