We do love to dine to the tune of live music so while we were in Santo we heard that Restaurant 1606, that is part of the boutique resort, Village de Santo, provides live music by local acoustic musicians on Tuesday and Saturday nights.
We made a reservation and went there on a Saturday night where hooray, it wasn’t raining and we witnessed a lovely sunset.
Village de Santo is owned and managed by Bev (Australian) and Nabil (Egyptian) Anti. The resort is five minutes from Luganville and has 16 semi self-contained apartments that surround the tropical-looking swimming pool.
The resort has vehicles the guests can hire like a Toyota Hilux and quad bikes. Even though we weren’t staying at the resort, Bev and Nabil are extremely kind and generous people who allowed us to rent vehicles from them on several occasions.
Restaurant 1606 apparently acquired its name through a Portuguese man working for the Spanish who sailed the globe looking for the Great Southern Continent, Terra Australis. In 1606 he arrived on the largest island in Vanuatu and a little off-course, thought he’d arrived in Australia. He named the Island, Espiritu Santo which means, ‘Land of the Holy Spirit’.
Restaurant 1606 is on the main road yet screened from the street with fences and a lot of tropical vegetation. The seating has that indoor-outdoor feel as there is a roof but no walls. In keeping with the traditional feel of Vanuatu, the roof is thatched.
When we arrived at 1606 the restaurant was almost at capacity. We were shown to a table in the middle of the restaurant and perused the menu while a local musician was setting up to entertain us.
The young adults always like to start an evening with something from the cocktail menu so Archie chose a Long Island Tea and Arabella, a Pina Colada. But no one arrived to take our order so I approached the bar. I also ordered two glasses of red wine but the one I chose was sold out which was disappointing as the wine list is extremely limited. There are only about four red wines to choose from.
Drinks sorted, we then looked through the menu. The food served is mostly organic and purchased from the local markets. In 2013 they decided to start a tapas menu and I do like tapas it’s just the tapas are all mixed in with the regular menu so I found it made ordering confusing. The entrees were all tapas so that’s what we ordered to begin with.
Alfie didn’t want an entree and that’s standard (the thin are never hungry), so I ordered him the home-baked crispy bread that came with olive oil and baked garlic. It’s lovely the bread is home-baked but I didn’t actually think it was all that terrific; it didn’t hold together very well and it was lacking in garlic flavour.
Drew and I both ordered the deep fried potato but I was later told there was only one serve of that left so instead I ordered the Vegetable mixed platter with gently fried eggplant, choco, capsicum, sun-dried tomato and homemade garlic vinaigrette. I would have loved to have tried it but it just didn’t arrive. I poured myself another drink.
Drew loved the deep-fried potato and while I sat there starving, had to tell me how good it was.
Arabella ordered the ‘Gucumala’ (sp?) that said it was a traditional Spanish dip of avocado, tomato, onion and ‘our own Peri Peri sauce’. When it arrived it did look good but it came with nothing else but the dip. I called the waiter over and asked if he’d forgotten to bring the corn chips. He looked at me confused and I said, ‘Isn’t this a dip? What do you have to dip into it?’ And he looked even more confused and so I said, ‘Does she just eat this with her fork?’ And he nodded but I thought that wouldn’t do so I asked, ‘Well could you please bring another serve of bread’. So Arabella used the bread to dip into the ‘gucumala’.
There was a ‘Little Explorers’ menu for kids to order from but Alfie thought that was insulting so he ordered lobster from the tapas menu. He was disappointed when it arrived because for some reason he thought it would be a big plate of lobster but instead it was just a few pieces of lobster on bread. Having had bread for an entree he was unimpressed with this dish however, it was his ‘rookie mistake’.
Drew and Archie shared the seafood paella which they really enjoyed but it probably wasn’t big enough to share. Their mistake!
Arabella ordered the deep fried potato pan cake filled with savoury Koumala and yam mash from the tapas menu and I can’t tell you what it was like because it never arrived.
I ordered the 1606 Crispy Pork Belly that had been slow-cooked and served with saffron infused ratatouille, crunchy yam, sour sop chutney and a sticky apple jus. While this was a generous serving I just didn’t enjoy it. There was just too much going on and too many competing flavours. I have never heard of pork belly being served with a ratatouille before and I was hesitant when ordering it but there was little else on the menu that interested me.
Only Alfie ordered a dessert. The restaurant is famous for its chocolate tart but that wasn’t on the menu. He chose the chocolate mousse served with Chantilly cream. Call us fussy but he didn’t like this either. He thought it was lacking in chocolate flavours and while I didn’t try it, I did think it was on the pale side.
Let’s move on to the entertainment.
This is where Restaurant 1606 really shines so make sure you go on either a Tuesday or Saturday evening. Desmond played a lot of reggae-style music and sang a lot of covers that were all our favourites. Audience participation is encouraged and Bev works the room encouraging those who would like to get up and be a part of the band. There’s a wide range of instruments that she hands around to would-be musicians and I seem to be a part of a family of exhibitionists so often I was at the table on my own while everyone else was shaking a tambourine or thumping on a beat-box.
As soon as Desmond started singing Wagon Wheel by Old Crow Medicine Show, Archie was up like he’d been shot out of a rocket and Desmond was kind enough to let Archie share the microphone and while Archie sang, Desmond sang harmonies. After Wagon Wheel, Desmond handed Archie his guitar and invited him to sing a couple of his own songs. Archie and Desmond got along famously and it was fist pumps and hugs and handshakes all round when Archie had finished.
It’s with the live entertainment where Restaurant 1606 is at its best. It’s wonderful how music can bring people of other cultures and languages together in a feeling of oneness. Bev and Nabil are infectious with their enthusiasm and even dance and play instruments as Desmond belts out another song. Bev was extremely inclusive in allowing the children to be involved and have their moment to shine on ‘stage’ and gave them instruments to play and applause when they had finished.
While we found the food and service to be a long way from perfect, the live entertainment and the inclusive atmosphere it provided made this a very entertaining night that will live long in our memories.
Verdict: Live entertainment nights are worth a visit.
Restaurant 1606: Village de Santo, Rue Higginson, Espiritu Santo, Vanuatu
Phone: (678) 36123