Le Vendôme at Charela Inn: Caribbean’s Best Kept French Secret
Daniel Grizzle, his late wife Sylvie, and their daughter – Sophie Grizzle Roumel – have been running this unlikely traditional French eaterie Le Vendôme at Charela Inn since 1980. It also hosts one of Westmoreland’s best jazz nights on the world’s famous stretch of prime beach real estate: Seven Mile, Negril.
You will dine and (we recommend sleeping over) against the backdrop of the calming Caribbean sea under a star-lit pergola. It’s the kind of place one goes for a light brunch and stays for an evening dinner, while the sound of the gently crashing waves is the soft music accompanying every sip of wine.
Alongside a handful of other Gallic-inspired restaurants across the island, Le Vendôme (/vɒ̃ˈdoʊm/, French: [vɑ̃dom] is the Westernmost French-style restaurant on the island. Its relative seclusion has been the best-kept culinary secret in that part of Jamaica for almost four decades.
A unique culinary experience in the Land of Wood and Water
We’ll give you full disclosure. If you’re searching for a unique culinary experience in the Land of Wood and Water, this place will excite you.
On our two-night stay at the award-winning boutique hotel Charela Inn, we sampled a wide selection of French cuisine from the in-house restaurant. With a five-course menu rivalling any Michelin star-rated establishment, classic French dishes such as les escargots are offered up for those with adventurous palates.
So what do snails taste like? Surprisingly moreish. Think of chewing a succulent piece of gristle soaked in garlic butter and your mouth will soon begin to water.
OK, eating land snails is not for the faint of heart, but remember there is nothing to fear when eating fine food. As ‘snail virgins’, we tentatively tried the once-shelled gastropod dish, commonly served as hors d’oeuvre throughout the chicest culinary establishments in Europe. The texture isn’t as slippery as you may imagine. Strange sensations will hit you simultaneously on tasting them: your tongue will welcome what your mind immediately seeks to fathom.
Other signature French classics are served here: Terrine de Poisson (a castle of salmon served with green vegetables), Homard aux pates et sauce royal (A spaghetti lobster dish ) Coquille Saint-Jacques (perfectly-timed scallops served in a beautiful shell presentation), Duck L’Orange (duck laced with Seville oranges), and in our opinion the pièce de résistance Carré d’Agneau au Romarin (rack of Lamb with rosemary coupled with cubed Irish potatoes).
Undeniably the star of the show, the lamb never stood a chance. You find that locally-reared lamb tends to be tough, often slaughtered past its one year birthday but the medium-well meat (forgive us, it should have been medium-rare as per chef table’s recommendation) glided off our knives with ease. Every mouthful was a decadent joy.
A five-course dining experience steps from Negril’s seven-mile beach
Throughout the five-course dining experience, baked in-house and a firm fan favourite – garlic bread and wine are served. They make their first appearance accompanying the hearty pumpkin soup that is dolloped with a swirl of cream.
This made-to-look-simple culinary experience is reminiscent of a bygone age of serving French food that all can enjoy at their own time and pace. Modern lifestyles for us all tend to dictate that most meals are rushed but it’s the waiting that makes the whole setting so enjoyable.
The anticipation for the next course will drive your evening. Yet, among all this excitement, here, the emphasis is on relaxation. Our four-hour-plus seating left us unwound, sated, giggly and keen to explore more on our culinary journey.
Dessert ranges from a familiar chocolate mousse containing a nuttiness knowingly present in only the best homegrown cacao. The warm mix of buttermilk and dark sweetness satisfies the sweetest of tooths. The Mango sorbet, made fresh – like everything you’ll consume throughout the evening – from the Julies grown on the Grizzle’s 172-acre farm, was fantastic.
This is Jamaican fine dining at its best.
Cosy bar with an old-world charm
If you choose to stop in for a drink, that’s also an option. With a tourist town bustling with loud music and activity, Le Vendôme’s bar offers a cosy, hospitable old-world charm that serves an array of seasonally-inspired mixed drinks such as Charela Inn’s Signature Rum Punch, which is a must-try.
The award-winning wine list boasts Pol Roger champagne. A favoured blessing among the bottles in the wine cellar. From the town of Épernay in the Champagne region and the champagne of choice of former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill. Royal watchers will also know that it was served at Prince William and Kate’s and Prince Harry and Megan Markle’s wedding.
A la carte menu served throughout the day
As we type, one can come to Le Vendôme sans reservation sous le nom (‘without a reservation under the name of…’) for the time being. Whether you stop by the hotel for its Jamaican or Continental breakfast, served with fruit, freshly squeezed orange juice and coffee, all are welcome. Open continuously through dinner, Le Vendôme’s a la carte menu is served throughout the day, and the five-course dinner is served at 6 pm every night of the week. Take-away service is also available for those looking for a cosy night in. Our advice? Book early and go often.