After having very little luck trying to research all-inclusive resorts with really good food, we wanted to make sure we did a detailed review of the food on our recent trip to Grand Velas Riviera Maya.
The resort has 7 al la carte restaurants; we ate at 3 of them. All 3 of them were visually gorgeous. We’ll review each in turn.
Sen Lin: This is an Asian fusion restaurant, was really the only one that didn't live up to the quality of the others. Absolutely beautiful surroundings, tall ceilings, a gorgeous bar, muted tones – all very classy. But the food was ‘just OK’. The apps (soft shell crab, tuna tartare and stuffed pork buns) were perfect serviceable – just not outstanding. Our mains (seared tuna and udon) were, again, fine, but nothing to rave about. We wished we’d tried the Mexican restaurant instead. As well, the entire experience felt very rushed, notwithstanding that there were plenty of empty tables. The service was professional and friendly, but we did feel we were being ‘processed’.
Piaf: This French restaurant has tall ceilings, deep red patterned wallpaper and a rich, luxurious feel (complete with chandeliers that would look horrifically gaudy anywhere else, but just worked here). The food was very, very good and the wines offered as part of your meal (included) were also actually quite good. We ended up eating there twice and over the course of the two meals had appetizers of smoked fish (I had that twice – was outstanding) and foie gras (again, good enough that my SO ordered it twice); the French onion soup and bouillabaisse as the soup course and on the first visit I had the short rib and he had the duck (both delicious) and on the second visit the shrimp and the snapper. Lovely and friendly service and all in all just a great resort dining experience.
Cocina de Autor: This is the reason to book at Grand Velas. Autor, along with being (another) beautiful room, is the crown jewel of restaurants at the resort and would be well at home in Chicago or New York.
We had been told about the restaurant by friends in advance, so as soon as we arrived we booked a reservation at Autor for our second evening. To say we were blown away was not an overstatement. We love food, and frequently travel to have great meals, and the food at Autor held its own.
It was a tasting menu (of 9 courses (after the 4 amuses bouche)). I’ve attached a photo of one of the amuse – pickled fish on top of crispy trout skin. The food was creative, interesting, tasty (with some interesting Mayan touches, like corn fungus – much yummier than it sounds!).
We decided to order the premium wine pairings and were glad we did. The head sommelier clearly knows his stuff and we ended up trying some just terrific Mexican wine (I know, we didn't think those words went together either), along with selections from France, Argentina, New Zealand and the US.
Some highlights of our first meal: foie gras shaped like small ears of corn, rocky fish, the duck and blueberry course and the veal with chestnut, along with the trout amuse (see pic).
We were very pleased when our server told us that they have 3 different tasting menus available and invited us to return – so we did.
Our second meal included a different foie preparation, a cucumber and tomato dish, one featuring shrimp, honey and corn (which was paired with a Mexican chardonnay – which was just an outstanding pairing), generous and beautiful raw tuna dish (see pic) and a carrot dessert that was crazy good. Again, we did the premium wine pairings (well worth the extra $55 each).
At the end of the savoury courses our server asked us to select which of the courses we’d enjoyed that night the most to ‘repeat’ – we did, and were served our favourite course all over again (I did the tuna, SO did grouper in garlic foam on a bed of mushrooms).
Our final Autor meal included visits from all of our previous servers, clearly delighted that we enjoyed the food so much that we returned. Standouts from this one included Aguachile (a Mexican version of ceviche), tortilla soup (which sounds like such a simple dish, but not when served at Autor) and a just an amazing beef dish. The sommelier really kicked the wines up (another) notch and we enjoyed a couple of just stunning pairings (including, believe it or not, a Mexican wine we liked so much we asked him to sell us a bottle to take home). Once again we were invited to select a ‘repeat’ course, and I chose the tortilla soup (SO decided on an extra glass of that Mexican wine).
The food wouldn’t be for everyone (we heard that someone in another group had left part way through their meal the night before, which we found mind-boggling, but if you come prepared for ‘regular’ all-inclusive food, then perhaps it makes sense). If you are an adventurous eater and enjoy some molecular gastronomy as part of your dining experience, you’ll love it.
The staff were exceptionally friendly and attentive and seemed genuinely tickled that we loved their food so much we kept coming back. We were grateful for their hospitality and the fruits of their efforts and were delighted to take our server up on his invitation to visit the kitchen.
So if you’ve been thinking about an all-inclusive but don’t want to give up eating great food when you travel, we highly recommend this spot and we’ll definitely be going back.
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