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It’s obvious really. As an island in the South Pacific, surrounded on all sides by balmy water and a perennial tropical climate, Vanuatu is always going to be replete with exotic foods and heavenly dining experiences.
Napkins at the ready, food lovers, here are eight of Vanuatu’s best-kept dining secrets.
1. Mangoes Resort
You’ll tell us we’re exaggerating, but mention The Restaurant at Mangoes Resort to anyone who’s ever dined there, and they’ll start to dribble unapologetically down their chin. And here’s why - grass fed Santo beef. A diet which is all-round better for the beef eater, resulting in overall less fat and flavours that can’t be matched by grain eating cattle. Combine that with a team of chefs who will cook your steak to absolute perfection and the meat will slice like a hot knife through warm butter. It’s divine. Then there’s the seasonally changing menu which focuses on fresh, organic produce and platters of freshly caught seafood, and hey presto, you have one of Vanuatu’s most acclaimed dining venues. Fine food and fine views, start with a cocktail and finish in culinary heaven.
2. Market meal booths
For many - foodies especially - visiting a country and not trying the local delicacies is a cardinal sin. So, for one of the most authentic Vanuatu dining experiences in the country, do not miss the market meal booths in Luganville, Espiritu Santo. Made by cheery island Mamas, you’ll be served hot, fresh fare straight from the stove, along with complimentary pitchers of cordial or limeade. As local as it gets, there are no written menus, you simply bowl up to a window and ask what’s cooking. It’s usually rice with an add-on: beef, chicken, fish or whatever produce was available at the market that morning. Native vegetables such as snake beans, kumala and taro fill the gaps. A wonderfully refreshing means in which to sample genuine Vanuatu fare, you’ll also be helping support local communities. What’s more satisfying than that?
3. Beach Bar at Mele Bay
What makes Vanuatu beef taste so good? Well, it could be that most of the cows are grass fed. But it could also be that they like to feed on a fair few coconuts too. The best beef patties can be consumed at Beach Bar on Mele Bay. A little hideaway far removed from life’s daily hustles, the wood fired pizzas are also legendary, with island-inspired concoctions gracing the menu such as The Melanesian, with sponge coconut, eggplant, bacon and banana. Far from flash, Beach Bar is a simple bistro which likes to push boundaries. As well as a daring menu, the venue regularly hosts the Friday Night Fire Show, Tuesday night movies (set up on the beach) and the eternally popular Sunday Kustam Karnival: inspired by circuses of yesteryear, guests are treated to live music, snake dancers and all manner of niche performances.
4. Wild Ginger at the Warwick Le Lagon Resort and Spa
If you prefer your food to be presented with a side serving of theatrics, follow your nose and head to Wild Ginger at the Warwick in Port Vila. A fusion of traditional Asian cuisine (predominately Japanese) blended with contemporary technique, the chefs at the central teppanyaki station fascinate onlookers with a compelling display of flipping, flicking and stylish twists. Looks good, tastes good – you can’t go wrong. However, if you prefer your food a little less extroverted, Wild Ginger also boasts a much-raved about a la carte menu. From Santo beef to twice-cooked lamb and Thai red duck curry, it’s an international medley of daring flavours. Wash it down with a bottle of wine, and if you still have a droplet left by meal’s end, take it outside and watch the live band – another speciality at the Wild Ginger.
5. Chantilly's on the Bay
Something of a ‘rite of passage’ for every virgin visitor to Vanuatu, Chantilly's on the Bay is a sophisticated, upmarket resort located just two minutes (on foot) from Port Vila’s town centre. But it’s not the swish facilities the hordes descend here for. It’s also home to the award-winning Tilly's Restaurant. Fabulous for a three-course dinner, what the punters really like to rave about is the brunch. Serving one of the best (if not THE best) coffees on the island, Kiwis with a penchant for a decent cup of Joe should march here first. With produce sourced from local growers and suppliers, everything is fresh and flavoursome. Most brunchers recommend the sinfully delicious banana French toast, which as well as being fabulously sweet, will also accommodate the vegetarians in your clan.
6. Mama’s Market
With so much nattering and general commotion, never has the term ‘mother’s meeting’ been so appropriate. Port Vila’s Mama’s Market isn’t new per-se, but every visit is unique. So called because it’s run by ladies selling various products, everything bought comes with a niche back story. From bright baskets to native jewellery, ask which island it’s from and how it was made. Also a fantastic place to try local delicacies such as lap-lap (cooked yam roots with coconut cream and meat), as well as fresh fruit and vegetables.
7. Velit Bay Plantation & 15° South
A bar with hard flooring? How terribly urban. In Vanuatu, the bars have sand running straight off the beach and right up to the beer kegs. No need for shoes at Velit Bay Plantation’s bar - 15° South, don your jandals and take a load off. Fronting the beach, a small thatched hut serves as your shelter, with dazzling island views and a tropical vibe that you’ll only find in the South Pacific. If you’re a fan of seafood, the menu boast a regular “line caught” selection of wahoo, tuna and mahi mahi, including wahoo sashimi and a baked wahoo dish that you’ll still be dreaming about in decades to come. With just-caught fish and an ocean breeze bringing in the salty sea air, it doesn’t get fresher than this.
8. Coongoola Day Cruise
Dining backdrops don’t get much better than a silky Vanuatu beach. Which is exactly what you’ll get after a morning on-board the 23 metre sailing ketch used for Coongoola day cruises. Having discovered secluded coves and secret beaches; taken a dip in crystal clear water and a snooze on the boat’s timber deck, it’s time for lunch. The anchor’s dropped and guests are invited to a generous barbecue prepared on a beach of platinum white sand. The food is fine and fresh, with a good selection of meat and plenty of exotic salads. The perfect finale to one of Vanuatu’s most picturesque day cruises.
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