3 BVI Restaurants with Pasts You Never Knew
- May 6th, 2013
- in PROPERTY
The Virgin Islands benefits from an abundance of historic integrity. Archaeologists have been able to trace settlements in the territory back to second-century Arawak Indians, who traveled to the island archipelago from South America.
More recognisable are remnants from the early European settlers, who famously named and developed our islands.
Scattered artifacts, wells and ruins from the Spanish, Dutch and British remain from a time of exploration, expeditions and often exploitation.
In the BVI, many of these historic reminders line the roads and remain buried in the bush, often overlooked as the treasures they are. But for some local proprietors, these ancient landmarks are a cause for celebration—and wise profiteering.
In total, the BVI has 185 potential landmark sites recorded, a number that leaves these decorated islands poised to add historical tourism to its list of many attractions.
In the past, ruins have been bulldozed and built over by landowners who did not see the value in a pile of old rubble.
But for others, like restaurateurs who benefit from the allure of historic antiquity, these sites have added enchantment and authenticity to their establishments.
With these changing times, many travel to these islands to uncover their varied little secrets—some of which remain preserved for their perusal. Few establishments, like Brandywine Bay Estate, remain to allow patrons to dine from a converted patio, previously on the same location as an 18th century British gun battery that protected Tortola’s Road Harbour.
Across the Sir Francis Drake Channel to Virgin Gorda’s Cocomaya, couples are invited to dip their feet in the same sugar fine white sands that pirates and privateers trudged through in their boots and surveyed the land for treasure drop locations.
At Apple Bay’s Sugar Mill Restaurant, patrons can dine at the same refurbished ruins that were at one time used by the Dutch as a lucrative production point.
With the right combination of beauty and enchantment, it’s easy to see how wise restaurateurs have benefited off of the Virgin Islands’ inherent bounties.
CocoMaya: Atop a Wondrous History
From sea, Cocomaya exudes a dominating presence within Virgin Gorda’s dramatic boulder-laden beachfront. Three tall, thatched roofs supported by wooden pillars thick as tree trunks open into a sophisticated, open-air interior.
Its modern design and chic ambiance attract residents and visitors with a preference for beachside lounging and dining the way it’s meant to be done.
Few, however, may be aware that the recently renovated property was at one time a likely refuge for either Dutch or Spanish settlers and rogue pirates looking for a place to stash their booty.
During my last visit to the beachside restaurant, I sat with owners Aaron Seddon and Kim Takeuchi over lunch to discuss the property’s storied past. I sipped on a refreshing blonde Maredsous beer out of a frosty chalice as we enjoyed a steady breeze underneath the covered dining area.
I looked over the white sand beach and island-speckled seascape and thought to myself that the only thing I may have in common with the pirates and early settlers of Virgin Gorda, is the unchanging view and the style of my beer craft.
During the excavation phase of Cocomaya’s construction, Aaron explained that he quickly learned that the foundation they were laying would sit on the same grounds occupied by some of the Virgin Islands first residents. He has since collected a small treasure trove of old artifacts, including smoking pipes, some pots and cups, and a canon ball.
In the parking lot, an old well still stands as a reminder of a younger Virgin Gordian’s primary fresh water source. Some longtime locals believe the well was first to service most of the island during the time of Spanish control around the 15th to 17th century.
As we toured the property, we stopped to speak with some Virgin Gorda residents and a taxi driver outside of the restaurant who told us about his version of the legend.
Many born on Virgin Gorda, the taxi man said, believe strongly that plundering pirates used the property to bury their treasure. I peered across the spacious blend of flatland, foliage and rocky terrain and pictured a pirate marking his hidden treasure with a fallen coconut.
Beyond the courtyard, through a maze of granite boulder trails, a neighbouring Fort George also reminds guests that history is only at arm’s length.
Today, the restaurant’s open courtyard near the entrance acts as an inviting natural amphitheater for live music and outdoor lounging.
The taxi driver’s belief of buried booty could be just legend, but I choose to believe that fiction is often times more fun than fact.
We returned from our tour of the property to enjoy our scrumptious fare and beachside breeze. I indulged with a vegetarian bean burger on fresh bread made from naan and continued in conversation about what sort of storied past could have existed beneath our very feet.
Was the cannonball fired from Spanish galleons seeking revenge against plundering pirates? Did the beachfront exist as a quiet community for Dutch settlers, or possibly a bustling harbour for Spanish Town?
As we imbibed in the ambiance of the rustic yet refined setting, it was easy to get lost in all that is beautiful and enchanting about the Virgin Islands.
(284) 495 6344
The Sugar Mill Hotel & Restaurant: A Sweet Past
The Sugar Mill is a hospitable haven renowned for its Caribbean cuisine, warm ambiance and distinguished architectural character, steeped in BVI history.
During the purchase of the establishment, she said, her wish was to fuse fresh Caribbean ingredients with a Californian influence, creating the dining experience that has consistently won praise and acknowledgement from Trip Advisor and Caribbean Travel & Life.
On my first guided tour, I was attracted to Sugar Mill’s physical character, defined by its family-feel and unique museum-like aesthetics, exhibiting a segment of the BVI’s profound and varied history. Jinx informed me that the original sugar mill dates back to 1640, during the height of rum trading. The present location of the hotel is on the site of a former distillery that would have served the immediate hillside area of Apple Bay.
As we passed through the main dining room, Jinx pointed to the vats on the western end of the building, noting that the room previously served as the distillery’s boiling house. Our trip took us outside, where large, lively trees and bright, tropical flora line the property.
There, Jinx directed my attention to the circular swimming pool, situated in the centre of what would have been the original animal mill round used for sugar production.
In reference to the cane crushing procedure, renowned architect Jon Osman, who designed much of the old mill’s hotel and restaurant refit, noted that evidence of original machinery from the distillery currently sits near the property’s entrance.
Osman’s prominent style is often spotted by his use of local granite, existing masonry and ruins on the property. Sugar Mill is a shining example of his handiwork.
It is interesting historical points like this, that add an academic allure to The Sugar Mill restaurant – as guests dine, they are sitting in a genuine spectacle of BVI history.
(284) 495 4355
Brandywine Estate Restaurant: Defenders of Fine Dining
On Tortola’s Southern coast, overseeing the Sir Francis Drake Channel, Brandywine Estate Restaurant sits on an important but often overlooked BVI landmark.
Having the pleasure of visiting the restaurant, I have often enjoyed the chilled garden lounge reception with its soothing breeze and epic views from St John to Virgin Gorda before indulging the Mediterranean bistro dining experience accommodated by Chef Regis Bourdon and Manager Claudine Pearson.
Approaching its third decade of business, the restaurant has consistently benefited from its artistic ambiance and fresh, open-air atmosphere, which serenades the senses.
Regis and Claudine, who took over the restaurant last year and celebrated their first anniversary on March 16 2013, divulged that they are situated in an elusive BVI historical landmark—elusive because many are unaware of the history and building’s significance while enjoying a luxurious dinner.
According to Claudine, who noted that the estate was a private home into the 1930s, the history can be traced back further.
HLSCC Professor and historian Dr Mitch Kent informed me that Brandywine Estate was originally named Fort Abraham. A report on the Virgin Island’s fortifications that dates back to 1801 describes the building as being built by the British and used as the principal defense to ward off primarily French invaders.
While sipping a mojito or enjoying tuna tartar el fresco, one might overlook the old lined mortar in the walls of the tented outdoor seating area. This is the section where the gun battery sat to guard Road Harbour as the capital port’s last line of defense.
So, when sampling an innovative cocktail or a filet of beef topped with foe gras and decorated in a truffle sauce, remember to pay homage to Fort Abraham and the defenders who permitted this fine dining experience.
(284) 495 2301