Location: Nasama Resort, Pango Road, Port Vila
Open: Lunch and Dinner daily
SOME lessons stick in your mind forever… even when they may have ceased to have direct relevance to your everyday life as it is in the present.
Many years ago – in the late ‘80s in fact – your writers decided that a change of occupation was desirable and, being partial to cooking and entertaining, a foray into the world of hospitality was indicated.
So different, after all, from journalism, which tends to deal with doom and gloom, death and disaster, politics and the like, none of which tend to make people happy – unlike hospitality.
We were living in London at the time, and an acquaintance – in fact, the publican at the hostelry near work – suggested we apply for a trainee position with the large brewery which was his own employer. Seemed like a good idea and we were indeed successful in gaining that (joint) position – the breweries in the UK largely favoured couples, mostly married, as live-in managers.
Thus we found ourselves working five days a week in the very pub whose publican had made the suggestion, and spending one day a week at the company’s training facility where, after three months, we qualified with City and Guilds of London certificates in Public House Management. (On the seventh day we slept!)
There were many lessons that have stayed with us ever since. We can still quote the ideal temperature at which to serve ‘real ale’ (12-14 C – yes, ‘warm’ by Southern Hemisphere standards) for example, or how to ensure the cucumber sandwiches that you are preparing for the group that’s coming in for a meeting later on don’t go soggy (spread the butter thickly)… and many more.
Another one that we’ve always remembered is that your blackboards are highly important, so find the member of staff with the best handwriting, even if it’s the cleaner, and get them to write your menus and other blackboards.
This advice came back to Bites again when we visited the very pleasant Café Vila at the Nasama Resort for lunch recently. Here there were several blackboards on the back wall of the dining room, packed with information about specials, happy hours and so forth and, while they were pretty ‘busy’, they were quite easy to read and – with the exception of one word – correctly spelled (hooray).
We didn’t ask who’d written the boards, figured that was not important to know, but have to compliment the management on this – it’s the little details that can make the difference between a good and a bad experience.
As it was, we ordered a couple of entrees and mains from the regular menu (which actually had one spelling error), and just one from the specials board, but that’s by the by.
A starter of salt and pepper calamari (VT 1350) was a good beginning – very tender squid, nice crisp coating with the right amount of seasoning, and a dish of aioli to accompany the calamari, which rested on a crisp bed of salad – light and really tasty, as it should be.
Another entrée of spicy prawns with green papaya salad (VT 1350) was also very pleasing – big, meaty prawns in a zesty sauce, resting on a crunchy shredded papaya salad that also had a nice tang of chilli, finished with a wedge of lemon and a sprig of fresh basil, very tasty.
Other entrees included garlic prawns, spicy Asian beef salad, roasted pumpkin soup and a tuna Nicoise salad.
A friend visiting from Australia who lunched with us went for beer battered local poulet fish (VT 1800) and was very satisfied with her choice – three good-sized fillets of fish in a light, crispy batter coating, a mound of golden chips, two sauces for dipping and a crisp side salad were just what she was after – and she polished off the lot.
Also opting for lovely fresh local poulet, one half of Bites chose from the blackboard the Café Vila signature poulet (VT 2850). It proved another good choice, with a generous fillet of beautifully cooked, flaky white fish poached in a flavoursome broth of lemongrass, black pepper, fresh herbs, bay leaf, white wine and coconut milk, which was delicious. It was served alongside a mound of pilaf rice laced with diced vegetables, wedges of spiced eggplant which were nicely charred and very tasty, and a little side salad for a bit of crunch, topped with a dollop of tangy chutney – altogether a very enjoyable meal.
The other half chose another Café Vila signature dish, which features melt-in-your-mouth Vanuatu veal tenderloin fillet, stuffed with garlic and mustard, rolled in black peppercorns and grilled on a wood-fired charcoal grill. He’s had the dish before and said it was as good as ever.
Other mains included chicken curry (another Café Vila signature dish), coconut-coated Teouma prawns, a couple of pasta dishes and a couple of vegetarian options, plus several more dishes on the blackboards… plenty of choice, that’s for sure.
There’s also a kids’ menu which should keep the littlies happy.
As to the wine list, it’s a little bit limited and fairly pricey, and the only wines available by the glass are the house wines – Accomplice, which at VT 2900 a bottle is a bit high when the wholesale cost is VT 970.
However, the restaurant itself (as pictured at top of story) is attractive, spacious and airy, with dining tables also outside on a terrace overlooking the gardens of the resort. The chairs are comfy so you can settle in and relax, and the décor has a crisp, fresh feel about it… all in all, not a bad place to while away a lazy Sunday.