Irie, Jamaica!

by AVENUE insider Photographed by Michael Gross
Monday, February 12, 2018

AVENUE respects Jamaica and last week, visited Round Hill outside Montego Bay, Ocho Rios, and GoldenEye in Orcabessa, all on the island’s sun-washed north shore.

A State Department warning of trouble in certain neighborhoods of MoBay and Jamaica’s capital, Kingston, and similar, if more hysterical, reports in British tabloids, caused a handful of cancellations in those two luxurious hotels last month, but didn’t trouble us–if State read the New York Post, it would warn visitors away from New York, too.  The only sign of anything amiss were checkpoints on the road in and out of MoBay, where soldiers and police eyeballing the occupants of cars give the same warm and fuzzy, comforting feeling one gets from the anti-terror theatrics in Times Square.  And if the restaurants were a little less crowded than usual, it provided a greater opportunity to bask in the warmth of Jamaica’s friendly culture. 

Irie, mon.

What’s new on this former British Colony in the sun?  Ganja isn’t legal…yet…but it’s more tolerated than ever.  There was even some openly on sale at the Ocho Rios Friday farmer’s market. 

At Round Hill, where guests can rent private villas or stay in the hotel-like rooms designed by Ralph Lauren in the beachfront Pineapple House, James Beard award-winning Executive Chef, Martin Maginley, has introduced nightly tasting menus inspired by the Jamaican cuisine of the 1950s, Round Hill’s temporal lifestyle touchstone, with dishes that include organic herbs and vegetables grown on the resort’s on-property organic garden, as well as farm-to-table delights from local farmers.   

A typical menu offered choices like Old Harbor Pride Torched Shrimp in lemongrass sauce and rum, Steamed Pedro Banks Snapper in Parchment Paper with organic vegetables and local thyme, Charcoal Roasted Grouper with spicy grown-on-property arugula, tarragon and aioli and Guava Glazed Slow Roasted Rosemary Pork Loin from Theodore Williams’ Farm served with papaya ginger chutney. 

Crowd pleasers like the weekly beach barbecue with all-you-can-eat Jerk Chicken, Sausage, Ribs and spiny lobster are also on the menu.  But our favorite meals were served at the simple beach bar, where the sushi-grade Salade Nicoise is a knockout.  And hidden beneath the shades and sun hats beside you, sipping a rum drink, might be a European princess, a Dutch department store magnate, or the daughter of a British lord.  

Some of the above were with AVENUE, in fact, when we visited the Houseboat Grill, moored in Montego Bay’s Marine Park Fish Sanctuary.  Highlights of the fusion menu dished up by Chef Rich Nurse are the hearty beef and black soup, and spiny lobster. Diners get to choose their own from a tank set into the floor of the dining room.  From the upper deck, you can watch tarpon frolic in the calm waters below.

The appeal of one-time music mogul Chris Blackwell’s GoldenEye resort, once primarily known as the former home of James “007” Bond creator Ian Fleming, and a pricey celebrity hideout, has grown considerably, and it has grown up as a resort since a major expansion two years ago.  Its original cottages and villas, clustered around a central lagoon, pool and 500-foot Low Cay beach, retain their chic appeal.  But the addition of sprawling gardens, leading to what are called beach huts–stand-alone one room units with terraces, elaborate bathrooms and beds comfortable enough to lure guests out of the sun–a snorkeling cove (perfect for children to learn that delightful sport) with open access to the Caribbean, and Button Beach, a bay beach complete with a bar, with calm waters perfect for lolling and easy swimming, had doubled GoldenEye’s capacity, and counter-intuitively created more room to breathe, and an extra measure of privacy.  

Don’t miss lunch at the Bizot Bar, where the soundtrack is from the legendary Radio Nova, the jerk chicken is superb, and the decor is musical and nostalgic. 

Be sure to look around the property, too.  Since 1956, when British Prime Minister Anthony Eden planted a tree on the property, visitors have followed that tradition.  Michael Caine, Kate Moss, Quincy Jones and Johnny Depp have all planted trees at GoldenEye. There’s even one honoring the late River Phoenix. Nowadays, anyone can plant one by making a donation of $1,000 to the Oracabessa Foundation. It was established in 1997 by Blackwell (who appeared on AVENUE’s cover in 2016) to serve as a catalyst for the sustainable development of the resort’s environs. 

And finally, be sure to taste Blackwell’s own Black Gold Fine Jamaican Rum.  A portion of the proceeds from every bottle also goes to the local community.  And helps prevent the sort of trouble that inspired that easy-to-ignore State Department warning.   


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