Caribbean Cuisine, Culinary Magic
Read on to find the best places to dine in Martinique. From the freshest seafood to Chinese or Moroccan food influenced with Creole flavor, from Lamentin to François, from intimate lunches in private homes to dinners at luxe large hotels, we've got you covered.
A Marriage of Two Cuisines, French and Creole
Many Caribbean islands are synonymous with “magic,” but the kind of magic found in Martinique is, quite simply, culinary. Cooking here is an art practiced by wizardly chefs who can take something very ordinary, like spiny sea urchins, do secret things to them, and -- with just a whisper of “open sesame” to the oven door -- bring forth a soufflé that is positively spellbinding. Food sets Martinique apart from the other Caribbean islands. Here, chefs are seasoned sorcerers; elsewhere, they are just apprentices. No wonder Caribbean World magazine named Martinique the "Best Gourmet Island" for 2008!
Magic aside, Martinique also happens to be French -- an association that's noticeable through its love affair with good food. Many shops close from noon to 2:30 for the sacrosanct tradition of a copious and leisurely lunch, and dinner is often a gastronomic adventure lasting all evening. Since local people dine out as a matter of course, visitors to Martinique can choose from one of the widest arrays of restaurants in the Caribbean -- more than 150.
Hotels and better-known spots have menus in English, but many little places do not so it is wise to bring along a French phrase book and pocket dictionary. Many dining rooms offer both French cuisine and Creole dishes, a wondrous mix of African, Indian, European, and Caribbean flavors. Others serve recipes that combine the best from both kitchen traditions. Local chefs might add to classic French dishes such exotic local fruits and vegetables as guava, sour sop, cassava, christophine, breadfruit, okra and plantain.
On every menu, fish is king and daily specialties vary according to the morning's catch. Typical offerings are red snapper, kingfish, sunfish, soudons (small clams), z'habitants or cribiches (fresh water crayfish,) lambi (conch), oursin (sea urchin), and langouste (clawless Caribbean lobster). Sometimes the fish is prepared in traditional Creole fashion using piquant spices and herbs, at other times it is served in the more lightly seasoned French style, and often it is a delicious marriage of the two.
A Complimentary Gourmet Guide
Visitors should pick up a complimentary copy of "Ti Gourmet" an illustrated guide in English and French to about 100 island restaurants, with details on types of food served, location, telephone number, price range, etc. Guests who present the booklet at any of these restaurants are offered special dining bonuses, ranging from a free rum punch to 10% off their check.
A host of good little restaurants dot the narrow balconied streets of the capital, Fort-de-France:
Long a favorite on rue Ernest Deproge is Le Crew, where meals are served family style in rustic dining rooms. A few Creole dishes are on the bill of fare, but the emphasis is on such typically French bistro dishes as fish soup, snails, country pâté, frogs' legs, grilled chicken, and steak. Portions are ample, prices are moderate, and Le Crew is nicely located two minutes from the Martinique Tourist Office.
Chez Gaston on rue Félix Eboué is a delightful "quick service" spot; the intimate El Raco on rue Lazare-Carnot, one of the town’s oldest eateries, boasts French cuisine; and King Kréole on the Avenue des Caraïbes offers traditional Creole fare.
Highly recommended is the placid La Cave à Vin at 118 rue Victor Hugo, whose specialties are southwestern French: foie gras, Petrossian caviar, duck, truffled chicken, entrecôte bordelaise, and Daskalid's chocolates flown in from Belgium. La Cave à Vin features the finest in grands vins de Bordeaux and other famous wines from France.
For a quick bite in a stylish and comfy atmosphere you can stop by Lina's Café, conveniently located on Rue Victor Hugo. Several hotels in Fort-de-France have restaurants worth noting. Among them is the Impératrice on La Savane whose dining room, Le Joséphine, carries a different Creole menu every day. Seafood dishes also vary daily, among them a delicious braised fish with freshwater shrimp and breaded fillets of balaou, a local delicacy. On the Boulevard de la Marne in the lively Squash Hotel is Le Jardin des Alizés, a Paris-style brasserie that is great for a Creole paella or steak tartare.
Food From Far Off Places
Tucked into the back streets and hills of Fort-de-France and along its riverbanks are "foreign" restaurants where names are a clue to the type of food offered:
Le Thé à la Menthe, at Rond Point du Vietnam, is Maghrebian and Moroccan, and Le New Pekin, on the way to the suburb of Schoelcher, is Chinese. Like many island restaurants, with the exception of those located in hotels, they close on Sundays. Another restaurant with a foreign flavor is the venerable La Muraille on rue Martin Luther King, a short cab ride from downtown. Here the food is Chinese, with touches both of French and Creole. In the southern city of Marin, restaurant Le Zanzibar serves African, Indian and Asian dishes. This cozy restaurant faces the sea. One of their specialties is the delightful lamb tagine.
Elegant Dining in the Outskirts of Town
At Patio de Cluny in Schoelcher is the elegant, romantically lighted La Canne à Sucre, a divine little maison coloniale that has created quite a buzz since the day it opened. The reason behind its instant success is the reputation of owner/chef Gérard Virginius, whose original restaurant of the same name in Guadeloupe won plaudits galore from respected local and international food critics. Among his memorable nouvelle cuisine Créole creations are a brioché de langouste, a cassoulette de chatrou (octopus), and a filet of flying fish in chive cream sauce.
On Route de Didier, Martine Diacono's sophisticated La Belle Epoque is a turn-of-the-century house with a very haute cuisine menu. Visitors dine exquisitely and very leisurely on such specialties as puff pastry stuffed with curried shrimp, red snapper flamed in antique rum, roasted stuffed pigeon, and rack of lamb glazed in honey and lemon. Mrs. Diacono is well known as a champion of local cooking, her latest triumph being a prestigious Trophée International du Tourisme, de l'Hotellerie et de la Gastronomie, which she was awarded in 2003 in Madrid.
Close by is the charming Aux 4 Epices restaurant, whose menu combines classic French cuisine and a large variety of kebabs that you may enjoy in the lovely backyard. The Chef's chocolate cake and profiteroles are also a must.
Dining in and Around Lamentin
Going to or from International Airport Aimé Césaire, travelers will find the sleek and handsome Hotel Valmenière on the Avenue des Arawaks. Its large and lovely restaurant, Le Dôme, serves remarkable food of high epicurean quality. In the nearby Jambette area, on the Rue Piétonne de Rivière Roche, several lovely new restaurants, each with an outdoor café, have made recent debuts. Among them are Coeur Créole, a typically Antillean dwelling with wonderful Creole cuisine; l'Ambassade de Bretagne, whose specialties include Breton crepes; La Yole, where pizzas and pastas are the draw; and Délices d'Asie, for Chinese dishes.
In the Pays Mélé section of Lamentin is a charming inn, Martinique Cottages, whose restaurant La Plantation has won awards from Gault Millau. Jean-Marc and Peggy Arnaud, a brother-sister team, run the fashionable dining room as a country retreat for knowledgeable gourmands. Their chef Eric Voiron, who trained with such celebrated masters as Roger Vergé, Lenôtre and the Trois Gros brothers, does up very innovative dishes combining the best of French and Martinican foods. His own favorite dish is a terrine of boiled calf’s head with pressed tomato served in a sauce of virgin olive oil, balsamic vinegar and sweet peppers.
Also in Lamentin is the excellent Le Verger at Place d'Armes, with French and Creole dishes augmenting foods from the Périgord region of France. Likewise of note is the Baghdad Café, an enterprise of Muriel Palandri, whose name is well known and respected in local culinary circles. Lastly, the Lamentin international airport boasts a smart and comfortably appointed restaurant that has quickly became popular. L'Oursin Bleu features dishes not usually associated with airport dining: fresh salmon mousse with artichokes; duck liver pâté with a vinaigrette of morilles and Alsatian wine; a rich pot au feu with veal, poultry, and beef; veal medallions in a roquefort sauce; braised guinea hen stuffed with apples and pineapples; and a panoply of imported cheeses and island desserts.
Lots of Good Spots along the Caribbean Coast
Good places to eat abound north of Fort-de-France along the Caribbean coast. In Schoelcher, a quick five-minute drive from downtown Fort de France, the Madiana Convention Center complex features (in addition to its state-of-the-art meeting facilities and high-tech movie theater) two restaurants conveniently located on site:
- Les 3 Brasseurs, a well known French brasserie where you may enjoy beer made at their own small brewery directly on the premises.
- Les Yoles, a charming outdoor restaurant located on a large terrace in a setting of colorful Creole house facades. Most dishes are served in elegant miniature yoles, a traditional boat made only in Martinique!
Just up the coast is Le Jardin de Jade, a grand China palace. One kilometer beyond nearby Fond-Lahaye is Les Deux Gros, a place to feast on fine meats and fresh fish. Farther along, Joseph Rangon's Le Maniba is a simple but good find in the village of Case-Pilote. North of here, at the entrance to Carbet, is an elegant and very gastronomic place, Corinne and Frédéric D'Orazio's Le Trou Crabe. The couple, originally from Lyon, successfully blends the haute cuisine française for which their native city is famed with local delicacies expertly prepared by their French chef, M. Donzeau. On Thursdays mussels and oysters arrive fresh from France, on Saturdays there is dancing, and there is always a sea world to gaze at in Le Trou Crabe's 2,000-gallon aquarium.
To see how Carbet's fishermen live -- and to taste their catch -- try O-Ra-La-Lanme, a Creole retreat near the place where Gauguin lived and painted.
Carbet, though tiny, has a dozen eateries, including Joel Griffith's La Datcha, where the lobster is as appetizing as the beach setting; and L'Imprévu, where diners may also enjoy the soothing sounds of a strumming guitar.
Historic St-Pierre is next on the itinerary and a wonderful choice here is Le Fromager, perched on a hillside above the famous town. The domain of the friendly Demant family, it rewards visitors with both delectable meals and a spectacular panorama of the bay. Just beyond is Mt. Pelée, the volcano that erupted more than 100 years ago and instantly made a New-World Pompeii of St-Pierre.
A 15-minute drive north leads to Prêcheur, one of Martinique's oldest villages.
Nearby Habitation Céron is an Eden of flora, fauna and relics of 17th-century sugar-plantation life. The Marraud des Grottes family has lovingly restored Céron and offers not only tours but also exquisite lunches of crayfish caught fresh from estate ponds.
Farther up the road at Anse Couleuvre is another exotic oasis, Jean Louis de Lucy's Moana, where the specialties include fresh fish prepared Tahitian style, lobster wrapped in banana leaves, and chicken en brochette cooked in coconut milk. A visit to Moana quite easily can become an all-day adventure: scuba dive at the offshore Ilet de la Perle, hike to Grand-Rivière (with a return trip by yawl) or simply enjoy the paradise setting from a hammock.
Playing Peekaboo with Pelée
Other dining spots in the environs of St-Pierre include Auberge de la Montagne Pelée, inland near Morne Rouge in a Shangri-la setting at Mount Pelée's base. Here guests can watch the clouds play peekaboo with the volcano while savoring calalou aux ciriques, a thick soup of dasheen leaves, spices and peppers served with fresh sea crabs or fricassée de volaille fonds cacao, cocoa-flavored chicken.
At Ajoupa-Bouillon, on the opposite side of the volcano, l'Abri is a friendly, flowery stopover whose menu lists fricassee of river shrimp, goat ragout, rabbit with chestnuts, pumpkin flan, and a wealth of other Creole dishes.
Not far away are two of Martinique's most beautiful properties:
Leyritz Plantation at Basse-Pointe, which dates back to the 1700s and has been restored as an inn, and Habitation Lagrange, also an 18th-century Creole mansion, which Jean-Louis de Lucy has turned into a deluxe little hotel.
Lagrange sits one mile inland from the main road between Marigot and Lorrain on the northeast coast. Dining here is a wondrous, romantic experience -- dishes inspired by the grand tables of France but composed of local products seasoned with cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and other island spices. Like the foods and wines, the table settings are exquisite: fresh flowers, fine linens, china, crystal and silver.
To the north is La Sikri, a cheery and immaculate hostelry with good food and an ambiance familiale, the family being the Galvas: mother Suzette and daughters Yolette and Marie-Laure. Farther north, outside the village of Grand-Rivière, is Le Carbet Caraïbes, two rustic sheds covered with coconut palm leaves, offering wondrous food and views.
Restaurant chez Vava
In the village itself, you can enjoy Yva Chez Vava, a modest roadside bistro lauded for the purity of its cuisine. Recipes are handed down from generation to generation, from fishermen's wives to their daughters, just as the legendary Vava has done with her daughter Yva. Also here is Tante Arlette, a Creole spot that has been awarded many prizes, including the French Government’s Tourism Medal, for its cuisine and its quality of service.
At François on the Atlantic coast, the Cap Est Lagoon Resort and Spa (the first 5-star hotel in Martinique, as well as the first Relais et Chateaux destination in the Caribbean and the most luxurious hotel of the French West Indies), was named one of the 80 best new hotels in the world in the May 2003 issue of Condé Nast Traveler. The hotel's Bélem restaurant also made the magazine's list of 75 new Hot Tables worldwide. "The signature entrees range from conch ravioli with sauteed morels to roasted quail with foie gras and truffles. Popular deserts are the chocolate fondant and the cassava ice cream," noted Condé Nast. The restaurant also features a vintage rum and French wine cellar.
Also in François, the secluded and very charming Plein Soleil guest house provides a delightful table d'hôte merging refined French cuisine with Creole dishes, from safran prawns served with pumpkin mousse to an innovative banana tarte tatin.
François is also home of Marie-Anne and Erick Prian's La Riviera, a gem of a hotel serving Antillean and European dishes.
The view from their pier looks out on the Club Nautique, where the noon meal is often preceded by a boat trip to the coral reefs of offshore islets. At the Club, lunch begins with a décollage (which usually translates into "take-off," but here means a potent rum drink aged with herbs until it turns green), a ti'punch (which also packs quite a wallop), or a less heady planteur made of rum and fruit juices.
For the best in cod fritters, grilled clawless lobster or scrumptious quail and rice in St-François, modest Chez Léger (no menu) is a must.
And right in the harbor of François, Kaï Nono offers fresh seafood and the catch of the day. Inland, the intimate Plein Soleil Hotel, a 15 minute drive from François, provides meals for guests and others by request only. The menu is fixed daily, based on what is found in the market. The service and atmosphere are very pleasant.
Lunching in a Private Home
At Basse-Pointe, not far away but off the beaten path, lunch is flavored with a soupçon spécial at the home of Mally Edjam, whose porch and dining room comprise Chez Mally. It was discovered by adventurous food writers a dozen years ago and has been welcoming non-French-speaking guests (with the help of a phrase book) ever since. The menu lists lobster vinaigrette, soufflé de papaye, and coconut cake served with highly unusual confitures. While Mally's smile still greets old friends, the new owner is Martine Hugé, a gracious hostess who does Mally proud.
Inland at Morne des Esses, the Palladino family home also serves as a restaurant, Le Colibri. Locals rhapsodize over Josy Palladino's delicacies: sea urchin tarts, stuffed pigeons, and fresh water crayfish.
In the picturesque city of Marigot, Le Ghetto restaurant is a must for local shellfish and other seafood specialties. This is a great address for traditional cuisine from the island. At Forêt de Philippe near Ste-Marie is Tatie Simone Adelise's La Découverte, whose name translates into "the discovery," although Tatie Simone is proud to say that it has been around for ages. Its long success is due to modest prices and delicious food, with lobster or shark couscous as specialties of the house.
In Tartane, on the Caravelle peninsula close to Trinité, is Le Dubuc. Traditional tasty Creole dishes are served on a terrace overlooking the Atlantic. Tartane also features Le Madras for idyllic beachfront dining, as well as the newer, more contemporary Baie du Galion and La Goélette for dining with a panoramic view.
Fresh From the Net
Fresh seafood is the ubiquitous item on nearly every menu in Ste-Anne, a fishing village down south that's considered one of Martinique's prettiest towns.
Among its worthy stops:
Po' et Virginie, an inviting aerie on the sea accessible by car or boat; the St-Cyr family's beloved antique-laden Manoir de Beauregard, restored to perfection after a serious fire; and La Dunette, a cozy water's-edge inn whose owner is the masterful chef de cuisine Gérard Kambona.
A two-minute drive from the village center is Anse Caritan, transformed recently from a "just folks" type of hotel to 3-star status. With the upgrade, a second restaurant was added overlooking the bay. And in a handsome hillside colonial villa above the opposite side of Ste-Anne Bay, about a five-minute drive from the center of town, is Frédéric, the area's “nec plus ultra” in elegant, relaxed, and refined dining.
Ste-Anne is blessed with a glorious beach that features several extra-special dining spots. While waiting for your lobster, you can enjoy a swim, savor a rum drink, and luxuriate in incredible euphoria. This mix of swim-and-dine is very enticing throughout Martinique and places like Anse Noire or Ti'Sable at Grande Anse even offer shower facilities to guests. Also near Sainte-Anne, about a 15-minute drive from the village itself, is Chez Gracieuse, which offers a view of the simple harbor of Cap Chevalier. Very informal, Chez Gracieuse still has a comprehensive menu.
At Le Marin, the boating life adds to the appeal of lunching at neighboring little restaurants such as l'Indigo. To enjoy a dinner with live entertainment in Marin, stop at Calebasse Café, a very vogue, cozy and renowned art-performance center that features music from Cuban to jazz to chanson française, along with art exhibits and special theme nights.
Not far away, Ste-Luce has several hotels that offer good dining, notably the Amyris and the Village Pierre & Vacances. In the town itself, Kai Armande has long been a charmer, as is Armande herself. Her love of art is reflected in the local paintings she exhibits. On a hillside above town is Serge Kilo's La Corniche, a quiet spot that becomes quite animated on weekends when local musicians play. Worth a detour from here are Chez Julot in Vauclin, Chez Mireille on the road to the lovely Cap Chevalier sands, and Chez Gracieuse at Cap Chevalier itself.
An ever-growing resort down south is Le Diamant, bursting with places to eat. Some, such as La Marine, are sizeable hotels; others like Le Relais Caraïbes and Diamant-les-Bains, for example, are small family-run inns with surprisingly fine kitchens. One virtue they all have in common is a great view of the historic offshore wonder, HMS Diamond Rock. Of note in the hills above Le Diamant is La Quenette, a simple abode that seldom sees foreign tourists.
Larger Hotels Take Pride in Their Cuisine
Martinique's larger hotels -- including the Bakoua, Kalenda and Carayou at Pointe du Bout, a bustling resort area across the bay from the capital -- offer informal beachfront terrace cafés, "dressier" indoor restaurants and, one night a week, opulent buffets topped off with sell-out performances by popular dance troupes such as Les Grands Ballets and Les Balisiers.
Pointe du Bout's marina has the look of the Côte d'Azur with yachtsmen swapping sea stories over their chopsticks at La Marine or the seafood at Le Davidiana. Around the cove at Anse Mitan, busy day and night, favorites include the lovely Guy Bruère-Dawson's La Villa Créole (great for classic guitar and late night dinner-dancing), and the Manureva restaurant which welcomes you in a boat-like atmosphere that includes an impressive boat-shaped bar. The cuisine is gastronomic French with hints of Creole influences.
In Pointe du Bout, nestled in the resort area, the Village Creole complex features 35 well equipped tourist apartments, 26 shops and 7 restaurants offering Creole, Cuban, Italian, and French cuisines, and much more. Havana Café and La Grange are among top choices here.
Close by, located in Anses d'Arlet, the upscale and innovative Quai Sud restaurant faces the Caribbean Sea. The menu is based on Latin and Caribbean cuisines. Guests may have lunch directly on the restaurant deck. Reservations are requested for dinner.
Serving all these resorts is the Golf de l'Impératrice, which welcomes golfers and non-golfers alike to its dining oasis, Le Country. Its chef tees up both international and local island fare. Here, as everywhere on Martinique, reservations are suggested. Dining on this island is serious business.
825 Third Ave., New York NY 10022.
For further information, contact the Martinique Promotion Bureau/CMT USA,
Tel: (212) 838.7800 ext 228
Fax: (212) 838.7855