Wednesday, 21 May 2008

A Foodie in St Barth - Eden Rock

Eating almost back-to-back at gourmet restaurants was always going to be more than a little extravagant, but this is St Barth after all, renowned for its quality and breadth of its cuisine and a holiday is the best time for a self-indulgent blow out.

So following an evening tantalising our taste buds at Le Gaïac, we decided to bust the budget once again, this time at Eden Rock in St Jean.

This was a return engagement of sorts as we had eaten at the same restaurant the previous year, and quite enjoyed it. But at the back of my mind was the nagging memory that Eden Rock tried just a tad too hard to be trendy without necessarily having the real style to match.

The setting is breathtaking it has to be admitted - overlooking the bay at St Jean and offering a superbly illuminated view of the sea and the fish below. Without doubt it’s a magnet for honeymooning couples and there’s probably a certain romance to dining there. But even though it’s undeniably impressive, you know deep down it has something of Las Vegas about it.

It’s a little too easy to come away with the feeling that you haven’t really been offered the real thing – even though the remake is stunning.

Take the staff for example. Needless to say they all had winningly white smiles and wore the ever-trendy black you would (still) expect to find in a place that most obviously considers itself on the cutting edge of fashion.

But the waiters were in tee shirts one size too small to show off their pecs and the waitresses opted for the more classic look, the omnipresent little black number. They were efficient and polite but all the same seemed to be strutting and just a little too hip and sullenly distant to be waiting at tables.

And that was a feeling that sort of spilled over to the menu as well.

To begin with, what was on offer certainly wasn’t what I had been reading hungrily in my “bible” of the island’s restaurants Saint-Barth Tables. It was instead a shortened end-of-season version presented in a super (here’s that word again) trendy metal packaging. Why? Search me.

And here’s a reflection of the kind of place you’re dealing with. Eden Rock is not just a restaurant, a place to go to enjoy a meal. It’s also a hotel and runs a timeshare property business, as one whole page of the menu reminds you with listings that include the offer of a one-bedroomed apartment at a mere €400,000. A snip.

On the food front, which after all was the real reason we went, it turned out to be a bit of a disappointment. It has gourmet-style pricing, that’s for sure, but the chef apparently cannot resist the temptation to mess around with classic dishes that simply don’t need any improvement, and even the abbreviated menu had been altered to fit the day.

The sashimi and maki starter for example included sashimi that had been totally over marinated and maki with a layer of cream cheese. Huh?

And a main course that promised sea bass in a spicy lemongrass sauce was scrapped in favour of monkfish. Last minute changes according to the availability (or not) of fish are not uncommon in any restaurant, but for the prices Eden Rock charges such information should be available to the diner as they are ordering and not five minutes later.

More fiddling around with the dessert left me feeling a little disoriented. It was an admittedly delicious Black Forest gateau, but presented in such a way that it no longer resembled the original in any way. Four corners to the plate with each corner playing host to a separate ingredient.

It struck me as being a little like offering a bowl of ice cream with ice on one side and cream on the other. Why bother – apart from showing that you can be different? Apparently because the chef can I suppose.

For all my criticisms, Eden Rock is probably still worth a visit – perhaps lunch would be a better prospect. This is not a gourmet restaurant in the same league as Le Gaïac. The prices and the setting may be, but the food is just a little too silly and the service is just too slick.

It’s a place to see and probably be seen, a smoothly run enterprise that will clearly attract clientele because of its unique location, but not necessarily those for whom food really matters.

In short, it’s TRENDINESS writ big with food writ small.

Ratings: Ambience – 13/20, Service – 13/20, Food -13/20

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