If you think nothing changes in this small town, you’ve obviously not been out for dinner in a while. Just simply counting the waterfront restaurants in Port Vila (forgetting the other 60 or so options!), we counted over 8 noteworthy changes in the dining scene in the last 18 months with new places opening, new owners or revamped spaces. Such a vibrant market must mean there’s something for everyone… with a no holes barred approach, Hotspots give you our opinion on what’s hot on the waterfront.
Doing the run from one end of town to the other, we’re going to include the Stone Grill because of their spectacular water views, and it would be rude not to mention their neighbours the Saloon Bar the most recent place we know of to be sold. Although it’s not always the first thing you think of when you are choosing a restaurant, being consistently great is what comes to mind for the Stone Grill. While not the sexiest choice in terms of fit out, the food is always fresh, the steak is unbeatable, the chips are the best in town and there are interesting little twists such as stuffed squid which is a personal favourite. The owners get how to do good food and you’re never going to leave disappointed. The whole Stone Grill cooking experience, where you cook your own food on exactly what it sounds like: a hot stone, isn’t for everyone but the Hotspots team like the novelty and the health factor – there’s absolutely no fat so you can afford to add the ‘to die for’ fries!
Their neighbour the Saloon Bar is the place for a bloke’s night out, a quick drink after work or an easy quick meal option with kids (as the décor will keep them amused – particularly the singing deer and underpants optional Indian…while you enjoy the Mexican food or famous ribs). While it’s definitely a testosterone type joint, if you’re a laid back gal looking for a fun and flirtatious pint I say definitely give it a go. Good luck to the new owners Ron, we’re looking forward to see what you do with this Port Vila icon.
As you cruise down the hill to town you’ll pass the Golden Port Chinese and the Waterfront. Both of which have their place, easily summed up as cheerful Chinese chow or typical touristy spot. So we’ll slip past them to the Café du Village. This undoubtedly is one of the prettiest spots in town. They have the colonial charm, they’re cosy and have a great deck for dining right on the water. Take your girlfriend here for a romantic night, the setting is just perfect. We haven’t dined here since the new owner took over recently so we’ll see you there to sample the food soon.
Next door, with a totally different feel is Crystals in the Grand Hotel & Casino. Yep bigger, shinier and more of a corporate feel, yet the food is sensational and so is the view. The French food and beverage manager Thomas has the special something and his chef who’s from Nepal seems pretty hot too. This combination produce food that is tasty, the portions are right and the AC is often much appreciated. A great spot for lunch on a hot day with moderate prices and a good selection of drinks too. Cross the road to the Brewery Bar if you’d like to sample their local beers or have a more laid back Pizza. The upstairs bar gives you a sneak a view of the harbour and is drawing a young local scene on a Friday night.
One of the new kids on the block is the Lava Lounge. Situated right on the water with a very open aired approach this is the place to have a sophisticated drink with a friend, a great start to the night out and for us the hottest cocktails on the block. They’re innovative – with drinks using local ingredients such as the Kava cocktail and not to forget the divine food by Kandy’s kitchen. It’s smart to go local – why don’t more places serve fresh Kumala chips? We like the price points here too a drink and snack won’t break your budget yet the quality is right up there.
Then a very longstanding restaurant Chill which sits sweetly above the market looking over the main harbour. A great spot for the AC and affordable lunch deals. This restaurant caters really well for kids with make your own pizza, DVDs and colouring in books and games. Awesome view of fish feeding and the best Chicken Caesar on the island.
Azure restaurant on Iririki Island had only just opened when we wrote this article, so although we can’t yet give you tips about the food, the location is dreamy and the interior is tropical smart. The location of the restaurant right next to the pool (and Infinity pool bar!) encourages you to make an afternoon outing and stay a while.
If you’re into fresh juice and a funky vibe, you’re going to love Nambawan Café. Located right on the harbour wall with spectacular views. We love the juices but they also have great local coffee, a selection of food ready in their counter and pizzas to order. Check out their outdoor movie nights too.
Next door is La Tentation – a large cafe that comes alive on cruise ship days but is otherwise fairly quiet. Next we skip down to The Anchor Inn which has recently been refurbished – a long time expat haunt which used to be full of charm, grotty, run down yet fun has now been transformed into a steel and glass surprise. Whilst Hotspots are not convinced of the new look, the location is bliss and the beer is cold. A popular spot with cruise ship passengers who want a cold Tusker and a fair priced burger.
Onwards to Chantilly’s, a spot that’s hard to beat any time of the day. Enjoy the lounge style area around the outdoor pool or the terrace in front or dine inside the white tablecloth restaurant. They’re close to pulling off the Sydney crisp linen chic, nevertheless they’re about as classy as the expats who frequent there! Chantilly’s caters to everyone – locals, tourists, expats and business travelers. Kids can romp in the pool, mums can sunbathe gossip and enjoy cocktails and a great place for meetings over coffee too. When dining, try the smoked marlin croquettes, the baked eggs Napoli or the Beef Rendang. This place has outstanding views and food. All we ask is that they bring back the dock and it’ll be impossible to beat!
On the neighbouring property you’ll find the Banyan Bar. Run by the Chantilly’s Management team this is the place to take off your shoes, wiggle your toes in the sand and enjoy the sunset with a totally laid back feel. Soft fairy lights light up the trees and cocktails are served in funky frosted jars. Kids squeal in the sand and mess about in the calm waters. The margaritas are awesome and the ditto for the little snacks. Try the sliders (mini burgers) a favorite with the ‘after yoga mums’.
Upon the hill overlooking the glorious harbour is Kesorn’s Thai, also known as K&A Exotic Thai or The Lookout. Three names but one adjective: TASTY! Owner operator Kesorn provides the best Thai in town and it beats many other Thai restaurants we’ve been to internationally. The produce is fresh and the taste authentic. Her lunch special at 1,100vt is impossible to beat. Our personal favourite is the red chicken curry but seriously, there’s nothing on the menu that’s not delicious.
One of the newest editions to this waterfront dining mile, is a re-fit of what used to be Au Fare – now called Pizza Hot. Aside from the cheesy name, the pizzas are crispy, fast and gourmet. They are sure to feel the competition with the newest restaurant in town right on their doorstep. Reefers is an outdoor airy spot that’s only just opened. We love the natangura (local thatch) roof, groovy ocean themed interior that includes a fishing chair at the bar. They’re already famous for having an extensive menu with lots of local food and a bit of a Mexican twist (try the pulled pork tacos). Their salads are achieving a following with the ladies and being new it’s bound to be the place to be for a while.
So, basically if you’re dining in town, you’ve got tons to choose from. And we’ll give you some out of town options soon too. Get out there and indulge. YUM!
Written by Nicola Barnes, Hotspots Vanuatu