AT Divis Bar, Tapas and B&B, down past the village of Mangaliliu in North West Efate, the jungle really does meet the reef.
All that separates the two entities is a vein of rocky outcrops.
And Divi’s owners Scott and Darleen Proud have really utilised the jungle incredibly well and not only in their slogan and ads, but particularly in their jungle bungalows. Think a step up from glamping.
“For people staying here we really wanted them to feel they are deep in the jungle, but then close to a fabulous reef teeming with life,” said Darleen.
The bar and restaurant has much the same feel as the rooms, with glimpses of sea beyond and between the thick foliage.
The Prouds opened their bungalows in April last year and have plans to build more in the foreseeable future.
The obvious challenges of being off the beaten track do not daunt this couple, who thrive on such things. The have a strong shared vision of what Divi’s is now and what it will grow into as they expand.
Already it is a classic retreat where the pressures of modern living just fall off you shortly after your arrival, whether it is just for a meal, glass of wine, a coffee or a stay of several nights.
You feel a million miles from Port Vila, let alone Australia, New Zealand or wherever else – and that is the intention.
The same ambience extends to their restaurant, where tapas rules.
Bites believes it is the only true tapas bar in Vanuatu and it is also one of our favourite styles of food. So it is worth looking at tapas’ Spanish history.
Perhaps fittingly for a cuisine commonly enjoyed with a drink, tapas has less a set history than a collection of elaborate tales, possibly as many as the regions of Spain itself.
One of the most popular stories claims that, back in the 13th century, King Alfonso X of Castille found that, while he was recuperating from an illness, he could only eat and drink in small amounts – resulting in one of the first forms of tapas. His Majesty thought this was marvellous and, on his recovery, decreed that all drinks should be served with a small snack.
Another story states that his much later 19th-century namesake, Alfonso XIII, once ordered wine in a popular tavern in Cadiz. Since Cadiz is almost as windy as Chicago and dusty with it, the bartender kindly served it with a slice of ham on top to keep the sand out. The king enjoyed his wine and ham so much, he ordered the same again and, as is often the way with kings, in doing so started a trend.
Other origin myths are more humble. According to some, tapas began at a farmers’ bar in Seville where the bartenders would serve beer or sherry with a saucer on top to keep the flies out. Then they realised that they could use the saucer to serve a little ham, some olives and some cheese. The clever move made customers come back, thanks to the bar’s apparent generosity.
Tapa literally means ‘a cover’ or ‘lid’ – and this is a common facet to many tapas origin stories. One says that, since tapas bars used to be standing-only affairs, people who ordered a snack had nowhere to put their plate but on top of their glass – hence the tradition.
Another claims that some sneaky tavern keepers discovered that, if they covered cheap wine with a plate of strong cheese, their punters, in a state of olfactory confusion, wouldn’t notice how bad the beverage was.
Whatever the real origin, Darleen is true to the real style of tapas and works hard to make each dish authentic.
Like everyone Bites has its favourites and at Divi’s that would be the patatas bravas. Simple yet delicious, it comprises cubes of potato in a spicy tomato based sauce, here topped with cheese melted under the grill, and it’s the sort of dish where Bites find ourselves tussling over who gets the last bits.
The cheese and spinach triangles are cheekily described on the menu as ‘scrumdiddlyumcious’, and indeed, these crispy golden parcels contain a yummy cheesy filling that does melt in your mouth.
Another winner in the sharing stakes is the nachos – beef and beans cooked in tomato and spices and served atop crunchy corn chips, topped with guacamole and sour cream – very moreish.
Also enlivened with a generous scatter of spice are the baked pumpkin wedges; Bites loves pumpkin for its versatility and the way it works so well with different cuisines and comes alive when given a little zing – here it’s soft, zingy and bursting with flavour, needing just a dollop of garlicky aioli to add that final pizzazz.
There are a few dishes that don’t owe their origins to the Latin world, including chilli lime prawns and satay chicken skewers; Bites particularly liked the tandoori beef strips – tender, marinated Vanuatu beef, nicely spiced and served on a bed of lightly fried rice along with crunchy pappadums… not Spanish, but definitely delectable and, in the tapas spirit, great with a chilled glass of something and a friend to share with.
Climbing up the steps to the bar and restaurant, visitors will notice the home-built, wood-fired oven. It comes into its own on Sunday afternoons, when they fire up the heat and offer a range of tasty pizzas with Divi’s signature flavours.
These include gourmet vegetarian, with their roasted pumpkin, vegies, sundried tomatoes and pine nuts, finished with feta. Satay chicken also makes its way on to a pizza, as does tandoori beef, plus meat lovers, ham and pineapple, and even a dessert pizza with chocolate and banana – wicked!
Divi’s may be a bit of a drive out of town – only a half hour or so, though, and you are welcome to make a day of it; bring your swimmers and have a snorkel in the pristine waters, sun yourself on the rocks or relax on a shady lounge under the trees while sipping a cold drink.
Then indulge in some delectable dishes and chat the day away in the relaxed and welcoming bar and restaurant… a million miles from anywhere, but so close.
Visit: http://divisvanuatu.com/ or Divi’s Facebook page at: https://web.facebook.com/divisvanuatu/