Jamaica: Foodies Paradise on the Rise

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Every year in Jamaica, at least five restaurants emerge and become the new hot spots for the year. What kind of restaurants? There have been a surge of eateries, bistros, cafes, bars and grills. I would say this rapid breakthrough was certainly needed to fill the void in the variety of cuisines and dining or lounging experiences offered islandwide. It probably started in about 2009, where the Christmas season was off to a great start with the opening of Bin 26 situated in the courtyard of our historic Devon House and Tamarind Indian Cuisine in Orchid Village Plaza, Barbican.

We Jamaicans love our rum, whether red or white and our beer no matter the brand, however wine has become an interest. There are so many blends, types and tastes to appreciate. ‘Wine with Me’ Bar and Restaurant was the first of its kind situated in the Altamont Court West Hotel, Montego Bay. It’s unfortunately closed at the moment, but Bin 26 has taken up the reigns and is now Jamaica’s only dedicated wine bar.

Bin 26 provides a comfortable, while elegant environment with indoor and outdoor options for persons to select from over 300 international wines. It doesn’t only offer you the opportunity to find and uncork your favourite type of wine, but it hosts frequent events to provide knowledge about specific wines and enhances your wine tasting skills. Bin is definitely the place to go for a small business meeting or a night out with friends or your date with a more refined environment than a rum bar.

Wine lovers should also note that Uncorked, Hillcrest Avenue now serves wine by the glass. They offer cheeses, dips and specialty foods to complement your wine choice. Auntie Mads Gundy Dip, by Mrs. Madeline Bayliss is particularly tasty and you should grab a tub when you stop by.

Tamarind Indian Cuisine is not the only Indian restaurant around town, but it’s the more exquisite option. Customer service is outstanding and so is the burst of flavour in the foods from a menu with a wide selection of Indian dishes.

In 2010, we witnessed the opening of The Arena at the Acropolis, Barbican, Rojo Restaurant at the fairly new Spanish Court Hotel, Royale Palace, Liguanea, Mykonos Greek Bar and Grill, Main Street Ocho Rios, Raffaele’s Gourmet Pizzeria, Orchid Village Plaza, Barbican, New Leaf, Liguanea and M10 Bar and Grill, Vineyard Town.

There was a plethora of restaurant openings in 2011, providing us with the exciting opportunity to pick, choose and refuse. Restaurants such as Majestic Sushi Bar and Grill, Villa Ronai, Isiaa’s Restaurant and Bar, Barbican, South Beach Café, Brompton road, Café Mantra, Barbican, Macau Gaming Lounge and Bar, Pita Grill, Orchid Village Plaza, Barbican, Thiiah’s Juices and Organic Foods, G’s BBQ, The Marketplace, and ofcourse Usain Bolt’s Tracks and Records, The Marketplace quickly became household names.

The opening of Y not Pita and Saffron has already created a buzz this year. Also, look out for Star Grill, Mandeville that opened this weekend, October 20, 2012! The same couple that owns Tamarind Indian Cuisine opened Saffron in The Marketplace, providing better parking facilities and a larger space to dine up to 80 persons. The menu also has an added combination of dishes from Singapore, Thailand and Malaysia.

It’s fascinating that all these new restaurants do well and are located relatively close to one another, not to mention the old classics that still exist. So which restaurants other than the ones previously described really stand out?

Living a healthy lifestyle is on the rise in Jamaica. Pita Grill, that’s open 24/7, offers a variety of filling wraps and salads. New Leaf offers quick and healthy cooked, vegetarian meals. The Ethiopian style lentil stew with New Leaf rice is delicious. Thiiah’s Juices and Organic Foods provides fresh health juice, vegetarian and fish dishes on Belmont Road, New Kingston.

Royale Palace in Liguanea offers a Chinese menu downstairs and used to offer a Japanese menu upstairs. However, I find that the Chinese décor, particularly the drapes and carpeting is a bit on the gaudy side. The atmosphere upstairs was much better and unique in that you could be served teppanyaki style. They should consider reopening upstairs with better marketing and promotion.

Majestic Sushi Bar and Grill is the relatively new hot spot for authentic Japanese food.

Majestic Sushi Bar and Grill from the operators of the popular East Japanese Restaurant at the Marketplace is located at the Gardens of Villa Ronai with a much better ambiance and the food is exquisite. Although at East Japanese, the amount of wait staff scuffling through the restaurant is quite overwhelming.

Restaurant Cocoro at the Mayfair Hotel, in operation for a number of years, is still a luxurious place to dine with good service and a menu that’s revised occasionally to keep up with the new hot spots. But the plastic chairs on the lawn are not a good look.

Chilitos Jamaican Mexican Restaurant on Hope Road is still the place to go for Mexican food, especially to get the best burrito around town.

Unlike the Mexicans, the Chinese have been known as the ones to start it all, introducing Jamaica to a different kind of cuisine. A Chinese restaurant can probably be found at every corner of Jamaica, but China Express in The Marketplace and Dragon Court in South Avenue Dragon Centre are certainly a cut above the rest. China Express delivers and Dragon Court has Dim Sum every Sunday.

You would think that a small island like Jamaica would stop there, but we also have reputable restaurants specializing in Mediterranean cuisine. Chez Maria on Hillcrest Avenue, the same avenue as the French Embassy, sells Mediterranean food with a focus on authentic Lebanese and Italian dishes. Ocho Rios on the other side of the island is home to Mykonos Greek Bar and Grill Restaurant, the only Greek restaurant in Jamaica that caters not only to native Greeks, but new fans and lovers of Greek-food.

Classic restaurants, new and old with international cuisines, include Rojo Restaurant, The Terra Nova Hotel Restaurant, and Strawberry Hill. Whitebones Seafood Restaurant in Kingston, Marguerites, Seahorse Grill and The Houseboat Grill in Montego Bay are excellent choices for seafood.

The places to be for casual dining, drinks and sports entertainment are The Arena at the Acropolis (Barbican), Macau Gaming Lounge and Bar (Lindsay Crescent), Cuddy’z Sports Bar (New Kingston), Usain Bolt’s Tracks and Records (The Marketplace), John Crow’s Tavern and Mama Marley’s (Main Street Ocho Rios), Margaritaville (Negril, Montego Bay, Ocho Rios), Rick’s Café (Negril) and The Twisted Kilt Lounge (Montego Bay).

When drinks, especially blended drinks are mentioned, one should automatically think of TGIF on Hope Road. Sadly, they are on a rapid decline. Patrons cannot even get a good Piña Colada. Mojito madness is no more. They hardly ever have the mint leaves to put in them. But that is a problem with other restaurants as well, so farmers take note. TGIF’s food quality has also deteriorated, not to mention the service. A true travesty to a well known franchise now frequently the spot for young kids and teenagers.

Restaurants should realize that good service and food quality, creativity, consistency, maintenance of atmosphere or ambiance and an occasional revision of the menu is key to continued success.

Jamaica may not be recognized to have the diverse and booming restaurant scene and style of New York, but we are certainly on our way.

- By Gabrielle Williams

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