As little as 25 years ago, great food was not ordinarily associated with Bermuda. But with an expanding international business market, and with it a clientele demanding of good food, the culinary scene on the tiny island has changed for the tastier and more refined.
Celebrating great food, the 2nd Annual Bermuda Restaurant Week (misnamed perhaps, since it runs about a month), is scheduled for Jan. 21-Feb. 16, with island-wide, prix-fixe dinners at $29, $39 or $49 per person. There are more than 30 restaurants participating this year, five more than the event’s inaugural last year.
I attended last year, and learned from Bill Griffith, director of tourism, that as business became a huge revenue maker for Bermuda, "restaurants evolved and changed to appeal to business travelers, who are more savvy and demanding. People say they’re getting a food experience here now that equals that of more cosmopolitan cities."
Griffith told me restaurants are trying to use as many local products as possible, but on a very small island with few farms, that’s not an easy task, so importing goods make an already expensive place to visit ever more so. But fish abounds, and as such, finds its way onto most menus.
I hit a few places last year that are also on this year’s lineup, including Victoria Grille in Hamilton, part of the Island Restaurant Group that includes Hog Penny, Pickled Onion and Barracuda Grill, also featured in this year’s event. Victoria is a great little place, with indoor and outdoor seating, with linen tablecloths and extraordinary food from chefs Tomas Tabor (formerly of Seahorse at Elbow Beach), and Derek Myers, serving fun stuff like lobster mac ‘n cheese, and more elegant offerings such as the smoked lamb rack.
Chef Livio Ferigo at Bonefish Bar & Grill in the Royal Naval Dockyard is a perfect food ambassador for the island, a bear of an outgoing man with wonderfully thick Italian accent, not shy about chatting up patrons and talking about his food. His is a place open and airy, photos on the walls of visiting celebs like Michael Douglas and Jimmy Carter. His family makes grappa back in his native Italy, and he serves it here, a drink of delicious warmth with a full, raw flavor owing to cumin being part of it. He serves up great lunches, such as rum-infused, peppery Bermuda fish chowder, and tangy smoked brisket and bacon subs.
For great food in an upscale setting that’s almost like eating in a fine-art museum, you should try The Point Restaurant and Terrace at Rosewood Tucker’s Point, a new hotel on a bluff overlooking Castle Harbour. Chef Guido Brambilla’s food is exquisite, as is the wrap-around mural on the restaurant’s walls, a massive depiction of the world’s great seaports which once hung in New York City’s Pan Am Building.
There are many places to stay on Bermuda, and one long-standing legendary place is Elbow Beach, now in the Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group, a yellow behemoth overlooking the ocean that’s undergone many renovations in recent years. I stayed in one of the small villas dotting the sloping hillside, a cozy place, where if you’re a cat lover, you can sit on the patio and be graced by visits from feral cats, which are cared for by the hotel. Also avail yourself of the spa’s “Rum Swizzle Ritual,” a three-hour plus treatment that was one of the best I’ve ever had, which includes a foot scrub, pineapple body scrub, rum swizzle bath, then a full body and scalp massage, finishing up on the treatment room’s balcony with hot tea and oranges, an experience so relaxing it’s a chore just to get up and leave when it’s over.
The most extraordinary location I’ve ever had for a massage was over at Grotto Bay Beach Resort, literally in a cave by the ocean, a sublime experience in a space only recently turned over to spa treatments and wedding receptions (it had been a music and dance venue, which must have made for an ear-splitting experience). Here, amid a garden of stalactites and stalagmites and the ever-tinkling sound of water in the crystal-clear cave pond, you get an exquisite massage, understanding why this is the place where a young man once proposed to his girlfriend, amid violin playing, dinner and rose petals strewn about, and she accepted.
There’s a lot going on in Bermuda which at this time of year isn’t the warmest place to be, but with restaurant weeks in full flower, one of the tastiest. Check out the full scene at www.gotobermuda.com/restaurant-week-2013/ For all Bermuda offerings, visit www.gotobermuda.com
"The quality of our cooking has gone way up,” Griffith said. "Gone are the days of escargot on all menus, now you’ll find things like molecular gastronomy and places focusing on different and emerging food trends. We’re not as cutting edge as the leading world restaurants, but we’re not that far off. People are now treating us as more of a food destination."