Words Jenny Ratcliffe-Wright
Situated near the tropic of Capricorn, Mauritius has a tropical climate, so many would only think to pack their kaftans and SPF and spend a week doing nothing. It’s true that the island is one of the world’s top luxury tourism destinations and that it won the World Leading Island Destination and World’s Best beach at the World Travel Awards in 2012, but the multi-ethnic and cultural population also brings a diversity of exotic flavours. The cuisine of Mauritius is a blend of Créole, Chinese, European and Indian influences and one often sees all those cultures forming part of the same meal. And these days one can find most wines on the island too, so a gourmet treat was really in store for us. As part of the preparation to get us in the mood, we did some research on the history of the Mauritian cuisine.
Mauritius was successfully colonised by the Dutch, French and British and eventually achieved its independence in 1968. In 1598 the Dutch landed there after running of course from bad weather. They named it Prince Maurits (Latin for Mauritius) of the House of Nasau. The island then became a French colony in 1715, when it was named it Isle de France, and in 1814, the Treaty of Paris then ceded the island to Great Britain, who renamed it Mauritius.
During the 19th century, Indian workers from all over India migrated to the island and brought their cuisine with them, which is why we now find a lot of curry, chutney, pickles and other spicy foods there. The Mauritian chutney is a little different to what South Africans call chutney. It’s not sweet and sticky, but made of freshly puréed tomatoes, some coriander and chilli, and is served with most things. Rougaille is another dish that was inherited from India but adapted to the island. It is a dish that has a tomato base, can be very spicy and is often served with fish.
At the end of the 19th century Chinese migrants arrived, mostly from the South East of China, bringing with them rice and noodle dishes that have become staples on the island. There are also delicious crispy chicken and squid dishes of Chinese origin that are served with either the Mauritian chutney or soy sauce.
We first headed to Long Beach resort on the east side of the island, near the town of Flaque. This side of the island is called the windward side and has a gentle, but constant, breeze year round. It is best enjoyed in the hotter months when the breeze cools the air down a bit.
Designed by South African architects Stauch Vorster, Long Beach resort is uber cool in its presentation. Being modern and trendy, you feel like you’re in a chic urban resort, but the beautiful Mauritian ocean lies just in front of you, so it becomes a lovely mix of both worlds. The real difference in this hotel lies in its food offering. It has an unbelievable five different restaurants, four of which are included in the half board. La Marche is the interactive restaurant where chefs cook while you watch, and where you can choose from countless dishes.
Sapori is the Italian restaurant. We dined here the first night. I had a delicious scallop and chorizo risotto and my companion had grilled lobster with garlic and parsley served with a risotto. A delicious bottle of Rupert and Rothschild Classique washed it all down.
Chopsticks is Long Beach resort’s Chinese restaurant. It’s classic and contemporary, and the dim sum was perfect.
Tides is the fish restaurant where you sit with your feet in the sand and enjoy the local specialities. Chef Gaël Lardière prepared for us the most fantastic lunch of Mauritian delicacies here: calamari vindaye cooked with mustard, garlic, ginger, turmeric, onion and a touch of vinegar. We also had lobster rougaille, a kind of local tomato stew with tomatoes, onion, garlic and thyme, and a prawn and chicken curry, all served with rotis and puris (the local flat bread) and a stunning bottle of Spanish rosé.
The fifth restaurant is called Hasu. It’s a fusion of Japanese and Italian cuisine with a Michelin-rated consulting chef Moreno Cedroni, who actually oversees all Long Beach resort’s restaurants, but gives special attention to Hasu. Our dinner there was outstanding. A Bava Gavi di Gavi 2011 was served with sushi and sashimi from local fishermen, followed by tempura of prawns, calamari and asparagus. Next was a smoked aubergine soup with crispy bits of aubergine in it, and black cod with sweet white miso, cream cheese and asparagus. The grande finale for the main course was Wagyu beef with a mirin and soy glaze, green pea and mint crush, and goose fat fried potatoes served with Biondi Santi Brunello di Montalcino 2003. The dessert was lighter than air: a yoghurt foam with strawberries and the most unusual curried ice cream with pineapple salsa, served with Louis Roederer Rosé 2008, one of my favourite Champagnes.
We woke to the sound of waves lapping at the shore and were delighted by the Italian pod-coffee machine in the room as we still felt a little jaded from the magnificent wines from dinner the night before. What followed was a passion fruit mojito at the pool and a long morning’s relaxation at the Sea Spa, which even has an outdoor treatment room so that you can still hear the ocean while experiencing its marine cosmetology and thalassotherapy treatments.
With the sadness of leaving, but the pleasure of a beautiful experience, we headed off to experience the other side of the island, the leeward side. The locals say this side of the island is best enjoyed in the cooler months as it’s more sheltered. But the lack of breeze in the summer time can make it very warm at times.
We were shuttled through the busy capital of Port Louis to see a few local sites before heading to the tranquillity of Sugar Beach resort.
The local market was a rewarding experience. Amongst all the exotic colours and smells, and herbs piled up high, there were fruits and vegetables there that I’d never seen before and everything was immaculately fresh and clean.
A relaxing lunch awaited us at Sugar Beach resort, a contemporary sugar plantation-style hotel where you feel relaxed the minute you walk through its doors. We were whisked off to one of the three restaurants on the property, Citronellas, the Italian restaurant, where we enjoyed a fresh caprese followed by grilled Dorado and spaghetti vongole, which went perfectly with the La Motte Sauvignon Blanc.
After lunch we were directed to the Aura Spa and Hammam, which was an oasis of calm. We lounged on heated marble, in warm pools, cold pools, still pools and jet pools, as well as in a beautiful courtyard on day beds with muslin blowing in the wind. We really felt like stars in a movie when our therapist collected us for dedicated pamper treatments.
The second restaurant at Sugar Beach is called Tides. It’s a contemporary eatery set right on the beach and offering a wide variety of ‘World Sea Cuisine’. Guests can make up their own seafood platters or choose from a huge selection of sushi. Chef Dhoovassen Mauree created for us a bespoke dinner of tuna sashimi and watermelon salad followed by a palate cleanser of edible toothpaste gel which you apply to your mouth with a personalised monogrammed toothbrush. We started with a Pommery Champagne, followed by a luscious Sancerre, Les Belles Dames 2010 from Gitton Pére et Fils and a delicious Bordeaux, Château Haut-Marbuzet to end. We certainly felt indulged and were so impressed by the range and quality of wines on offer.
For lunch the next day, we enjoyed a selection of Mauritian specialities, including the exotic palm hearts, prepared in three different ways: in a salad, grainated and braised, along with the beautiful Rosé D’Anjou Chemin des Sables from Sauvion Pére et Fils.
Guests at the Sugar Beach resort have full use of the facilities at La Pirogue, the authentically Mauritian hotel also owned by Sun Resorts. La Pirogue has a full buffet restaurant and an à la carte restaurant, Paul et Virginie, specialising in seafood.
After dinner, the Tides restaurant turns into an entertainment area, where there are different acts each night followed by a DJ pumping tunes while you dance overlooking the enormous pools and beach, and sip the best caipirinhas on the island. Guests wanting an early night are sure not to hear the music because of the clever positioning of the restaurant.
Feeling as though we truly had discovered the foodie delights and sights of the island, we headed happily to the airport, weaving through beautiful sugar plantations and catching last glimpses of the aqua ocean that had become our reality for a few days.
Monday morning back in South Africa certainly hit with a harshness of full inboxes and green tea detoxes, leaving us dreaming of the next visit.
Source: Winestyle Magazine