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A Foodie In St Barth - La Mandala

May 30, 2008
Eating out is never exactly a chore in mainland France, and the visitor is in for just as much of a culinary delight on the French Caribbean island of St Barth.

There are over 50 restaurants mentioned in the excellent guide Saint-Barth Tables. It's available free at the airport and lists all the menus and prices. In addition there are many smaller bars and eateries you might come across on your travels around the island.

Don't expect too many "local" dishes as apart from fish, just about everything else has to be imported and the fashion seems to be plenty of "fusion food" catering for the most sophisticated and moneyed tastes - which of course are not necessarily the same thing

On the whole the prices aren't too scary and if your want to be certain of a table, book in advance - especially during high season.

Here's a pick (not always a recommendation) of some of the places I tried out on my latest trip to St Barth.

La Mandala, Gustavia

Being told that the restaurant was under new ownership sent alarm bells ringing as I took the plunge and made a reservation.

But my fears proved to be ungrounded as both the food and the service lived up to expectations. The place might have change hands, but the food is still good and the location of course well worth the effort.

La Mandala is in the island's capital, Gustavia, perched above the harbour, so parking will be a bit of a hassle, especially in high season. And be prepared for a steep last 50metre legs akimbo climb, which at least will help you work up an appetite.

It's also probably a good idea to leave any fancy shoes behind unless someone's prepared to drop you off right outside the door.

The new owners haven't really done anything to spruce up the interior - they didn't really need to as it's pretty much modern and classic for its setting. The roof is a sort of stretched beige canvas over an exposed wooden frame. There's decked flooring with the occasional water feature - so mind you step.

There's a light and airy feeling to the whole restaurant even in the evenings as it's open on two sides. And be sure to try to book a table overlooking the town as you'll benefit from any sea breeze, which can be something of a relief especially when the humidity rises.

Background music is kept low, so conversation at a normal volume is possible although it's more than likely that once the place gets really busy, and you're sitting right in the middle, it might get a little difficult to make yourself heard.

So the location and the decor haven't changed and neither has the food - it's still good quality and there were no unpleasant surprises awaiting us. La Mandala is yet again one of those places describing its dishes as "fusion food" - clearly THE culinary buzzword of the moment.

Bur fear not, you won't find anything too "off-the-wall" on the menu as its real specialities remain sushi, sashimi and Thai cuisine, and that's really what it excels at.

We shared two starters one from the chef-recommended 39 set menu, offering freshly made crab and shrimp spring rolls, with noodle rice,Thai sauce and seaweed. And the other la carte selection of sushi, sashimi and maki - all good quality.

The main course was fish curry, grilled fish and chicken - all part of the set menu and much tastier and belying its simple description. A la carte was chicken served in a coconut, mango and lemongrass sauce and Thai rice - a tasty and harmonious combination and definitely a generous sized portion. So often in these sorts of dishes you have poke around a while to find any hint of meat on the plate. This was certainly not the case - a scrumptious choice with no place left for dessert.

The set menu though included the wickedly delicious moelleux au chocolat and somehow I managed to sneak a spoonful - and that hit just the right spot.

The restaurant was not exactly heaving the night we were there. That's perhaps not surprising really as the season is definitely drawing to a close. Nonetheless we were still given a warm welcome and the service was friendly, smiley and efficient. A definite thumbs up.

One thing worth mentioning perhaps is that La Mandala also does sushi, sashimi and maki to go - yum yum.

Ratings: Ambience - 11/20, Service - 13/20, Food -12/20
About the Author
Johnny Summerton is a Paris-based broadcaster, writer and journalist specialising in politics, sport and travel. For more on what's making the headlines here in France, log on to his site at http://www.persiflagefrance.com For more of his travel pieces check out http://www.urlswurld.blogspot.com
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