Bites Review: Azure Restaurant

azureLOCATION: Iririki Island Resort, Port Vila

PHONE: 35060 (restaurant ext 3325)

OPEN: Lunch and Dinner daily

SPECIAL FEATURES: Panoramic vistas, a creative and enticing menu featuring well chosen local produce and some South American influence plus cheery, attentive service make for a classic dining experience

ECUADOR is famous for the Galapagos Islands, the mighty Andes to old cathedrals and museums, from lush dense forests to beautiful beaches.

But in Vanuatu the name of Ecuador is synonymous with great, ground breaking food at Iririki’s signature restaurant Azure, with Ecuadorian chef Galo Raul Guerron Munoz forging a sensational name for exciting and original cuisine there.

Galo Raul Guerron Munoz
Galo Raul Guerron Munoz

Bites has dined at the Azure restaurant on a number of occasions since Galo’s arrival and is certain that this South American chef is not only at the top of his game, but also has cleverly married Vanuatu’s produce into his stylish cuisine.

The result is stunning and the dishes are on the pathway to the coveted Michelin star class.

Bites really recommends more expats and locals make the effort to take the short boat trip across part of the harbour to this fabulous resort that is a jewel in Port Vila’s tourism crown.

Galo’s widespread experience around the globe is on display the minute you open the menu which has an array of styles that really complement each other.

Bites now has a number of favourite dishes from this exciting menu and was pleased to share them this week with some friends on their first visit to Iririki and Azure.

Iririki island itself is a little oasis of calm yet only a stone’s throw from the bustle of busy Port Vila, with its hordes of buses clogging up the roads. On Iririki the only modes of transport are boat, electric trolley cars and Shanks’ pony – the peacefulness is refreshing.

A short stroll up the hill from the jetty past comfortable bures dotted along the water’s edge and throughout the lush gardens brings you to the main building, which comprises a lounge area, the Infinity bar and café spilling out on to a poolside deck and the lovely Azure.

Airy and spacious, the restaurant opens out on to a shady deck that boasts great views of Port Vila and the boats plying their way back and forth across the harbor. For our first-time visitor, it was a revelation as they’d never seen the capital from that kind of vantage point before.

We sipped a nicely chilled glass of pinot gris and perused the temptations on the menu, happily agreeing to chef Galo’s suggestion to share a couple of different entrees, two of his signature dishes.

Red Snapper Ceviche (VT2275) was out of this world – red snapper fillet, coriander, chilli, onion and capsicum, marinated in lemon juice to just ‘cook’ the fish, and served with green banana chips on the side for crunch. It’s a modern take on a traditional South American dish and who better to interpret it than chef Galo.

Green banana baskets_Azure_IririkiWe also tucked into chef’s green banana baskets (VT1950) –  baskets shaped from slices of green banana and cooked crispy, filled with tender slivers of pulled beef and cheese, accompanied with a fresh salsa of onion, tomato and herbs, sour cream and black bean purée… again a South American inspiration and again delicious and unusual.

Other entrees include Mediterranean scallops and prawns, which we’ve tried before and which were a delight, and yellowfin tuna carpaccio – also memorable.

There are a trio of soups to be had, our favourite being creamy mushroom velouté (VT1600), with a variety of mushrooms, cream, onion, garlic and truffle oil with a playful milk froth topping – like a mushroom cappuccino.

There are delicious pasta and risotto dishes, including classic gnocchi and the signature Tortellini Azure, filled with grilled shrimps and finished in tangy lemon butter sauce. On a recent visit we tried the mushroom risotto (VT 2300) and could not have asked for better – creamy but with bite to the rice, rich and earthy mushroom flavour and a hint of truffle oil to finish.

Azure_chicken_1Last time we also enjoyed the grilled chicken suprême (VT2950) – perfectly cooked grilled chicken breast filled with banana and cashew nuts, topped with a coconut sauce and served atop a stack of grilled, thinly sliced vegetables and crunchy fried manioc sticks – and unusual but highly successful combinations. Other mains include beef tenderloin and juicy rack of lamb.

On this visit, chef informed us he had that morning taken a delivery of fresh tuna and snapper, and we were hooked (sorry)… And we were not to be disappointed.

Yellowfin tuna_Azure_IririkiBoth dishes were deceptively simple but the cooking perfect, the flavours spot on and the presentation attractive. The yellowfin tuna was cut thick and cooked beautifully to retain its moisture and just a hint of pink blush inside. It was served on a pillow of creamy mashed potato, along with grilled pumpkin, green capsicum and caramelised eggplant that gave it a dash of richness, finished with a drizzle of pesto for extra zing.

The snapper was equally well prepared and flaky, moist and white with a crispy skin, on a bed of manioc puree with vegetables and a rich lemon butter sauce adding the final layer of pleasure.

We often don’t go the whole hog and have dessert, but hey, it was Friday and a beautiful day for a long lunch, so again we agreed to share a couple of chef’s treats.

His version of tiramisu (VT1250) was lovely – a perfect combination of mascarpone cheese with biscotella dipped in Amaretto di Sarono and black coffee, while the citron brûlée (VT1300) – citrus crème brûlée served with carquinyolis (an almond-studded finger of biscotti) – was luscious and soothing.

More than satisfied, we finally strolled back down the hill to hop the ferry back to the ‘mainland’, certain that, like us, our friends who had experienced Azure at Iririki for the first time would be back again and again.