By Fiona Sims
main pic: rum punch at The Round House in Bathsheba, Barbados
We’re on a mission to find the best rum punch. And to do that the2fionas have come to Barbados, to the home of rum, with its four rum distilleries, including the highly regarded St Nicholas Abbey.
It’s a hard task, we know – it requires lots of propping up of bars, while the turquoise sea laps on white sandy beaches just a few feet away. Oh, and we’ve set ourselves another task - to find the best food match for rum punch (Bajan fishcakes, in case you are wondering). Well, what else is there to do during a cold, wet British winter?
We had booked the flights a tad under the influence. It was New Year’s Day, and the rain was lashing against the windows and we were sipping rum-laced hot toddies to stave off colds and dreaming of warmer climes, so it was an easy, if rather wobbly step on to the British Airways website, which just happened to have started its January sale. Bargain flights secured a few minutes later, we snapped up a sneaky week at my favourite self-catering apartment a few steps from Mullins Beach (not telling, sorry) and we’re all set.
Our first stop is Cobblers Cove. I had spent a glorious week here four years ago for a story for The Times, and vividly remember the flavours of its homemade rum punch, a litre bottle of it delivered to our room on the first night, and enjoyed on our balcony as the sun set over the ocean. Would it taste the same?
We arrived early for its Sunday Lobster Lunch, lobster cooked every which way, served in its elegant waterside dining room. The rum punch was a little sweeter than we remembered (due to the addition of maraschino syrup, suspected Fi B, but the bartender wasn’t sharing) but still lived up to its name with a hell of a kick as we jigged about in front of the steel band.
Another day, another rum punch - this time at The Little Bristol Beach Bar in Speightstown. A recent offshoot from the guys behind the glitzier Mullins Beach Bar, this punch was deemed perfectly balanced, with its hefty dusting of freshly ground nutmeg and generous dollop of Angostura bitters, and unspecified, though not unwelcome fruit juice mixed in with the limes (you’ll never get anyone to share their rum punch recipe here), ensuring that the sunset will stay in the memory for a few weeks yet.
It was time to show Fi B more of the Island (it’s my sixth visit – and no, I can’t explain why I’ve visited Barbados more than any other place on earth, other than to say it just gets under your skin) so we set off to the wild East Coast, to surfers’ paradise Bathsheba and The Round House. Perched on a bluff overlooking the pounding waves, this old hotel restaurant offers Bajan comfort food with stunning views, and an admirable, paired back rum punch. Again, a little sweeter than I would normally make it, but still zinging with fresh limes.
By the time we get to try impressive new opening, The Restaurant at The Animal Flower Cave in North Point, we’re craving something a litte more sour. Yup, cue my next favourite rum drink – a rum sour. This was a purist’s dream, light on the simple syrup, heavy on the local limes (which are more aromatic than the ones we are used to at home), and with a healthy slug of rum. A perfect match for their excellent shrimp and potato rotis, and breadfruit chips.
There’s another rum punch that slides onto our favourites list –made by the ‘rum shop’ at the newly refurbished Sea Breeze Guest House on the south coast. Channelling its inner Barbadian, the 78-room (with more on the way) all-inclusive hotel takes a sense of place to a whole new level, with welcome Bajan touches on pretty much every dish, across all of its restaurants. This is thanks to its new Executive Chef Michael Harrison, formerly of Cobblers Cove – the man who once worked with two Michelin-starred chef Michel Roux Jr at Le Gavroche.
Though near the top of our Best Rum Punch list is a pre-mix. Yes, you did read that right. St Maria’s Rum Punch, sold ready-mixed in a 75cl plastic bottle in Massey’s supermarket in Holetown for around £9, pipped many others to the post. But the fact that we knocked the lot back in our swimming pool one particularly lazy afternoon may have clouded our judgement somewhat. We undertook a little pilgrimage to find the bar, too – though it had long-since closed, presumably finding the world of the pre-mix far more lucrative.
Our number one rum punch? I’ll let Fi B share that one. “Your recipe,” she concluded, generously, at the end of the week. Actually, it's not really mine. I got it from the wonderful LaurelAnn Morley who ran one of the Island's best restaurants, The Cove, now sadly closed. All together now: ‘One of sour, two of sweet, three of strong and four of weak’. The sour being freshly squeezed lime juice, sweet being sugar syrup (made a quarter less sweet than the standard), three shots of rum and finally four shots of water. Serve over ice, with a dash or two of Angostura bitters, and a grating of nutmeg, as published in The Boat Drinks Book. It’s a lot cheaper than a holiday in Barbados.
With a special thanks to courtesyrentacar.com for loaning us some wheels for the week for our very important mission, cars costs from US$60 per day.
For more information about Barbados go to visitbarbados.org
Watch raw sugar cane being crushed Feb-June at St Nicholas Abbey, stnicholasabbey.com
For the best food match with Barbados’s Banks beer go to matchingfoodandwine.com
It’s difficult. We sympathise. Despite being an entirely different shape and size we have an uncanny ability to turn up in the same outfit (usually black) and order the same dishes. We both wear glasses, swathe ourselves in scarves and fancy Daniel Craig.
© 2015-21 Fiona Beckett & Fiona Sims (the2fionas.com), photography © Gary Latham, website by Scend