Motor enthusiasts dream of going to the Monaco Grand Prix. Tennis lovers want ringside seats at Wimbledon with strawberries and cream. What’s the ultimate for food lovers? The Test Kitchen in Mauritius…
It was a mere 30 years ago that I visited Mauritius for the first time. As a newly-wed, I was bleating that it was an irresponsible trip, that we should have put that money into our bond. We arrived in the dark at our hotel, to the rhythmic beat and colourful sight of sega dancers. With cocktail in hand I started to become slightly less resistant. Waking up and drawing the curtains to see a large expanse of pure white sand, palm trees gently blowing in a breeze and turquoise waters – well I was completely entranced. My wanderlust had been unlocked…and there was no looking back!
We returned to the island a few years ago, and on our way home I declared that one day we would return to experience Shangri-La’s Le Touessrok Resort & Spa. Someone must have been listening?
A quick chat to three-plated chef Luke Dale Roberts before heading off to Mauritius, really got my excitement going. I asked him about the challenges of moving half of his team to the island to recreate the award-winning cuisine that TTK has become famous for. Here is a man who relishes a challenge, for whom start-ups get his adrenalin pumping and the creative juices running. I had no doubt that the Test Kitchen Mauritius at the refined Republik Beach Club & Grill at Shangri-La Le Touessrok, would be chic, slick and worthy of a flight. It is here that five-star food will meet five-star setting, and dark will turn to light. The concept of this innovative move came to Luke when faced with the challenges of the drought in Cape Town. (For those left behind – make your booking for the TTK Drought menu).
After a five-hour flight from Cape Town and a one-hour drive to the resort, we dashed past the smiling sega dancers welcoming us, to our superlative suite. It was 19h00, and the launch party had started at 18h30. The quickest shower ever and we were sashaying down the lawn to meet the media and dignitaries, including the Mauritian tourism ambassador, to enjoy snacks in the dark (replicating the TTK dark room experience). The yellow lentil crisps with local atchar and homemade sour cream, Mauritian spiced ‘Kobe’ beef and local wild boar roll with sushi rice and bloomed mustard made way for a ceviche with curried pineapple and lemongrass granite in true island-style. After sipping Champagne and cocktails and making acquaintance with a host of friendly Mauritians, Luke welcomed all guests and we found our way to tables in the light room.
What a treat to be seated with Shangri-La’s Le Touessrok’s assistant director of communications Sabrina Sobrayen and fellow media with a bird’s eye view of the kitchen. It was hotting up – the first of six courses were being plated, with Luke dashing in and out, head chef Ryan Cole working his magic with the rest of the team. Front of house from TTK in Cape Town, unaccustomed to the heat and humidity of the island, made every effort to look as cool as cucumbers, but a few private chats and we knew they were sweltering! Each of the courses was as good as the last. Fellow writers at our table questioned us about The Test Kitchen and we proudly told them all about it. For us it was a different experience – same world class standards of culinary expertise, yet in a relaxed environment. Hints of the island came through in flavours such as hibiscus, local cacao and vanilla. My dish of the day was the vielle rouge (red snapper) with butter roasted carrot, coriander pesto and a carrot extraction. My man chose the slow cooked pork belly with blue cheese, local honey and lavender as his, until the wood pigeon with local cacao beetroot, a liver stuffing and dukkah arrived, making it a tie. The dessert was a delicate blend of bread (brioche), milk and honey. Flip to page 72 of the JHP Gourmet Guide™ to see the recipe.
After dinner from heaven every guest was given a copy of the JHP Gourmet Guide™, and many wanted them autographed by three-plated chef Luke. We managed to find time for a quick chat, and to congratulate him on an evening that will live forever in the memories of those lucky enough to have been at the Republik Grill & Bar. We ended the evening catching up with the only other South African media representative present, Hillary Biller, food editor of the Sunday Times (read her account of the occasion next week), and headed to our gorgeous frangipani suite for some shut-eye.
How incredible to wake to the sound of the waves, and after a sumptuous breakfast, to be shuttled in a boat to private island Ilot Mangenie, where we were greeted by our butler with a cold cloth and the offer of cleaning my sunglasses! A private cabana, plus loungers and a luncheon table with a bottle of rosé and ice-cold water beckoned. At lunchtime we were brought truffle pizza, grilled lobster and salad. Our butler took good care of us until it was time to boat back to the resort for our couple massage at Chi, the spectacular spa at the resort.
After happy hour, sipping bubbly on the beach, we headed to Safran for an authentic Indian dinner – pigeon samosas for my man and fish in banana leaves for me, followed by piquant curries.
The next day in paradise started with a walk on the beach, breakfast and then a boat ride to Île aux Cerfs, which previously was a private island for Le Touessrok, but is now open to the public, offering water sports and some laid-back shopping. In search of solitude, we hopped back onto the boat and languished in the sun. Lunch of salads admiring the ocean – palm heart for me and Caesar with prawn for my man, whilst sipping cocktails, then all too soon it was time for happy hour. Dinner at Kushi, the Japanese restaurant, was a treat. Saki, sushi and deep-fried shrimp with a tangy sauce was followed by black cod and salmon – exceptional dishes. Yuzu tart and vanilla ice cream and I was ready for bed.
One last day of warm sea, sunny skies and superlative, attentive service and we had to tear ourselves away from the island. A quick chat to Luke to wish him well for the rest of his time in Mauritius, and we were waved goodbye by the sega dancers, leaving a little of our hearts at Shangri-La’s Le Touessrok, otherwise known as the perfect paradise.