For an island of only 76 square miles and circa 56,000 people, Grand Cayman punches well above its weight in many ways. There’s its status in the finance world, of course, with offices of Merryl Lynch, KPMG and PWC sitting somewhat incongruously among the pastel-coloured clapboard shopfronts and coconut stalls. Then consider the famous Seven Mile Beach, which has repeatedly fought off stiff competition to be crowned the best in the Caribbean. Where gastronomy is concerned, Cayman again trumps larger neighbours. Dubbed ‘the Caribbean culinary capital’, it’s home to the Caribbean’s only AAA Five Diamond dining experience (Blue by Eric Ripert at the Ritz-Carlton) and each year attracts international celebrity chefs like Emeril Lagasse and Anthony Buordain to its Cookout festival.
Perhaps it was a combination these claims to fame that persuaded the Kimpton to choose Grand Cayman as the location of its first-ever hotel outside the US.
Seven Mile has no shortage of luxury hotels and condos – from a Marriott to the aforementioned Ritz – but there’s no missing the Kimpton Seafire Resort and Spa. The island’s tallest building stands proud on the beach’s west end, a sleek and distinctively modern block with floor-to-ceiling windows and private balconies for the majority of its 266 rooms.
My base for the weekend is an ocean view suite complete with freestanding bathtub, wrap-around terrace and a state-of-the-art kitchen; I only wish I had enough time to cook a meal in it. Flashes of flame red and magenta among the breezy white linens nod to the ‘Seafire’ theme, while the king-size bed demands sleeping with curtains open, waking to the all-encompassing sea view. Less noticeable, though just as significant, is the fact all this has been designed to conform to LEED certification standards – a ‘green’ standard that’s manifest in everything from sourcing sustainable materials to filling the grounds with indigenous plants grown in a local nursery.
Compared with traditional favourites such as Barbados or Jamaica, Cayman doesn’t see as many UK tourists despite there being a direct BA flight from London Heathrow. It is, however, a British overseas territory and home to thousands of UK expats (myself a recent addition), hence you’ll find Waitrose and Tesco products in the supermarkets, and traffic driving on the left-hand side. Perhaps the biggest culture shocks are the fact there’s no Uber (yet), or that chickens and green iguanas roam freely around said supermarkets’ car parks.
When it comes to dining you can eat in a different nation every night of the week: from Indian to Japanese, Mexican to Czech. One thing the island didn’t have, however, was a good tapas option. Enter Avecita, one of the Kimpton Seafire’s three dining destinations. Built around an open kitchen, Avecita is a restaurant-within-a-restaurant that focuses on Spanish-style plates. The ten-seat chef’s counter allows for a birds-eye view of kitchen magic centred on a wood-fired grill and plancha (a sort of griddle). Where many of Cayman’s hotel menus are, for all their tastiness, geared towards the tastes of more traditional American tourists, Avecita’s are directional to a degree I hadn’t seen much since arriving on the island. This is the first new hotel to open on the island in a decade – and it shows.
Dinner gets off to a fine start with pan con tomate Nuevo – a simple yet punchy combination of smoked tomato terrine with Caymanian sea salt – and white anchovies with escovitch vegetables. Grilled octopus, salsa verde, olives and potato foam raise the game further, as does the charred baby aubergine with blue cheese ice-cream and burnt rosemary. Roasted mushrooms, herbs, sherry, manchego toasted breadcrumbs, cured egg yolk, grilled flat iron steak, bone marrow parsley, apricot gremolata,
It’s only at breakfast that I experience the resort’s more ‘classic’ restaurant, Ave. Seated on the ocean-facing terrace, options range from the virtuous (steel-cut oatmeal or egg-white omelet) to the indulgent (jerk chicken waffles, anyone?), but I opt to sample a delicious homage to island-grown ingredients: a scramble of local callaloo leaves, peppers and scallions.
Coccoloba, a casual beachfront eatery inspired by Mexican street food, completes the Kimpton Seafire’s trinity of dining options. Simple tacos, tostadas and ceviche are perfectly offset by unusual cocktails such as ‘Watermelon Spritz’ and ‘Sea Smoke’, blending vida mezcal, cinzano bianco, pear, vanilla, lime and sea salt.
Moving between restaurants, infinity pool and the powdery sands of Seven Mile Head may seem like relaxation enough, but the Moorish-inspired spa takes things to another level. The signature treatment this mosaic-filled subterranean sanctuary is a two-hour Purification Hammam Journey. It begins with the therapist applying a nourishing body cleanse with a kessa mitt to moisten skin and prepare it for the next stage: exfoliation with volcanic ash. Then I’m coated in a layer of mineral-rich mud and wrapped up in muslin. A traditional Turkish scalp massage using essential oils distracts me from how ridiculous I must look, like something about to be laid in a sarcophagus. After the minerals have done their work, the cloth is unbound and mud rinsed away, and a relaxing classic body massage is the icing on the cake.
Emerging from the treatment at 6pm – shoulders a little looser and skin glowing – I’m just in time to grab a glass of wine from the lounge’s daily open bar and position myself for sunset. A long curving sofa above the landscaped gardens proves to be the ideal vantage point, and as flaming clouds melt into pale turquoise waters there’s no denying the resort has been aptly named.
It may be Cayman’s first new resort in ten years, but the Kimpton Seafire shoots straight to the top of the charts with its warm, relaxed vibe, commitment to sustainable luxury, and globe-hopping dining destinations.
For more information about Kimpton Seafire, visit www.seafireresortandspa.com.