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Flip flop or island hop in the Seychelles

June 6, 2012 5 comments

The beautiful island of La Digue in the Seychelles.

Home to giant tortoises and some of the best beaches in the world, Alannah Eames discovers the Seychelles is not just a playground for the rich and honeymooners.

Read the online article published by The Times of Malta or download a pdf of the printed article.

Seychellois cuisine: one of the world’s best kept secrets

Maria Rock Café on Mahé: cook your own fish and seafood on a hot plate.

I had little to no expectations of Seychellois cuisine before my trip, merely looking forward to fresh fish and giant shrimps. I wasn’t disappointed. The Seychellois Creole cuisine is inspired by African, Chinese, Indian, English, French and Indian influences. Ingredients like ginger, coriander, pepper, lemongrass and fresh herbs play a key role.

While the food is not as hot or spicy as Asian cuisine, one of the most popular meals is curry which is usually made with fresh coconut cream, and served with rice.

Seychellois chefs use elements borrowed from their neighbors and have adapted them to conjure up their own local dishes. This is aided by the vast availability and quality of local fruit and vegetables.

You’re spoilt for fish in the Seychelles … red snapper is a firm favorite.

Fish is, by far, the most popular dish on most menus, which is not surprising considering the vast variety of fish in the huge oceanic territory belonging to this island nation.

Some of the more exotic and unusual dishes we discovered on menus were red snapper in vanilla sauce served with cinnamon-flavored rice (Le Rendez Vous) fruitbat stew (Anse Soleil Café)and tuna & tequila (Anchor Café).

During our eight-day stay in the Seychelles, we tried a wide selection of local restaurants and restaurants located in hotels. The best food, value-for-money and atmosphere was, without a doubt, in the non-hotel based restaurants, with the exception of the Indian Ocean Lodge in Praslin where both lunch and dinner were excellent.

Some personal favorites:

Maria’s Rock Café, Baie Lazare, Mahé: tucked away on a sleepy road, this cave-like bar and restaurant is owned by Maria, the Seychellois spouse of Italian sculptor Antonio Filippin who owns the studio next door. What makes it special is that you can cook your giant shrimps or red snapper yourself on garlic butter on a hot iron plate which is placed on your table. Simple, delicious and fun.

Le Rendez Vous, Victoria, Mahé: in the heart of the Seychelles’ capital, this is the perfect spot for people watching and gives you a bird’s eye view of local Seychellois life on the streets below.

Anse Soleil Café, Mahé: If you want to try a local delicacy, fruitbat – either grilled or in a stew.

Chez Batistas, Mahé : great lunch buffet on Sundays; and fantastic views over Takamaka Bay.

Simple, fresh and exotic … the local Parrot fish.

News Café: perfect breakfast or lunch spot with a selection of local newspapers. And good coffee – choose from Illy or Lavazza. Interestingly, they both have a different price!

Anchor Café, Mahé: run by a super-friendly Seychellois lady and her American-born husband, their speciality is delicious blackened fish (catch of the day – we had jobfish – spiced with whatever herbs they have in the kitchen and a carefully guarded secret) or their more original tuna steak with tequila sauce.

Marie-Antoinette, Victoria, Mahé: set in a splendid old plantation house, the walls are covered in history and memoralia. And don’t forget to say ‘hello’ to the resident giant tortoises in the pen outside. This is the perfect spot to end your holiday in the Seychelles, before boarding your flight home.

And the not-so-special:

Sea Horse, Constance Lémuria Resort, Praslin: the chef may have a Michelin star under his belt and the management may claim to offer a fusion of local and European cuisine, but the influence here is heavily European, mainly French. If you’re coming from Europe, and are looking forward to Indian Ocean cuisine, you won’t be impressed to see foie de gras, duck, Angus beef and other French delicacies on the menu. It may be interesting if you are sick off the local Creole cuisine or if you are the kind of person who likes to stick to what you usually eat, and know, from back home. And, the French sommelier, definitely wasn’t impressed, or friendly, when I asked for the South African instead of the French wine.

Take-away at Praslin airport, Praslin: The locals tend to get a takeaway and enjoy it at home or on the beach. It’s cheap, quick and tasty. Unfortunately, I opted for a fish curry here not realizing it was dried and salted fish which is then placed into the curry; I ended up with a mouthful of fish bones and salt. But, for EUR 4, I guess I can’t complain!

Pirates Arms, Mahé: With rumors abounding amongst the local fishermen about some modern-day Somali pirates venturing into the Seychelles outer territory, and about Madagascar-based pirates landing in the Seychelles centuries ago, we were eager to check out this place. Disappointingly, the closest we got to seeing pirates were two elderly Rastafarians propped up at the bar. Good spot to enjoy a drink but it’s more like an American-style diner than a restaurant or café.

Grann Kaz restaurant on Silhouette Island: authentic Creole food in an old plantation house. Check out their homemade vanilla-flavored rum!

Five stars for three-star Indian Ocean Lodge

After a night at Praslin’s most exclusive hotel – the Constance Lémuria Resort – we try out something completely different: the three-star Indian Ocean Lodge, ten minutes’ away.

The Indian Ocean Lodge is charming, value-for-money and service and food surpasses its three-star ranking.

Expecting the move from five-star to three-star to be a disappointment, we’re quickly proved wrong.

From the moment we check in to our delicious lunch of fresh stir-fried Calamari and grey jackfish with tomato chutney, topped off with a fresh coconut milkshake, we’re sold by the personal service, charming setup and friendly laid-back feel of this small property.

Owned by Mrs. Mason – the Seychellois owner of Mason’s Travel, who Richard Simon, General Manager of the Indian Ocean Lodge, jokingly calls “our very own Margaret Thatcher”, one of the largest travel agents on the islands – it is part of a chain of three properties: one on Mahé called Carana Beach Hotel (under reconstruction) and a five-star resort on Denis Island called Denis Private Island Resort.

The 32 villas are all located close to the beach and carry the marine theme from the sand and sea into the bedroom so “guests don’t feel a conflict when they go inside,” says Richard. The double shower amuses me – “The honeymooners love it,” he jokes – as do the kitschy but cute Coco de Mer-shaped lampshades.

Tonight there is a set menu which I am not really a fan of, but, once I start eating, I’m impressed. The culinary experience kicks off with a watercress soup and I try the palm heart with fresh mint; after looking at palm trees for the past week, it’s the first time I taste this local ingredient. Main course is grilled barracuda steak, roast lamb loin or a local fish called bonito darne with ginger sauce served with coconut rice which I choose, seduced by the combination of fish, ginger and coconut. In a naughty twist, for dessert, they serve up the popular European desert Black Forest gateau with a watermelon coulis. It’s an unfussy dinner, a cosy atmosphere, the sound of the waves breaks in the background and the service is personal and fast. What more can you ask for.

The Indian Ocean Lodge is good value-for-money. Half board for two people per night will cost around EUR 220.

Tip: If you like the Indian Ocean Lodge, why not island hop between the other resorts in the chain. Spend a few days on the main island of Mahé when you arrive, followed by three or four days in Praslin and then head off for the five-star experience on Denis Island.

The Indian Ocean Lodge is a good base from which to explore Praslin’s wonderful beaches which are amongst the best in the world.

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