Just back from a week on Anguilla, our fourth visit to the island. It continues its dance with development and its effort to become the English-speaking St. Barth. We found it to be moderately expensive, but we were successful in seeking out more reasonably-priced, local cuisine. Don't read this post if your interest is in high-end resort dining. You won't find reviews of Cuisinart, Cap Juluca, Blanchards and the like here.
We stayed at Allamanda Beach Club, on Shoal Bay East.
Shoal Bay East is considered one of the most beautiful beaches in the Caribbean, a mile-long stretch of white sand and coral reefs located just offshore, ideal for the recreational snorkeler. Shoal Bay East is divided into two sections: the lower section is more congested, with several restaurants, Shoal Bay Villas and is the usual destination for day trippers. Upper Shoal Bay East is quieter, having only two hotels and two restaurants, including the famous Gwen's Reggae Bar (more on Gwen's later).
In more or less chronological order, here's where we ate:
--Le Bon Pain: this authentic French bakery in Island Harbor prepares delightful baguettes, multigrain breads, croissants, pain au chocolat, pain au raisin, blueberry puffs, peach puffs and fruit tarts. To avoid disappointment, arrive early, as most breads and croissants sell out by 10 AM. Local restaurants and residents buy their bread here. Cakes and pies can be special ordered. Sandwiches are available for lunch.
Picnic tables on the porch enable you to enjoy your breakfast or lunch al fresco. Prices are exceptionally reasonable: baguettes are $1.50, croissants are $1. Closed on Wednesdays.
--Madeariman Beach Hotel: we ate here simply because it was near our hotel and our car had not yet been delivered. It serves decent burgers, chicken and fish for dinner at typical Anguillan prices: entrees are $20-$30. Pizzas are made at lunch time. Opens up onto the beach. Very friendly service. Very kid friendly. Chef is a French expat who seemed generally unenthusiastic about his kitchen.
--Gwen's Reggae Bar: at 10 AM, Gwen starts the grill and starts preparing the day's meals. If you're sitting on Upper Shoal Bay Beach, you're going to catch a smell of her snapper, mahi and chicken grilling after sitting in her delightful marinade. You're going to want to have lunch here at least once.
Grilled mahi sandwiches, Hamburgers and Cheeseburgers, Snapper, crayfish, lobster, all served with salad, cole slaw and rice. A cold Carib beer. You've got the makings of a fine day at the beach. Burgers and sandwiches are $10-12, snapper $17, crayfish $25, lobster $30.
--Zara's Seafood Restaurant: on the grounds of the Allamanda Beach Club, a few steps up from Upper Shoal Bay Beach. Mention Zara's to any frequent visitor to Anguilla or one of the many expats you meet on the island and a smile comes to their faces, along with a story about Chef Shamash. Charismatic, talented, friendly, warm. Prepares the best conch fritters I've had anywhere (he'll tell you a story about developing his recipe on the Virgin Islands...needs to have enough conch, marinated in beer). Does magic with grouper. Pasta for the kids (my kids went back for a second night to have his vodka sauce, which he promised he could FedEx to them). With wine, about $50 per person. Closed Wednesdays.
--Tastys: Dale Carty is an Anguillan native who trained in the kitchens of some of the luxury hotels on Anguilla and with chefs in France. Several years ago, he opened his own place and, on our previous visit, found fresh, vibrant food being served. I recall a red snapper salad with mangos that transformed me. The recipe was on Carty's web site and I attempted to reproduce it at home. On this visit, the snapper/mango salad was not on the menu, but we did find a well executed menu with interesting preparations of local seafood. So fresh was the seafood, we actually saw a delivery being made to Tastys while we were being seated for dinner. Very kid-friendly. Decent wine list. Very warm service.
Also $50 per person. A bit less enthusiastic about Tastys this time, I would still urge visitors to put Tastys on their list.
--Elsa's: We asked a very friendly expat woman on the beach to suggest a restaurant that might not be so well-known, that served fresh local seafood and that would be less expensive than most other Anguillan restaurants and she recommended Elsa's, located just off the main road in Island Harbor, about 200 yards past the Scilly Cay dock and across from the Island Harbor supermarket. Although you can reserve a table by telephone, it's best to visit Elsa at lunchtime to see what she is preparing and inform her of any food preferences. We asked her to make johnny cakes for us and were glad she did. The fish is fresh, prepared in waht might be termed creole style, with fresh herbs, tomatoes, onions, peppers and garlic. Very reasonable prices, with the top entree at $20. Bring your own wine or beer.
--Arawak Beach Hotel: in Island Harbor, this attractive small hotel is owned by a British expat.
Run somewhat loosely, the kitchen is ruled by a woman who lives nearby and does a nice job with grilled fish, salt cod, lobster salad and the like. For the kids, a more than passable pizza. Prices are $12-25, so this restaurant also qualifies as budget priced for Anguilla. Pizza can be ordered for take out. Oh, and don't forget to try the chef's pumpkin soup (Anguillans call any orange squash pumpkin, so what goes in the soup depends upon the season).
--KoKo's: located about 100 yards past the Arawak on a craggy, unpaved lane, KoKo's is the closest thing to a "find" we discovered on this trip. Only open a few months, KoKo's is a family run operation. Warm and charming, Ishelyn (aka "KoKo") will welcome you and make you happy you came. In the kitchen is Ko Ko's mother and mother-in-law. Fish caught each morning by her brother, might include snapper, butterfish, hind, mahi, crayfish, lobster. Grilled to perfection, served with garlic butter, garlic bread, salad, rice, potatoes or pasta, and grilled corn, you will feel pleasantly full and satisfied for less than $20 per person. Right on the beach, KoKo's is not glamorous. In fact, it looks something like a tiki bar. But don't judge this book by its cover...we really liked KoKo's and even did take out on a second night.
--Scilly Cay: people go to Scilly Cay for the experience: the lobster, the crayfish, the music, the setting, the warmth of the hosts and just to say they've been there. Unfortunately, many also go for the Rum Punch and have too many of them. If you're travelling to Anguilla or have been there, you've probably heard about Scilly Cay or have been there. I won't dwell. Expensive? Yes. Lobster/crayfish special was $60. Want to keep your tab down? Share a main dish...the lobster is a 1-1/2 pound lobster and the twin crayfish must be another 3/4 pound. Really want to save? Don't go to drink. Have a few drinks, you'll easily spend $100 bucks. Sunday and Wednesday, take the boat from the Island Harbor pier. Live music. Warm host and hostess. Friendly service.
No matter what they say, DON'T snorkel here: it's treacherous...there's lots of coral and urchins in shallow water, strong tides...you'll find yourself cut like my daughter did.
Anguilla is a very cyber-sophisticated island, so most of the restaurants above have web sites, which will give you photos, directions, menus and other useless information. Simply Google the name of the place. Reservations at most popular restaurants are a must (Scilly Cay, Zara's, Tasty's), even if you call a few hours before your intended arrival. Gwen's is open for lunch only. No reservations needed. At this point, no reservations needed for KoKo's or Arawak Beach. It'll help if you call or drop by Elsa's.
Nearly every restaurant closes one night per week and that night differs, so check in advance to avoid disappointment.