Nobody travels to the South Pacific for its culinary excellence. Reasons for traveling to places like Vanuatu are more likely to be because of its climate, the scenery, the culture, the laid-back pace, and the welcoming and friendly people.
I believe the dining experiences in places like Fiji and Vanuatu are improving but just at an ‘Island Time’ pace so in very slow increments.
Dining options on Santo are limited and after visiting a few different restaurants and restaurants within resorts, we preferred to dine at the Barrier Beach House not only because of the convenience but also because the meals presented are consistently reliable and good family cooking.
We found dining at the Beach House to be more like being a guest in someone’s home rather than a restaurant experience.
Shendel, one of the managers of Barrier Beach House is a home cook who has trained two of her staff, Sylvia and Flavia to cook for guests. Being native to Vanuatu, these women are not cooking dishes they grew up eating so you have that issue where they’re not cooking with instinct but rather following a recipe and creating something that to them, is quite foreign.
Included in your tariff is a continental breakfast. This is fairly basic and is the same every day. It includes orange juice, three types of cereal, a platter of tropical fruits, and freshly baked bread and banana bread.
For an additional charge of $10.00 you can have eggs any way you like with bacon. I ordered poached eggs and bacon most days and the eggs were always perfectly cooked with soft runny yolks.
The bread certainly isn’t Celia’s sourdough nor anyone’s type of sourdough but it is bread that’s made on the premises. I wasn’t actually a fan of the recipe and found the bread to be more like a gluten-free loaf with a cakey crumb and the kind of bread that goes soggy as soon as a poached egg is placed on it. It didn’t have a lot of flavour and I’m not sure that any salt was added to the mixture. I really think it would benefit from a pinch (or two) of salt. I don’t think salt is an ingredient normally used by the people of Vanuatu.
If you would like lunch it is available and there is a reasonable selection of items that are moderately priced. If you’re heading out for the day, the staff at the Beach House are more than happy to pack up a picnic for you to take on your journey. We used that option several times.
On the lunch menu there are things like frittata with salad, hamburgers with chips, beer battered fish and chips, caesar salad, and toasted sandwiches and baguettes with your choice of a range of fillings. The baguettes are very generous in size and we often had them cut in half and shared them with a bowl of chips. Prices for lunch ranged between 1000 vt ($12.00) and 1800 vt ($20.00).
The dinner menu is a set menu where there is just once choice available. If you intend to dine at the Beach House that evening you need to let the staff know before midday. All main courses cost 2500 vt ($30.00) or 3300 vt ($38.00) with dessert included. Even though children are served the same meal and the same sized meal, there is a reduced price for children.
On our first night we were introduced to the Gourmet Barbecue. This included marinated chicken, beef skewers, hamburger patties and prawns with a variety of salads. This was served buffet style. Because it was our first night I thought all meals would be served in this manner but it’s only the gourmet bar-be-cue nights that are a buffet.
On our next night we had chicken with a lime butter sauce, potato rosti and seasonal vegetables. This was perfectly fine although not something I’d like to recreate at home but what I did find at the Beach House is that they provide good honest cooking that is perfectly edible and the type of meal everyone in the family will enjoy.
We had quite a few pasta nights and these were served with a bowl of salad and plenty of garlic bread. As we were doing a lot of energetic things during the day, I really looked forward to these carb-nights however, it did occur to me that $30.00 is quite a high price for a bowl of pasta. But you’d be hard-pressed to find a meal that good at a lower price anywhere on Santo.
My one issue with the pasta is that I don’t believe any salt (here I go again), was added to the pasta’s cooking water. You do always need to add a little salt to bring out the flavor of the pasta however, again, I don’t think the people of Vanuatu are used to adding salt to their cooking.
My favourite night was the Santo beef night where we were able to experience the wonderful organic free-range grass-fed beef. Again, I was hoping this would be served with either a bearnaise sauce or a horseradish cream but it was smothered in a creamy balsamic sauce that underwhelmed me. However, the beef was amazing. We asked for it to be cooked rare and it definitely was. This meal seemed to be better value for money.
I didn’t actually ever order a dessert but for Archie and Alfie it was an essential part of the day’s experience. There is always a choice of desserts and the dessert menu consists of things like brownies and ice cream, sticky date pudding and ice cream and caramelised bananas with ice cream. For both boys, their favourite was definitely the caramelised bananas.
We stayed at the Beach House for almost two weeks where the average stay is usually five to seven days. So the menu is geared for a stay of a week or less and so is on a one-week rotation. We found it a little repetitive however, you can walk across the sand to Moyyan or go into Luganville and perhaps try the Chinese.
I don’t know if our palettes are salt-conditioned but we all found the food to be under-seasoned and we were continually reaching for the dish of salt. I also found that towards the end I was desperate for something spicy but when you’re cooking one dish for all guests, I guess you have to choose dishes that everyone will enjoy – not everyone likes spice!
Overall, we all found the food at the Beach House to be the most consistently reliable on Santo. Dinner is always served on the dot of 7pm which is remarkable for people living on ‘Island Time’. Dinner is always generously proportioned and the food prepared is mostly organic. While everything we ate was well received and greatly enjoyed, I would have preferred more bar-be-cue nights as to me, cooking outdoors is synonymous with summer.
Verdict: Satisfying home cooking.
Barrier Beach House: Barrier Beach, Espiritu Santo
Ph: + 678 7105360