Renowned Canadian Restaurant critic; Anne Desbrisay’s Guide to the best of Turks and Caicos Dining

As a restaurant critic, I tend to travel with a Canadian passport and a destination dining guide. On this holiday to Turks and Caicos, other than an outing to Blue Hills, we wanted to dine within walking and biking distance of our resort at Grace Bay, Providenciales.

Restaurants that must import most ingredients tend to be pricey places and “Provo” is no exception. Expect to pay about what you’d spend at an expensive restaurant in Ottawa (“E”: main dishes in the $25-$35 range) with the exception of the ones I’ve suggested are more “budget” (B) or more mid-range in price (M). Most of these restaurants post menus, and costs, online.

Here’s what we liked:

Caicos Café: (M/E)

An easy walk from our resort, located on an upper deck framed with fairy lights, its menu has a new Italian direction, and we had a memorable conch chowder splashed with island Bambarra rum, a lobster salad with mango and fennel, and a bowl of homemade pasta with a conch and lobster sauce. Admirable wine list. –

Coco Bistro: (E)

Growing up on skates in Canada (and now coaching and playing Monday night floor hockey in Provo), chef Stuart Gray began his culinary apprenticeship at The Windsor Arms Hotel in Toronto. Coco Bistro is a magical restaurant. The al fresco tables wrap around a harissa-coloured building, beneath a roof of towering coconut palms beautifully lit. Must try: herbed ravioli of conch and grilled peppers in a spicy rose sauce with arugula leaves and pesto, shavings of parmesan and crispy fried leeks. Save room for coconut cream pie. Delightful service. –

Coyaba Restaurant: (E)

When he’s not in Toronto competing in (and winning!) the Iron Chef, Hot and Spicy contest, Paul Newman is chef and owner of the gazebo-style restaurant Coyaba (Arawak word for “heavenly”). Our meal started off with a worryingly dreary amuse, but then astonished us with a series of brilliantly executed, conceptually exciting dishes. Particularly notable are the scallop ceviche with ginger, and the conch Bolognese on a creamy timbale of linguine. –

Da Conch Shack & RumBar: (B)

Thought this would be a tourist trap, but it was such fun, very pretty, and with great beach food and drink, featuring island beer and rum, and fresh-from-the-water-right-there conch, harvested, tenderized and served up as fritters, salads, ceviche, chowder, stew, jerked, stir fried . –

Fairways Steakhouse, Provo Golf Club: (E)

Newfoundland-born Lauren Callighen is the new chef at Fairways, in the octagonal clubhouse of vaulted ceilings strung with hundreds of golf course flags from all parts of the world. Callighen’s in-house, 34-day dry-aged rib eye is spectacular meat. Good too the ahi tuna tartare with avocado chips. –

Hemingway’s on the Beach The Sands at Grace Bay: (M)

Home of the Conch Cup for 2011, Hemingway’s won the competition for the best conch dish with its empanadas. Oceanside deck a great spot for sunsets! –

Middle Caicos Café, Lower Bight Road: (B)

Fresh, regional food is on the menu at this very simple, more affordable place located in the Cultural market.

Lemon Café, The Village at Grace Bay: (E)

A Montreal native with Greek roots, John Tsavalas is cooking Moroccan now in Provo at the exotic Lemon Café. Try the grouper fritters with sun-dried tomato harrissa, and the roasted Yellow Tail snapper with date and almond chutney. – www.lemon-café.com

Danny Buoy’s, Grace Bay Road: (B)

Only had beer here (the local Turks Head Amber) but wanted to mention the great band that plays on the patio every Friday Night. By day, Ontario boy Pat Riel is a Provo paramedic. At night, he’s the lead singer in the band Bowen Arrow, with T & C’s Minister of Culture, culinary activist and all-round fine fellow David Bowen on bass guitar. –

Opus, Ocean Club Plaza: (E)

Food is superb, atmosphere romantic, with candlelit tables spread beneath twinkling trees, at this high end, tropically lush restaurant. A judicious glug of sesame oil lifts the conch ceviche at Opus, as does its mixed citrus marinade. –

Seaside Café, Ocean Club West: (B/M)

Open-air restaurant at Ocean Club West. Loved the blackened grouper sandwiches, the fish tacos for lunch. There are five conch dishes at Seaside, and we tried them all, but kept returning to the ceviche. –

Reprint of the Ottawa Citizen online article

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