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Anguilla: Barefoot luxury and fine dining

From the sea, the island of Anguilla appears as a green outcropping on the horizon. With no dramatic towering volcanic hills, no waterfall-laced rain forests and no major port with glittering amenities, you may just pass it by. But looks can be deceiving. 

Like a diamond necklace wrapped in plain brown paper, Anguilla is an island of surprises. Come closer, and you’ll discover — as I did — its 33 white-sand beaches lapped by turquoise waters, and an unexpectedly good dining scene.

While other islands may offer exclusive and trendy places to unwind and dine, what makes Anguilla special is that it offers that same level of sophistication while retaining its untouched quality. With only one main road traversing the island and a mere six stoplights, Anguilla’s laid-back, gracious style is seducing celebrities, foodies and adventuresome travellers to its off-the-beaten-path location in the northeast Caribbean’s Leeward Island chain, a short jaunt north of St. Martin.

Superyachts can anchor in one of its five deep bays, on both the leeward and wind- ward sides, and tender in for Michelin-level cuisine and superbly prepared local fare highlighting fresh flavours from farm and sea. Although Anguilla also boasts over-the- top luxury boutique accommodations, spas and outdoor activities including golf, it is fast becoming a destination for those who appreciate a place where even a simple grilled lobster with a side of rice and beans is elevated to the sublime.

Seeing Stars

For contemporary American sea-to-table offerings inspired by restaurants in the Mediterranean, book a table overlooking the Caribbean at The Restaurant at Malliouhana. It is helmed by Executive Chef Jeremy Bearman, formerly of New York City’s five-time Michelin-starred Rouge Tomate. The wine list, compiled by the hotel’s own qualified sommelier, features an extensive selection of Old and New World offerings. Before being asked to head The Restaurant at Malliouhana, Bearman had never visited Anguilla.

After a whirlwind visit to the property before the grand reopening, he and his wife had less than a week to decide whether or not he would take the job.

Diners at Malliouhana are thrilled that he did. Bearman has re-envisioned the menu as contemporary American with Mediterranean influences with a focus on locally sourced products. Guests enjoy dishes such as walu ceviche with avocado, jicama and yuzu; Anguillan snapper with lemongrass rice; squid ink garganelli with spiny lobster and tamarind-glazed duck breast.

What surprised him? “Getting good product down here is not as tough as I thought it would be,” says Bearman, adding that there is practically nothing that he can’t acquire. “I can even get products from the Paris market that I could not get in the States. In terms of locally grown product…there are many local farms here producing a good variety as well as great-quality fruits and vegetables. This, along with the availability of fresh fish and seafood coming directly out of our waters, makes cooking inspirational and fun.”

Malliouhana is the only Auberge Resort in the Caribbean. It is set on 25 acres of lush gardens atop a panoramic bluff overlooking Meads Bay — one of five protected anchorages on the island. After a three-year closure for extensive upscale renovations, the property, originally opened in 1984, retains its signature white buildings, tiled roofs and elegant Moorish arches while sporting a sophisticated, trendy beach style.

Date Night

One of the most romantic dining spots on the island is found at Pimms, a candlelit, open-air restaurant where curved Moorish arches frame a view of Maundays Bay — one of the best beaches in the Caribbean — and the mountains of St. Martin.

Located at Cap Juluca, a five-star resort with its own mile-long beach, Pimms fuses Caribbean and European flavours with an emphasis on fresh seafood and farm-to-table produce. 

Enjoy familiar dishes such as Anguillan lobster bisque with lobster ravioli, heirloom beet and goat cheese salad, seared salmon with stuffed aubergine and grilled island lobster and crayfish. Pair your selections with the resort’s exclusive wine selection, recipient of Wine Spectator’s 2014 Award of Excellence.

Asian Vibe

You’ll need to make a reservation weeks in advance to secure a table at chef-owned Veya, a hidden tropical hot spot with an eclectic and exotic menu that blends Caribbean flavours with “cuisines of the sun.” Or enjoy a changing selection of tapas and live music in the garden lounge.

For 12 years, Chef Carrie Bogar and her business partner and husband, Jerry, successfully helmed their own restaurant in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. Perhaps it was one too many gloomy winters or the promise of Caribbean sunshine, but one day they decided to leave it all behind and head to the island of Anguilla.

“We Googled ‘Caribbean restaurants for sale,’ and packed up the kids and moved,” says Bogar.

Veya — a Carib Indian term meaning “ray of sunlight” — opened in 2007 to rave reviews. Located in a wooded hilltop retreat, not far from Road Bay in Sandy Ground, it serves sophisticated food in a casual setting that’s been likened to an Indonesian treehouse.

A graduate of The Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York, Bogar brings a studied flair to inventive dishes such as grilled jerk-spiced tuna with rum-coffee glaze, and vanilla-cured duck breast with guavaberry sauce.

“It’s Caribbean mixed with an Asian vibe. That’s the kind of food I’m interested in. I didn’t want to be pigeonholed as just a Caribbean chef, so I started thinking about other countries with warm climates, such as North Africa, South America and Southeast Asia,” says Bogar. 

Island Picnic

For a more casual but equally delicious feast, tender to Sandy Island, a tiny offshore cay known for its open-air lunch-only restaurant serving traditional island foods. 

Sit at shaded picnic tables with your feet in the sand to savor freshly caught grilled lobster, red snapper, crayfish and mahi-mahi. Or try juicy baby back ribs, barbecued chicken and drunken coconut shrimp sautéed with coconut cream and rum. The brightly painted bar serves specialty and frozen fruity cocktails, wine and beer. Food service is on “island time,” so if you’re hungry call and order before arriving. 

Beach It

On the beach at Crocus Bay, enjoy cool breezes at the Bayside Bar & Grill. This popular locally owned restaurant serves rustic pizzas, burgers, sandwiches, wraps, salads and grilled entrees, such as barbecue chicken and ribs, grilled lobster and crayfish, and seafood sampler, all served with corn, rice and peas. 

Or indulge in a candlelight dinner at its elegant sister property, da’Vida, and feast on grilled Angus beef tenderloin, herb-crusted rack of lamb, ginger-teriyaki sea scallops and other in-house specialties.

While You're There

The CuisinArt Golf Resort & Spa is home to an 18-hole Greg Norman-designed championship course, the island’s first and only place to golf. The location, near the crescent sands of Rendezvous Bay, allows players to tee off with magnificent views of the Caribbean and St. Martin, before swinging their way through 7,063 yards of tropical scenery. The course offers dramatic elevation changes and challenging holes that include a saltwater lagoon, mangrove thickets and salt marshes. A full-service bar and lunch are available at the Clubhouse Grill or the Beach Bar and Grill. 

The Auberge Spa at Malliouhana blends its own products using ingredients indigenous to Anguilla, making it one of the best luxury spas in the Caribbean. Its treatments, such as massages with coconut and sand compresses or lime-blossom foot wraps, are available in the spa, in guest rooms, on the beach or under the shade of a tamarind tree.

Drop the Hook

There are five designated anchorage areas around Anguilla: Road Bay, Crocus Bay, Meads Bay, Rendezvous Bay and Cove Bay.

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