Mo’ Sun, Mo’ Fun, and Plenty of Rum at Round Hill Villa Resort, Montego Bay
Island wisdom suggests one begin one’s Jamaican holiday with a glass of green coconut juice said to be “the only water that washes the heart.” My NYC sister and I had just arrived at Sangster Airport after an easy, non-stop 3 ½ hour flight on Jet Blue.
Thirsty, but always a bit of the rebel, I immediately reached for an icy Red Stripe beer. Sis selected a racy Rum Punch to keep her refreshed on the short drive to our home for the next few days, Round Hill Villa Resort in Montego Bay. We were smitten at first sight with this dreamy island paradise.
Why Round Hill Villa Resort?
Simply put, they just don’t make ’em like this anymore. Round Hill Villa Resort is a laid-back enclave where understated elegance and easy gentility still rules. This legendary getaway opened about 50 years ago and has since been frequented by a roster of the rich and famous such as Noel Coward, Grace Kelly, Audrey Hepburn, Michael Douglas have been repeat guests. Sir Paul McCartney and his family used to stay in our exact villa!
Perhaps that’s why Sis kept humming ” It’s A Hard Day’s Night…” albeit slightly off-key. The Round Hill vibe is seductive: slow down, re-wind, and keep it real. Granted, my reality isn’t typically a gorgeous villa complete with a warm, welcoming staff (think two Cooks/Housekeepers, a Gardener and a pool attendant) but I pride myself on my adaptability.
Just minutes after our arrival, we plopped into comfy chaise lounges next to our private swimming pool. The enchanting view was a delightful slice of Round Hill’s 110 acres of natural beauty, included a stunning tableau of the Caribbean sea and fluttering palms, accessorized with festively colored tropical flowers, butterflies and parakeets.
Tucking into the fresh fruit welcome-plate, we followed directions (for once) on the attached card with recommendations to “dip the papaya and pineapple slices into the dish of sea salt. Follow with a drizzle of the 21 year Old Appleton Estate Rum.” Such is life at Round Hill.
A perfect time can be had at the resort without ever leaving the villa. Scrumptious, customized meals are available to be enjoyed en suite after a refreshing dip and a lazy day of books and naps. How unfortunate though, not to venture out for a look-see at some of the other uniquely designed private dwellings or to gander at Pineapple House, Round Hill’s simple, stylish 36 room hotel, right at the water’s edge. Ralph Lauren owns two villas here and clearly influenced the hotel’s elegantly/beachy makeover.
And to skip the beautifully restored 18th century Plantation House where the contemporary Spa is located would be like ignoring sunscreen. Ten treatment rooms, a beauty salon, fitness center, and a luxurious green lawn with hammocks are reason alone to stop in, not to mention the spa’s superb Signature Pineapple Buff. After our treatment, we meandered over to the terrace to show off our newly silken skin while enjoying the complimentary tea, sammies, scones and sweets which would have to tide us over until dinner. Tomorrow would be time enough to take in some exercise and go for a swim in one of the three fabulous larger pools, join an outdoor yoga class, or arrange a round of golf at one of the nearby championship courses.
Eating well at Round Hill
One of the highlights of the trip was planning our day around the different meal options. It went something like this: before bed each night, Sis would fill out the printed breakfast order for the following morning, with our requests.
Murmuring to herself, “Ackee (a tropical fruit) and Saltfish with Fried Dumplings? Delish. Calaloo with Seasonal Greens? Yup, we loved those. Hey, want to try the coconut pancakes tomorrow or do you prefer the yummy banana ones again?”
I’d respond delicately, “How about a small batch of each?”
In the morning, a soft knock on our door coupled with the aroma of freshly ground Jamaica Blue Mountain Coffee and hot banana bread, signaled the beginning of another glorious day. After our eye-opener, we’d mosey out for a real breakfast beautifully arranged on the patio table, and engaged in a heated conversation about our dinner options.
Under debate were: Eat in and have one of the chefs cook for us, dress up a tad and try Chef Martin Maginley’s tasty creations at The Restaurant, or check the calendar to see if there was a Beach BBQ Party or a full-blown Jamaican Food and Reggae bash on the schedule.
Unique Rum-pairing Banquet:
Such lucky girls. One memorable evening, we were invited to join a VIP group of locals for an incredible Appleton Estate Jamaica Rum pairing dinner, where each course would be accompanied by a rum cocktail. The evening began with an amazing walk-around cocktail party showcasing the best local street food vendors. Colorful carts were set up on the terrace, where guests nibbled (or wolfed down) the various appetizers. Chef Kevin, proprietor of Pushcart Grill, enthusiastically ureged us to try his succulent jerk pork in a variety of international guises: in pizza, ravioli, on roti, even a spicy jerk pork tempura.
After an hour of tasty treats it was time to get serious, wipe off the road dust and head indoors for the main event. Although I’ve been to many a wine pairing dinner, I was curious to see what masterminds, Chef Martin and the equally imaginative Director of Food and Beverage, Bill Moore ( a talented chef in his own right) would create using a variety of Appleton’s premium aged rums (in production since 1749.)
All I can say is read it and weep (or book a flight now.)
Appleton Estate Jamaica Rum Menu:
Oxtail Consomme served with a slightly sweet orange biscotti kicked-wine-to-the-curb when paired with Green Tea and Pimento Martini.
Oven Roasted Ocean Grouper with seasoned Bammy Chips over local greens rocked when coupled with a spectacular fig-infused Appleton Estate Reserve Rum cocktail gilded with shaved aged Parmesan.
Next up, an Orange Zest Rubbed Pork Loin with Cane Molasses and Angostura joined effortlessly with Masterblender, fresh Ortanique orange juice and bitters.
The pièce de résistance was a dramatic rendition of Molten Chocolate Cake ladled with a flaming rum sauce and served with a glass of silken 21 Year Old Appleton. This rare, elegant libation was comparable to sipping a fine cognac.
Combining incomparable views, stellar service, exquisite food paired with outstanding rums, M & M (Maginley and Moore) managed to orchestrate an evening I’ll never forget.
Visionary Executive Chef
Round Hill’s Executive Chef, Martin Maginley, has a clear eye focused on the future of Caribbean cuisine. Named “Chef of the Caribbean” two years running, and the recipient of rave reviews for his recent guest stint at Manhattan’s James Beard House, Chef Martin is a gentle bear of a fellow, who tirelessly promotes L.C.C.C : Light, Clean, Caribbean Cuisine.
This talented, enthusiastic, young chef is passionate about taking “fresh, local ingredients to a higher level.” During his jerk cooking demonstration (where he passed on a great recipe for making “Liquid Sunshine” which was simply to infuse a bottle of vodka with a sliced Scotch Bonnet pepper then store in the freezer) he shared his philosophy which is to simply “refine the roots a little.” Chef Martin, who obviously thrives on minimal sleep, is also busy working on a cookbook as well as a line of gourmet products beginning with “Fingerling Greens by Chef Martin”.
The resort’s motto “Grow what you eat and eat what you grow” is clearly supported by their burgeoning organic garden which supplies much of the restaurant’s needs.
Chef Martin and his engaging staff kick it up a notch further by ensuring that this healthier way of eating is also mighty tasty. During our stay Sis and I both noticed we felt completely refreshed and full of vitality.
Maybe there’s something to that green coconut juice after all.