Island feast

Sarah Lee investigates why the Cayman Islands are known as the culinary capital of the Caribbean. 

Paid partnership with Visit Cayman Islands

Island feast

Sarah Lee investigates why the Cayman Islands are known as the culinary capital of the Caribbean

As the plane doors opened I felt the familiar, yet sorely missed, hot Caribbean air touch my skin, quickly followed by a gnawing hunger.

The British Airways inflight service on the 12-hour journey to Grand Cayman from London was decent, but I needed a real meal.

Besides, the Cayman Islands are touted as the ‘culinary capital of the Caribbean’ and I was ready to rediscover why.

At my hotel, The Kimpton Seafire Resort & Spa, on popular Seven Mile Beach, I decided on a casual meal and made a beeline for the hotel’s Coccoloba beachside restaurant. This bar and grill mixes Mexican fun with Caribbean flair, with tacos, ceviche and margaritas the order of the day. 

The muted lighting allowed the white sand to shine as waves rippled on the shoreline – this was my first taste of the beach where I’d spend a few days soaking up the sun and the endless blue.

The resort has further options – upscale Mediterranean restaurant Ave, plus Avecita, its communal dining experience with Spanish tapas-inspired dishes showcased in theatrical style. 

For drinks, there’s Library by the Sea, a cocktail concept blending art, literature and Caymanian culture into libations developed from a year of research. Each cocktail tells a tale based on the literature that inspired it, and these narratives are woven into the story told by the bar itself.

The history of the Cayman Islands is shared through vintage photographs, a lifesize catboat suspended from the ceiling, and a bar made up of reclaimed wood from the original Owen Roberts International Airport.

But I like to explore, and wanted to sample more of the island’s local culinary scene while soaking up Grand Cayman’s attractions. I promised myself a literary cocktail later on during my stay – with the bar located in the hotel’s former library, it was a cultural experience, I told myself.

The following day, after a morning of snorkelling with rays at the famous Stingray City, a catamaran delivered me back to the Cayman Islands Yacht Club, where I paused for lunch at Bàcaro.

The main dining area is a bright, airy space, with nautical accents including ropes swaying from the ceiling, but I made for a table on its deck for waterfront views. 

I started with a gin cocktail – there are four to choose from and I plumped for the Toulouse, made of Citadelle gin, lemon and pink peppercorns. Each one is sunshine in a glass.

The main course consisted of small plates that packed flavour, from tuna tartare with avocado puree and zingy mango salsa, to lobster croquettes with a beautifully golden saffron aioli, which certainly stirred my tastebuds. Not only was the food wonderful and service brisk, but the setting made the experience, the warm and bright afternoon lulling me to a siesta pace.

The next day I hit the road early, heading northeast from Seven Mile Beach, first for history at the oldest stone building on the island, Pedro St James Castle, then for colour and intoxicating scents at Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Park. Pausing for lunch, I pulled into Over the Edge Cafe, in Old Man Bay, to sample Caymanian culture and home-cooked eats. 

On a deck overlooking the Caribbean Sea, at a table suitably weathered by the coastal elements to term the cafe ‘seaside rustic’, I chose sunshine yellow conch – a seafood dish popular in the islands – plus rice and vegetables including gently fried plantain.

And I couldn’t resist a cocktail that has become a Cayman Islands’ special – the mudslide, made of vodka, coffee liqueur and Irish cream liqueur served over ice with chocolate syrup.

The drink is said to have been invented at the Wreck Bar, at popular beach spot Rum Point. When someone requested a white russian, a quick-thinking bartender substituted out fresh cream for Irish cream liqueur and history was made.

Today, few islanders order white Russians, while the mudslide gets all the attention. Drinking this distinctly Cayman creation, while soaking up the Caribbean views, it felt far more appropriate. 

Speaking of Rum Point, I headed there next and then on to nearby Starfish Point Beach, perfect for sunbathing, snorkelling and spotting deep red starfish with intricate patterns splayed lazily across the seabed. 

Freshening up, and slipping into something suitably Caribbean smart casual that evening, I made for Camana Bay for a more upscale dinner.

On local recommendations I found myself at Agua, a seafood restaurant which describes itself as ‘rooted in Italian tradition and inspired by Peruvian cuisine’. It was a fusion I had to try, starting with its popular whipped ricotta, accompanied by honeyed crostini and roasted hazelnuts to add crunch to the cheese’s delightful creaminess. 

I also tasted the ceviche – the fresh catch of the day mixed with sweet potato and corn nuts in traditional Peruvian style. For my main, I settled on lobster mac and cheese with generous chunks of lobster in a rich cheesy sauce, somehow neither flavour overpowering the other.

Agua’s interiors lived up to the name with the concept of water running throughout the space, including a chandelier of aqua-coloured bottles.

Though I landed on Seven Mile Beach with little intention of moving far the next morning, I did make my way to Tillies, along the beach. It serves great food all day, but the lunchtime special of crispy snapper fillet sandwich lured me in like a fish on a hook.

Again, it was casual fare, but with everything from oysters and caviar to steaks and poulet to choose from on Tillies’ menu alone, you’re never challenged to find fine food on Grand Cayman.

Heading for home, I couldn’t help but take a taste of Cayman with me; first, predictably, a bottle of duty-free rum. However, somewhat less predictably, Cayman’s Seven Fathoms gets its name from the fact that it is aged in American white oak bourbon casks at 42 feet – or seven fathoms – below the sea. 

I also picked up a couple Tortuga Rum Cakes; this local brand has been getting tourists tipsy since 1987 and it’s easy to see why. Rich, decadent and boozy, it is in many ways the epitome of the Cayman food and drink scene combined into one delicious slice. 

Calling itself the ‘Culinary capital of the Caribbean’ is a bold claim, but the Cayman Islands live up to the hype.

Need to know

  • Getting there – British Airways offer direct* flights from London Heathrow to Grand Cayman five times per week. *The flight touches down in Nassau, Bahamas but passengers travelling on to Cayman do not disembark the plane.
  • Best time to go – the Cayman Islands experience an average temperature of 26°C all year round, making it a fantastic holiday destination at any time of year. However, the months from December-April tend to bring the most pleasant weather.
  • Where to stay – there is a range of accommodation on offer across all three islands from resorts and hotels to luxurious villas and condos, all within easy access of the beautiful beaches and Caribbean Sea. See the “Where to Stay” section of the Visit Cayman Islands website for more information.
  • Must-pack item – leave space in your suitcase to take home some of the fantastic local art and pottery, or a bottle of Seven Fathoms Rum – a rum unique to the Cayman Islands that is matured in oak barrels lowered seven fathoms under the sea, where the rolling waves and warm sea temperature create the perfect conditions to create this smooth, mellow spirit.
  • How to do it – hire a car and explore the islands yourself! Driving is on the left, just like the UK, and the islands are very easy to navigate.
  • Anything else? There are 365 different dive sites in the Cayman Islands, most of which are easily accessible and just a short boat ride from the shore. Refresher and PADI certified open water courses are available at most of the dive resorts and if you complete your theory work in the UK before you leave, you can spend more time diving when you’re in Cayman!

More information

This article on Cayman Islands Hotels was brought to you in partnership with Visit Cayman Islands. With 71,000 friendly locals to greet you, the Cayman Islands can be found in the most carefree corner of the Caribbean.

All three of the islands have their own personality, from the barefoot elegance of Grand Cayman, to the adventurous spirit of Cayman Brac to the tranquillity of Little Cayman.

For more information and suggested itineraries, go to visitcaymanislands.com.