The Caravel Restaurant Providenciales (Provo), Turks & Caicos IslandsReviewed January / February 2017
You may have been lured here by the fish tacos. Rumours began to spread soon after The Caravel opened its doors in December 2014. These tacos quickly became a local favourite and some claim that they are the best fish tacos on Providenciales – responsible for putting The Caravel on the map!
But first, let’s talk rum punch. Caravel’s Special Rum Punch. "What makes it so special?" I asked. "Wait till you taste it!" teased bartender, Herick. This special concoction was a far cry from the traditional OJ, pineapple juice, rum and grenadine. A few added tropical treats like coconut rum, passionfruit, mango, and banana packed a delicious ‘punch’. A sight to behold, you could actually see the layers, with the ‘good stuff’, a.k.a. dark rum, provocatively floating on the top.
Casual, relaxed and friendly, you’re always welcome at The Caravel Restaurant. Manager, Lige ‘Lee’ Levais takes the helm and skippers this ship of the culinary kind. Bartender, Herick is eager to be at your service, grinning from ear to ear as he tempts you with Caravel’s cool and captivating cocktails. Our server, Sheena made us feel like family and Uncle George and Aunt Kekette are back in the kitchen preparing a menu that features local cuisine, fresh seafood and a few surprises.
A basket of grilled garlic bread hit the spot while we deliberated and divvied up the menu offerings beginning with appetisers. Spring Rolls with your choice of fillings included veggie, conch or lobster. My fellow diner opted for the veggie spring roll which he applauded for its crispy exterior without being overcooked inside. A Calypso sauce made with mayo, tomato sauce, tabasco and green and red pepper was a flavourful addition.
Conch Fritters are a veritable island mainstay and a must-try for everyone who visits these shores. Each chef has their own special recipe for this popular local delicacy, and these crispy fritters were spiced to perfection and stuffed with plenty of tender morsels of conch. The classic, creamy dipping sauce packed a nice heat and made for an irresistible combination.
Creamy Conch Chowder
While on the subject of island mainstays, you simply must include conch chowder. A tomato-based, similar to a ‘Manhattan-style’ chowder is most commonly found on local menus, but here at The Caravel, I was surprised to discover a trio of chowders. Lee approved my request to a conch chowder sampler, so we could indulge in all three side-by-side: Creamy Conch Chowder, Rosé and Red. This was a creative, home-grown representation perfected three ways of this classic and traditional dish synonymous with these Islands.
The white-based chowder, reminiscent of a ‘New England-style’ was delectably creamy with plenty of bacon forward flavours, with a pleasurable after kick prompting my favourite dining companion to declare, "That’s awesome." I don’t usually pick favourites but I have to admit that the rosé was the deal-breaker for me. It was the first rosé conch chowder to ever hit my palate – and to my knowledge, these shores. This was a totally new taste sensation with its subtle, sweet flavours. The red conch chowder was hearty and robust and with concentrated tomato flavours. They were all delicious and I was curious to conduct our own conch-sensus on which details will remain conch-fidential. Suffice to say that each version was good to the last drop, thick and rich with plenty of conch and vegetables.
Surf and Turf
With appetisers and bad puns now in our wake and main courses enroute, we were momentarily distracted when we heard a loud, whacking sound emanating from the kitchen. We smiled and nodded in unison as it was a sure sign that my fellow diner’s cracked conch was underway. Fresh conch is pounded to tenderise it, then it is lightly floured and flash fried. A delicious crispy exterior gave way to lovely, tender morsels of conch. Served with tartare sauce, a really thick and creamy coleslaw and fries.
My favourite dining companion was delighted with Herick’s suggestion of Jerk Pork Loin. The incomparable and flavourful jerk style of cooking may be native to Jamaica, but its popularity has spread throughout the Caribbean including these shores. There are many adaptations on this scrumptious combination of herbs and spices that produce a savoury and lip-smacking twist to meat, poultry or seafood whether marinated or dry-rubbed. Served with a sauté of red and green peppers and onions, the pork was tender and moist with zesty and piquant jerk flavours and a punch of allspice that added just the right heat.
Tonight’s fresh fish offerings included snapper and grouper. My husband took pleasure in his substantial portion of grouper, coated with a delicate and crispy coconut crust. Served with a delightful sweet chutney sauce and his choice of two sides. He made it local with that dreamy, creamy coleslaw and the island’s traditional side of peas and rice. When it comes to preparation, the choice is yours: grilled, fried, jerked or blackened.
And of course, last, but definitely not least, the tacos. Can’t decide? The Mixed Taco plate lets you try each of the three different tacos. Your first clue that this taco is different is the shell. It’s actually a taco ‘bowl’. Let’s start with the superstar of the taco plate, crispy fish (grouper) tacos that feature morsels of crispy, battered fish. The Spicy Beef Tacos are just that – deliciously spicy and filled with spiced ground beef. The chicken tacos are smothered in a smooth and creamy sauce made with honey, sweet chilli, Louisiana mayo and red and green onions. All taco plates are served with lettuce, parmesan, tomato, onion, sour cream and salsa on the side.
Also on the appetiser menu, sit back and nosh on nachos, buffalo wings, shrimp kabobs, coconut shrimp and conch salad. Or tuck into hearty mains like beef tenderloin, surf and turf, shrimp, tuna, mahi-mahi and lobster in season and six pasta dishes with four different sauce combinations.
I have to admit that nothing goes better with our conch delicacies and many of our other local specialities than an ice cold beer, and in particular, our own Turks Head. I highly recommend you go local – at least once!
The Conch Pasta
Speaking of going local, I wasn’t sure if the Island Rum Cake should actually be on the dessert menu or the bar menu! Featuring our own Bambarra Black Rum, this divine dessert arrived warm and rum-soaked. It was intoxicatingly good. The Key Lime Pie was delightfully tart and deliciously creamy, and the cherry cheesecakes lovely textures are a favourite of my fellow dining companion, a well-seasoned dessert aficionado. The cheesecake just seemed to mysteriously appear together with a wink and a nod from Sheena.
The Caravel Restaurant invites you to "come sail with us." Serving dinner six nights a week, closed Thursday. Choose to dine on the outdoor terrace, in the garden on rustic wooden plank tables or indoors in cool A/C.
Photos by Lisa Adara Photography
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