It was too good to be true, I thought as I lay back in the bathtub watching the sun set across the Indian ocean. I had been invited to spend a few days at two of Mauritius’s most prestigious hotels to soak up the tropical sun and savour the exotic fusion of flavours at the hotels’ signature restaurants.
My first taste of things to come was dinner at One&Only Onex Le Touessrok’s renowned Indian restaurant, Safran. It was conceptualised by Michelin-starred chef Vineet Bhatia, and dining here is a fabulous culinary experience.
We started with unbelievably delicious naan breads, which came out the tandoor oven just before serving and were topped with a choice of olives, fresh basil, blue cheese or saffron. We then shared a selection of appetisers: tandoori-spiced smoked salmon; a salad of stir-fried squid, prawns, palm heart, white radish and ginger drizzled with chilli oil; a trio of spiced chicken bites and a masala crab cake, and a crab and corn samoosa. Main courses were just as enticing and ranged from succulent nutmeg-infused lamb shanks and sublime chicken tikka dishes to grilled sea bass and my favourite – tiger prawns poached in coconut and chilli masala.
Enter a platter of Indian sweets – a coconut and mango mousse with orange and rum granita, pistachio, mint, saffron and raisin ice creams, and the sinful chocolate samoosa. Filled with silky chocolate mousse, these seductive little delicacies are possibly the most orgasmic things I have ever tasted, and guests have been known to return time and time again to Safran for its famous dessert.
The next day we stopped at Barlen’s, a laid-back open-air restaurant and bar that is perfect for lunch if you’re lying by the pool or on the beach. Looking out across the Trou d’Eau Douce Bay, what is interesting here is that you can order a dish in either French or Asian style. For example, you can have a foie gras terrine or a foie gras siew mai, a French-inspired roasted pigeon breast or honey and soy-glazed pigeon breast with Shanghai noodles.
There are even healthy options, recommended by the hotel’s fitness centre, such as sea bream simmered with ginger and soy broth, and grilled tuna, a simple salad or sushi. And if you don’t feel like leaving your chaise longue, you can order takeaway sushi or picnic-style bento boxes filled with satays, spring rolls, sesame toasts, fried wontons and Asian dips.
The cuisine at Barlen’s is “casual but sharp”, says Olivier Chaleil, executive chef at Onex Le Touessrok, who practises a philosophy of modern simplicity, right down to Barlen’s “Zen-style” cocktails and bar snacks. Next stop was the hotel’s main restaurant, Three-Nine-Eight. The traditional Mauritian-themed buffet we sampled was excellent, although it was difficult to do justice to the staggering array of dishes – there must have been 20 desserts each night! We most certainly did justice, however, to the mini piña colada soufflés, which were light and fluffy.
We were also quite partial to the fig tartlets and the pineapple clafoutis tart, not to mention the chocolate brownies and fresh sorbets. Sensational buffet-style breakfasts are served here too, with everything from pastries and breads to fresh fruit, fry-ups and even stirfries, as well as more than 30 coffee options from The Espresso Bar. My breakfast staple was the smoked blue marlin, which is delicious on seed loaf or rye with lemon juice and some black pepper.
One&Only Onex Le Touessrok is the ultimate in tropical and honeymoon chic, but One&Only Onex Le Saint Géran also tempts sun and food lovers. Its main restaurant, La Terrasse, and is great for alfresco dining as it’s set around the pool overlooking the beach. A rotating dinner menu allows one to try a series of colourful dishes, from Italian to Arabic to traditional Mauritian, and you can either dine à la carte or help yourself to the buffet. The hotel’s renowned executive chef Maxime Luvara created a superb set menu for us, the highlight of which was a grilled red tuna fillet served with braised zucchini, French asparagus and citrus juice. The trio of fragrant curry dishes was equally delectable.
But the pièce de résistance at One&Only Onex Le Saint Géran is the culinary adventure at Spoon des Iles, considered one of the best restaurants in the world. The concept is based on a complex blend of tradition and modernity, which extends from the decor and extraordinary, multi-ethnic menu to the added touches – handbag stools, and notepads placed on the tables for guests to scribble down their thoughts.
A closer look at the complex trans-cultural menu, and you could quite easily be “lost in translation”. I ate delicately stuffed squid with a cashew-nut condiment and a crisp green vegetable salad, followed by ombrine in a red wine sauce.
Sublime. For dessert, I was presented with fresh fruit poached with basil and served with litchi sorbet, and a citronella-mint granita presented in a Perspex bowl. Mind-boggling, maybe, but the sensory delight of each culinary creation and the pure genius of the cooking techniques at Spoon des Iles cannot be faulted, nor forgotten.