7 Culinary Adventures in the Cayman Islands
It’s 7 a.m. and the crew of a 25-foot fishing vessel heads out at dawn’s first light. They are in search of wahoo, snapper, tuna, and other freshly caught fish they can quickly pack on ice and deliver to their restaurant, The Brasserie, for a true sea-to-table dining experience.
The Cayman Islands, consisting of Grand Cayman, Cayman Brac, and Little Cayman, lay in the Caribbean Sea just a 1.5 hour flight from Miami. Grand Cayman is the largest and most populous of the three islands, while Cayman Brac and Little Cayman are situated to the northeast, and are only a few minutes away by plane. While these islands offer beautiful beaches, one-of-a-kind scuba dives, and near-perfect weather, the culinary adventures are as alluring as the tropical breezes, and will have your mouth watering well before you arrive.
This is the place to come for some of the freshest fish on the island — which usually goes from sea-to-table within 24 hours, courtesy of their own dedicated fishing boats. The executive chef personally oversees each delivery, waiting patiently on the loading dock for the day’s catch, which is offered in entrées such as grilled yellowfin tuna with toasted fregula, roasted peppers, and olive tapenade.
But coming here is a palate-tempting experience to be savored, so start with one of the house-made sodas like hibiscus lime. Or indulge in a cocktail like the Caribbean Breeze, made with Watershed bourbon, fresh-squeezed orange juice, garden sorrel, and lemon.
The Brasserie also maintains an immaculately-manicured on-site organic garden, and the yield is used in all its dishes. For a sample of the best of nature, try the local tomato salad with burrata, local arugula, garden basil, and Banyuls’ balsamic vinaigrette.
The Brasserie is open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner beginning at 11:30 a.m., and The Brasserie Market next door opens at 7 a.m. and closes at 5 p.m.
Born in Mumbai, chef-owner Shetty Vidyadhara poured his 28 years of experience into Blue Cilantro, his restaurant situated in the Seven Mile Beach area of Grand Cayman. As you enter, you are bathed in a world of cobalt blue lighting that reflects the cool and inviting atmosphere of this popular restaurant. And popular for good reason, as chef Shetty and Blue Cilantro have won numerous awards including Best Chef, Best Place to Have Dinner, and Caribbean Restaurant of the Year, by the Jamaican Observer.
The philosophy here is simple: Use the best ingredients, provide excellent service, and prepare each dish with meticulous attention to detail and presentation. If you are one of those who eat first with your eyes, you will be in culinary heaven here.
Start with the light and moist crab cake with a tamarind drizzle and spicy mango aïoli. You also should not deprive yourself of the jumbo shrimp (“jumbo” doesn’t even do it justice) from Madagascar, which is roasted in a clay oven and served with roasted garlic aïoli and Cayman honey–lemon drizzle. If you are a seafood-lover, you can also choose from the daily whole catch of the day, such as red snapper cooked in a tandoori oven and served with roasted eggplant and chickpea purée along with mustard–coconut sauce. For dessert, try the salted caramel milk chocolate bar. If you weren’t quite sure you were dining in paradise, this restaurant will confirm your suspicion.
Blue Cilantro is open for lunch daily from 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and dinner from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. The small menu is available from 4 p.m. to 11 p.m.
Grape Tree Café
For an authentic Caymanian experience, many locals will refer you to a little wooden shack located unassumingly behind a gas station in Bodden Town on Grand Cayman. Here, you will find the Grape Tree Café, run by one of the families in this district, which was the former capital of the Cayman Islands.
On the weekends, it’s not unusual to see lines stretching to the street and wait times of up to 30 minutes. The small chalkboard on the exterior displays your fried fish options: snapper, grouper, conch fritters, or swai. Make sure you ask for your fish to come with some tangy onions that are marinated in a spicy sauce made with carrots, peppers, and some Caymanian “secret” ingredients. You can order an entire meal complete with sides of fritters, plantains, or cassava for about $18 USD.
Take your meal to one of the thatched cabanas and enjoy your perfectly seasoned fish overlooking the deep blue sea as coconut palms sway overhead to the tropical breezes and cute little chickens run around your feet looking for a handout.
The Grape Tree Café is open Friday and Saturday from 12 p.m. to 9 p.m., and Sundays from 12 p.m. to 8 p.m.
Camana Bay Flavour Tour
Camana Bay is one of the most popular lifestyle centers on Grand Cayman, integrating residences, shopping and dining experiences, office space, and entertainment venues in a modern example of new urbanism. With 45 restaurants, cafés, and eateries, you won’t leave hungry.
One of the best ways to sample the best of what the chefs at Camana Bay have to offer is to take their Flavour Tour held on Wednesday evenings. After a sparkling wine toast at the West Indies Wine Company, you will enjoy small plates at four Camana Bay restaurants. Actually, the dishes are more like full-sized entrees and come paired with a signature cocktail. If you have the chance and are visiting The Brooklyn, try the Nurse Jackie made with infused vodka, mango purée, and mint and topped with white wine — guaranteed to cure all your ills.
The Flavour Tour costs $89 per person.
This is the perfect place to experience the fusion of fresh seafood, soft breezes, and good company, all while dining with views of the Caribbean Sea. Chef–owner George Fowler has created a delightful culinary oasis in Morgan’s Harbour in the West End District.
Previously destroyed by a hurricane, this rebuilt restaurant is as colorful as it is fun, with vibrant hues of burnt orange and deep blue and low lighting. Shutters open to the fresh air, and the back deck opens to an expansive view of the waterfront.
As you watch the sunset turn to night, your seafood specials come to your outside table via a server holding a lighted chalkboard featuring the evening’s offerings. While you are waiting, don’t miss one of the chef’s personal favorite appetizers — the chicken liver pâté with cornichons and a Cumberland sauce infused with apples and sherry. Spread it on the soft French bread and you might really think you have found nirvana. The English influence of chef Fowler’s upbringing is reflected in his cuisine, like in his own version of sticky toffee pudding. Believe it or not, his dessert is so popular here that they named the adjoining street after it!
The Calypso Grill is open Tuesday to Sunday for lunch and dinner.
Le Soleil d’Or (“Golden Sun”)
Cayman Brac, one of the sister islands, is accessible by a short flight from Grand Cayman. Idyllic and known for its peaceful serenity and dive sites, this island also has a hidden gem known as Le Soleil d’Or. What started as a hobby has turned into a major gardening operation covering 20 acres on a limestone bluff situated 140 feet above sea level. The owner has converted this rocky terrain covered with sinkholes into a lush tropical Eden with more than 300 fruit trees, as well as an amazing number of vegetables, herbs, and flowers.
Guests can also book a stay at its ultra-luxury boutique hotel for as little as $320 per night during low season. The building’s signature whitewashed exterior walls are covered with colorful bougainvillea vines, and the open and airy interiors are just as beautiful and only a stone’s throw from the turquoise waters of the Caribbean. Guests staying on property can also enjoy an unsurpassed culinary experience at the aforementioned Golden Sun. Upon arrival, travelers are brought into the cool and light-filled dining room where their mixologist offers a refreshing libation (try the passionfruit juice) followed by a lunch using fresh ingredients from the property’s garden and the sea. The meals change daily and might include a dish made with grouper and mango salsa accompanied by fresh grilled zucchini and eggplant — all beautifully presented.
The Farm Garden Tour is open to anyone, although on-site dining is exclusive to guests staying on property. However, this may be open to the public in the coming months. If you visit, be sure to ask about the “mystery fruit,” which defies explanation and has to be experienced.
Pirates Point Resort
Known for its natural beauty, Little Cayman is a laid-back island with sports fishing, a nature reserve and soft adventures. Pirates Point Resort is also well known among divers (who rated it No. 1 on TripAdvisor) as one of the best places to enjoy pristine scuba dives as well as great food.
Chefs Dianne Fite and Anthony Pizzarello have been serving happy customers in this relaxed, homestyle resort for years. You know the sort of place this is when you see fluffy cats curled up on the chairs and folk art covering the walls. Culinary creations include line-caught sushi every Friday, as well as fresh fish and some unusual breads like apple-onion-bacon and mushroom-goat cheese. Diane also makes her own cakes and jellies, such as pepper jelly or mango chutney, from indigenous fruits and vegetables. Be sure to leave room in your suitcase to take some home.
The Cayman Islands offer an authentic culinary vacation that is easily accessible from most major airports. But they also offer something that many other destinations don’t: Caymankind. This is a term used to describe the friendliness of the people who live here. Broad smiles, a friendly “Welcome to paradise” greeting, and a special spirit that beckons you to return are all part of the Caymankind experience.