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A Foodie In St Barth - K'fé Massaï

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.

The K'Fé Massaï in Lorient is a restaurant-lounge bar decorated with an African theme offering three set menus ranging from €29 to €52 with of course an à la carte alternative.

As it's the only restaurant we've eaten at every year, there's a certain familiarity about it albeit on an annual basis and we went there with definite expectations.

Perhaps though we should have known from the moment we entered that we were going to be disappointed. The music had been turned up just a tad too loud to make conversation at a normal level possible.

A member a staff hurriedly seated us at our table and asked us whether we would prefer still or sparkling water, returning five minutes later to quench our thirst while one of her colleagues brought the blackboard with the day's recommendations.....to another table of diners who had sat down shortly after us.

We were left for another five minutes before a similar board was brought and the waitress rushed through the "specials" at breakneck-speed French. Not a problem for me, but there had apparently been no recognition that at least one of the people at our table was a non native-speaker and would have appreciated a more pedestrian pace.

Be that as it may, no sooner had she finished her 60-second patter, than another black-clad member of staff hopped to attention to take our orders. And we had hardly had time to read, by the restaurant's dim light, what was written on the blackboard.

We asked for, and were granted, five minutes more grace after which time back he popped

Now this is the mouth-watering part, even as I write what we ordered. It sounds delicious and it should have been. But to put it succinctly, it wasn't.

For starters;

Lobster ravioli with champagne cream sauce - too sweet and not hot enough. Three styles of tuna - Tahitian, sashimi and tartar rechristened by me rubber, gristle and boring in that order. The Tahitian tuna was simply inedible, the sashimi required a jolly good chew and the tartar was just tasteless.

Our main courses followed a similar pattern. Monkfish with chorizo, risotto and broccoli and Seared tuna with soy sauce and wasabi - served with a side dish of rice, aubergines and broccoli

This was not so much fusion food so beloved apparently of many a restaurant owner (but perhaps not by many foodies) as it was mushy, overcooked, bland and oddly combined dishes often only lukewarm and served at such a speed that it was obvious they had not been prepared to order but probably lined and plated up in advance, blasted quickly (when necessary) in the microwave and hauled out in front of the diner.

So when I left at least a third of my (tuna) starter uneaten, and then most of my (monkfish) main course, it was obvious I hadn't really enjoyed the food and the waitress bravely asked why.

"How was the monk fish?" she asked

"Lukewarm and tasteless," I replied. "The hottest thing about the dish was the plate".

"The risotto?" she persisted.

"Far too mushy, more like rice pudding and also barely warm," I responded.

"What about the broccoli?" was obviously her last attempt to salvage some praise from me for the meal.

"I love broccoli," I replied. "It's one of my favourite vegetables - normally. Unfortunately this was almost puréed. So no it wasn't very nice either.

"But apart from that the meal was perfect," I added kindly

I politely declined her offer to bring me a new portion.

Dessert and coffee followed - profiteroles and pistachio ice cream - relatively safe territory although if I were being exceptionally critical I could say a few words on the choux pastry. But I'm feeling generous.

Maybe we jut made bad choices, although I don't think that would have improved the welcome we were afforded - very end of season, "let's get the guests fed, watered and out of here as soon as possible so we can all go home," was the feeling I was left with.

A group of Americans at a neighbouring table seem to be relishing the burgers and steaks they had ordered. Maybe that's a safer bet at the Massaï, although it's not really what I had come to expect from the kitchen.

Overall impressions then were disappointing - staff and especially the food, even if we didn't end up paying for my main course. We shan't be returning, which is a shame as obviously this meal has overshadowed memories of all those we've eaten there in previous years.

Ratings: Ambience - 5/20, Service - 5/20, Food -5/20
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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