Bermuda Bounces Back
Maybe it’s cyclical. A generation or so ago, Bermuda was a popular honeymoon destination for our newly wedded parents. Indeed, I was conceived on this little island that has been called the "Jewel of the Atlantic.” But in the intervening years, as other tropical destinations have become increasingly favored, Bermuda seems to have taken somewhat of a backseat. There are efforts underway now to remedy that, the timing of which has been optimized to coincide with Bermuda’s selection as host of the prestigious 2017 America’s Cup, the historic international sailing event.
One of those initiatives is a $90 million infusion of cash to refurbish the Hamilton Princess & Beach Club, A Fairmont Managed Hotel, which opened its doors in 1885. Part of that renovation includes the debut of a signature restaurant by celebrity chef Marcus Samuelsson, which I visited three times last month. The harborside hotel exudes a contemporary elegance; rooms are comfortable, views are lovely, and service is warm. There’s something fabulous about lounging luxuriously in the saline infinity pool, or, alternatively, taking the hourly shuttle to a gorgeous private beach about 20 minutes away and choosing a hammock from which to peruse a nice-looking lunch menu also designed by Mr. Samuelsson.
Marcus, the restaurant, is designed to maximize exposure to the water views — the architects smartly situated the outside dining deck below the restaurant’s interior to permit equally good viewing from inside or out. The open kitchen faces a central bar and the handsome, high-ceiling space features impressive contemporary art on its walls. Samuelsson’s menu incorporates his international style with Bermudian flavors and ingredients.
In contrast to most “island” restaurants, there is palpable energy upon entering Marcus, which was filled with as many local visitors as hotel guests. Although the service could have been a bit more buttoned up, it was always pleasant and well-meaning, and to be fair, it is perhaps premature to judge at opening with huge crowds in attendance. Moreover, no one seemed to mind much — they were happy just to be there. And most importantly, the food is very good.
You might begin with a delightful watermelon and prosecco cocktail. Nut noshers, like myself, will appreciate the house’s spicy ones with fried olives and dried cherries. It is also hard to argue with golden fried puff balls of delight known here as “fish chowder bites” and served with a rum aïoli. Super fresh and luscious raw local fish is offered in a variety of preparations. The tomato and seared watermelon salad starter is a hit. Served with pistachio paste and goat cheese, this is how it should be done. The jerk pork belly appetizer is rich and rewarding, and seemed big enough for a meal.The Princess hotel is conveniently situated only a few minute walk from Hamilton town, which is filled with shopping and other dining options.
As for the larger plates, diners can choose from fish, beef, or vegetable options, as well as a whole fried chicken for two, with sides such as grilled Bermuda onions, ratatouille, and mac & cheese. The “Jamerican” veal porterhouse is pricey (at $65, with collard greens and carrot purée) but mighty tasty. The fire pit roasted chicken was exemplary, cooked perfectly and placed atop corn, tomatoes, and brioche croutons with a yuzu shallot dressing. And I’d have no problem whatsoever bellying up to the bar again for that happy-making burger with aged Cheddar, smoky bacon, “rooster sauce,” and Parmigiano-Reggiano fries. Oh, and if the exceptional rum cake is available, get it. It remains delicate though doused with booze and comes with strawberries so sweet they needed no added sugar at all to enhance.
1609 Bar and Restaurant is another good restaurant on the property. Open-air and perched directly above the sea, it’s an ideal position from which to lazily watch passing sailboats and cruise ships while you enjoy a dark and stormy (made with local rum and ginger beer) and chow down on some toothsome fish tacos and the like.
The Princess hotel is conveniently situated only a few minute walk from Hamilton town, which is filled with shopping and other dining options. There’s also an in-house sport shack from which one can rent watercrafts (highly recommended) and an Exhale Spa on the way for those who can’t be without their yoga class… by the sea.
A good indication of how much one enjoyed a vacation comes when it’s time to depart. There are occasions when you feel ready to head back home, and others when you’re not. I could have stayed another couple of days in Bermuda.