BY AMANDA CUMMINS
Step a little closer, and I shall tell you a secret. Well, it’s not exactly a secret-secret, more a pointer to something rather special.
Going out for Sunday lunch – a planter’s buffet – in Barbados is something of a tradition. Convivial company, a groaning table of delicious choices and likely a rum punch or two. Hotels and restaurants throughout the island put on these waistband-defying feasts.
The best, and this is the secret, is at Lancaster Great House. (Before I go any further, I have to admit that I know the owners but they have no idea I am writing this.)
The Chandlers previously ran a similar venture at Fisherpond Great House, opening up the house every Sunday for a feast nonpareil.
Fisherpond was almost impossible to find. However, when one got there, having driven through what seemed to be every cane field in the central part of Barbados, it was a gem. With a lunch to match.
With the most beautiful antiques – be they furniture, china or glass – and flower arrangements in the house which defied description, the food was almost secondary to the Fisherpond Sunday Lunch “experience”. One had drinks in the garden before lunch, sitting in a tropical carnival of colour, and then settled at tables inside the house. With which the four course feast began.
The Fisherpond Sunday lunches were very popular, both with locals and with visitors, so much so that booking weeks in advance was essential. Marvellous tales were attached to the place, including an Oscar-winning actress (I couldn’t possibly name-a-name) who went to Sunday lunch and left after breakfast on Monday.
In 2013 the Chandlers had the opportunity to buy Lancaster Great House. If Fisherpond was a gem, Lancaster Great House is the Kohinoor.
Sitting above the West Coast, and infinitely easier to find, the house looks like a pink and white fondant fancy. Surrounded by a wonderful garden which, bit by bit, is being brought back to its tropical glory. When you walk through the front door it is to be transported onto a stage set of beautiful things.
Tables are still dotted around the reception rooms for lunch guests. The key is to have a table in the covered area leading off the French windows from the drawing room. Open on three sides, it’s eating al fresco in the grandest way possible.
There is a grand piano on which a gentleman of a certain age tinkles the ivories, the play list being everything from Gershwin to Leonard Cohen, and all stops in between. It’s quite usual for a guest to pause by the piano and start singing.
Pre-lunch drinks are sipped in the garden, sitting beneath canopies and umbrellas. There are parrots (one of which speaks – well, swears in the manner of a tetchy stevedore). It would be easy to spend an afternoon happily sipping and not eating. But eat one must.
Each table is set with different glasses and napkins, picking out the colours of the tablecloths. One table might have Venetian pink glasses and “jewelled” napkin rings. An orchid, its flowers matching the colour of that particular table setting, sits within an antique cache pot at the centre of the table. The china one eats off might be mismatched but it’s beautiful china.
Every detail is a masterpiece. Or a master class. I’m not sure which.
The first of four courses is served. Soup. Perhaps callaloo (the closest I can come to describing it is spinach soup, but with a twist of Caribbean seasoning) or pumpkin and ginger. Homemade bread rolls.
The fish course, for which one totters into the house and into an ante room with a sideboard laid out with seductive choices: perhaps fish pate, shrimp cooked in lime and herbs, a ceviche of local fish. Choose one or all. Second helpings are certainly not frowned upon.
The piece de resistance is the main course, the buffet.
The house is a riot of flowers wherever one looks, but the table in the dining room is something else. The legendary mahogany table (with all its leaves inserted, it’s the longest dining room table in Barbados) has at its centre a display that is worthy of the great marquee at Chelsea Flower Show.
It takes four hours to create the floral centre piece. Boughs of bougainvillea, hosts of hibiscus, an array of anthuriums. Around this extravaganza sit the cold dishes for the buffet, their hot counterparts served from a side board at the side of the main table.
Every dish is a part of Barbados.
One is spoiled for choice, really. Again, seconds – or thirds, even – are heartily encouraged.
I am not a pudding person so I am unable comment on the final course. But I am reliably informed that the puddings fall into the category of To Die For.
All the way through this almost extreme lunch the Chandlers mix and mingle with the guests, making sure that everyone is happy.
One could not fail to be happy.
John Chandler is a bon vivant, a bon viveur, a raconteur and oracle of deliciously salacious gossip. Rain, his wife, who oversees all the cooking, possesses the dirtiest laugh of anybody I’ve ever known and also the ability to make anything at Lancaster Great House special. Between them they have created a place of wonder. Dinner parties, cocktail parties and weddings now form part of the repertoire which is revitalising Lancaster Great House.
In some respects it is a stage set but, wow, what props. And a jolly good lunch, to boot. The after lunch service drinks party, when the house returns to being a family home, is a bonus.
We left at 9 p.m.: lightweights, compared to the un-named Oscar winner at Fisherpond.