13 MAR 2017: Half Moon, named after its crescent-shaped Sunset Beach, is a beloved old Jamaican property, first opened in 1954. Its storied visitors have included many celebrities, royalty, and heads of governments. No matter how good however, no resort can rest on its laurels and now Half Moon is posed to up its game even more with a culinary programme that takes full advantage of the earthly bounty that’s Jamaican.

Jamaica, I believe, has the potential to be the best in the Caribbean for cuisine. Its verdant countryside is teaming with life: huge bamboo groves, towering palms, fruit trees of all sorts and fields of agricultural crops. Fresh from the sea comes grouper, red snapper, lion fish, lobster and more. Cows, goats and chickens scurry about the yards and the farms.

The variety of vegetables and fruits – many exotic to the Canadian palate – is impressive. On the menu and buffets of Half Moon I found callaloo (green leafy vegetable resembling spinach), pak choi (leafy green from the cabbage family), ackee (Jamaica’s mild tasting yellow-hued national fruit), chocho (green vegetable of the squash family), breadfruit, soursop (tangy fruit of Annona muricata), cassava (made into bammy - a round flat bread), taro (both its edible root and leaves used in various ways), plantain, green banana and much more.

Last year the resort decided to go native with their turn-down treats and make them traditional Jamaican sweets. By my pillows each night there were two: either grater cake (a confection of grated coconut and sugar that’s boiled, hardened, cut into squares and dyed red on top), gizzada (a baked tiny pie with a firm crust filled with sweetened grated coconut) or cut cake (made from diced coconuts, sugar and spices boiled until set).

Now they are planning on even more farm to table style cooking, will be expanding their herb garden and are adding a whole new centralized facility for their baking and food preparation. Also in the works are a seafood restaurant and a new three meal a day eatery.

Things are cooking along well already. Christopher Golding, Chef De Cuisine at The Sugar Mill Restaurant noted they picked up the Jamaican Best Restaurant 2016 Award - for their third consecutive year. Located on the gentle slope overlooking the Half Moon Golf Course, The Sugar Mill has a romantic atmosphere with stoned walls and pitched high ceilings. Guests can dine by candlelight indoors, on the terrace overlooking the lush gardens, or near the dramatic centuries old waterwheel.

Chef Golding, a native of Kingston Jamaica, created a menu for the place that marries traditional recipes and techniques but still stays true to Jamaican cuisine using garden-fresh ingredients, including locally grown herbs and spices. Two of his signature dishes are coconut crusted local grouper in lemon butter sauce and a spectacular kebab of jerk sausage, pork, beef and shrimp that’s flamed with rum at the table. Wagu beef cooked on his charcoal-fueled Josper oven and grill is a real treat.

There’s more afoot too. The relatively new general manager at Half Moon, Sandro Fabris is an absolute foodie and he has brought on a new executive chef, Rainer Mueller who joined barely a month ago from his posting in Dubai.

“We really want to create something. We have the freshness and the talent…we have a jewel here. The plan is to identify all that has been hidden and show the world that we can do it,” said Chef Golding.

Half Moon offers guests the choice of picking an all-inclusive meal and drink plan or going a la carte. Shernette Crichton, director of Resort Operations told me between 35 percent to 40 percent take the meal plan, and as we Canadians know, it’s very popular among our countrymen. I found it to be generous and comprehensive. I could eat at any of the restaurants, order the wines by the glass (which were different at each eatery to better match the food), drinks at any bar and my mini bar and in room snacks were included.

At Pepper Pot I had Jamaica’s national dish for breakfast of ackee and salt cod fish served with fried dumplings, boiled green banana, breadfruit and steamed vegetables. Truly delicious. Another day I enjoyed curried local lobster. At their Italian restaurant they offered real (imported) burrata, authentic parmesan cheese on the carpaccio and house made pasta. Their pan seared fillet of local snapper, black olives, braised tomato, fennel, olives and capers was perfectly cooked.

Seagrape Terrace was their buffet style eatery open for all three meals and always offered a great choice of local vegetable, fruits and dishes. Moonchie Grill was the place to go for a casual meal of jerk chicken, pork or fish on the beach. At Lester’s Café, I found delicious smoothies, certified pure roasted Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee and coffee based drinks and bakery treats.

Local produce even made it into their menu at Fern Tree Spa. For the Fern Tree Signature massage, the therapist used an oil blended with allspice, ginger and orange on me and then a rum body splash to finish the massage. Another day I had a coconut coffee scrub that was so aromatic I wanted to lick my skin.

The Caribbean is also home to fabulous rums and at the Sugar Mill Lounge, the Director of Food and Beverage Giorgio Rusconi, has carefully amassed a fine collection of rums from Trinidad, Martinique, Cuba, Guyana, Guatemala, Jamaica, Puerto Rico and elsewhere to offer guests. Most he has to privately import via an agent in England – it’s that difficult to get such an extensive selection in Jamaica.

Canadian incentive group travel groups from TELUS and Home Hardware were on premises during my stay and I could see why they picked Half Moon. This is a place that goes all out to satisfy. No half measures here.

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Margaret Swaine

Margaret is a nationally published wine, spirits, food and travel writer, who has authored thousands of articles on these subjects for magazines and newspapers.

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