Azul Sensatori - Jamaica's new gastronomy shrine
Dave Rodney, Contributor
Rumour has it that Negril's newest resort, the Azul Sensatori, is being quietly branded as the new altar for fine dining in the Caribbean. As it turns out, the rumours are true. This boutique beach auberge with 136 rooms boasts a steadfast, round-the-clock devotion to gastronomy, and if consumer response to the property is anything to go by, the Azul is already a smashing success.
This deluxe fully inclusive resort is solidly booked for the next six months with a waiting list. Azul is a bewitchingly beautiful and luxurious property for sure, fully loaded with an impressive array of palatial amenities. But its hallmark and main magnet is its food, and travellers and food worshippers are knocking down the portals, begging to come in.
I went by a few days ago for dinner to see what the fuss was all about, and I walked away with a truly extraordinary dining experience like no other. I was met in the lobby with cold, wet towels, then escorted by the resort's managing director to a private dining room, where I was given a shoe shine at the entrance, and then introduced to the executive chef Kevin Anthony Brown and wine steward Omar Miller, in whose culinary custody I remained for the next two and a half hours.
Experience in Mexico
Kevin Anthony Brown is a home-grown Jamaican from Clarendon with years of experience in some of Jamaica's leading resorts, but he was recently fine-tuned to perfection at Azul's corporate quality-control headquarters in Cancun, Mexico, ahead of the opening of the Negril resort less than a year ago. As I settled in and prepared my palate with cucumber- and basil-infused water for the first course, Brown explained that the gourmet experience at Azul features four main restaurants offering Italian, Mediterranean, Caribbean, and World cuisines.
All the restaurants have open kitchens, so guests can actually watch as their á la carte treats are being lovingly and meticulously prepared. He further explained that a specially designed Caribbean fusion cuisine menu was created for the evening, and nearly all the ingredients are market-fresh, and grown or produced locally. Some of the produce like cherry tomatoes, basil, corn sprouts, cilantro, radish, fresh mint, and baby eggplant comes from a farm in Orange Bay, just outside Negril.
The first appetiser was as eye-popping as it was delicious. It was a seafood trio of fresh ceviche, shrimp shooter with tropical fruit salsa, and lobster medallion over a callaloo and sesame salad. The presentation is world class, and the ensemble was garnished with breadfruit chips. In-between wine pairings, a second appetiser of traditional ackee and saltfish with bammy followed, but with a twist. The bammy is garnished with fine micro greens and a Scotch bonnet mayonnaise, and the combination is served in a most unusual ackee jar. Utterly mouth-watering, to say the least, and the gentle flavour of the ackee is in perfect harmony with the spicy undertones of the bammy.
The soup course, too, is unusual - creative and savoury - a duo of pumpkin and tomato basil cappuccino. With the perfectly timed, unhurried pace of the meal, and after more wine exploration, the main courses arrive, and I can tell by the whiff of the hearty aromas that my taste buds were about to be transported to another galaxy. First was the corvina fillet with lemon grass and ginger steamed in banana leaf, and served with mashed sweet potato and pumpkin. Next is the stuffed grilled chicken breast on a bed of gungo rice and peas with sautéed vegetables in a Merlot-and-thyme reduction sauce. Kevin points out that the gungo peas is in season all across the region, and it is a celebration of Caribbean Christmas. My final main course was jerk-injected pork with roasted yam and squash, herlum grilled vegetables and a spicy jerk sauce. Whew!
The Azul Sensatori, Chef Kevin Anthony Brown, and wine steward Omar Miller have all exceeded my expectations for an amazing Caribbean fusion meal. Needless to say, there was no space to accommodate the banana spring roll glazed with vanilla, butterscotch or coffee sauce that was to bring the epicurean journey to a close. I also had to pass on the final temptation - frozen espresso shot with Blackwell rum. Happily, I was able to luxuriate on three wines - a sparkling from Italy, a white blend from France and a red Cabernet Sauvignon, also from France.
Jamaicans and non-resident guests are welcomed to make dinner reservations for the Azul Sensatori by calling the resort.
Photos by Dave Rodney