Sick and tired of Turkish meze and kebabs? Why not try something new and fresh with exotic vibes? Like a breath of fresh air from the Caribbean The Coconut Bar & Bistro in Esentepe offers their guests colourful dishes straight from the Caribbean cuisine.
Octave and Barbara happily welcome us as we step into the cozy homely room. We accept a cup of coffee and sit down at one of the tables. Some breakfast guests are just leaving the restaurant and the couple hug them and say goodbye. “We are like one big family with our guests,” explains Barbara while she pulls out a chair and joins us at the table.
The history of North Cyprus’s first Caribbean restaurant began three years ago when Octave Bonheur and Barbara Meulenaere went on holiday to North Cyprus.
“It was actually a coincidence that we ended up here,” says Barabara. “It was the summer of 2013 and we thought we had booked a trip to South Cyprus. I had even practiced some Greek words, but when we landed at Ercan airport and saw that the signs were in Turkish, we began to suspect that something was not quite right.” With a smile Octave adds: “And when the bus driver said his name was Ali, we realised our mistake!” They laugh together at the memory.
“At first we were upset about having the wrong place, but after the first evening’s restaurant visit, when we saw the cheap prices and were greeted with the Cypriot hospitality, we began to rethink.”
Octave is originally from the Caribbean island of Martinique but grew up in Paris. When he was 22, he left France to travel and work around the world. He eventually ended up at the international tour operator Club Med, where he came to work as a butcher and cook, then advancing to become head chef and bar manager. Barbara also worked for Club Med, as a receptionist at various destinations. But it was only when they worked at the same hotel in Brussels in 2002 as their paths crossed and they became a couple. Two years later they married in Martinique, where they even came to stay for a while.
“The Caribbean is like paradise, absolutely fantastic. But it’s very expensive to live there,” says Barbara. They soon moved back to Europe and settled in Belgium where they bought a house and started a family. But for an international couple accustomed to travelling and working abroad, there was the dream of a life in warmer climates ever present.
“We considered moving to Australia, among other places,” said Octave, who previously lived in Melbourne. “But when we came to North Cyprus, we immediately fell in love with the country and decided this was the place where we wanted to stay.”
At the end of the summer, they returned to North Cyprus to look for a place where they could build a restaurant and found a lot next to the holiday residential area of Crystal Bay Park in Esentepe. After a few months we moved to Cyprus and the children, who were then seven and nine years old, were put in school here.
“It’s an incredible feeling of freedom to just sell everything you own and move,” said Barbara. “And the children have integrated well in school and quickly learned Turkish. They thrive here in Cyprus and that is the most important thing for us! ”
The whole family loves life in Cyprus which has now become their home. “Life is so relaxed and stress free here. Every day, we take a dip in the pool before we open the restaurant.”
That Caribbean cuisine is popular, there is no doubt. Guests from all over the island come to enjoy the faraway flavours Octave cooks up in the kitchen. Caribbean food mainly consists of marinated meat and chicken, with plenty of spices and seasonings. One of the signature dishes of the Caribbean kitchen is marinated pork chops with a crispy outside and soft inside. Colourful vegetarian dishes are also on the menu and a lot of the vegetables are home-grown.
“We are very flexible and can always cook dishes for special requests. We are also careful with the quality of raw materials and therefore only purchase the ingredients for a certain number of dishes of each type per week. For example, Jamaican chicken is on the menu this week. When it is finished, it’s finished, and then we wipe it off the board so that way can we ensure that the food is always fresh and of top quality. It makes many of our regular guests choose to reserve a table the day they know we have their favorite dish on the menu.”
The menu changes every Wednesday and is put up on the restaurant’s Facebook page. The lunch menu is however the same each week, and from it you can choose between light European dishes like omelettes and salads. Every Saturday during the summer months, the restaurant organizes BBQ nights with Caribbean theme. They are very popular and well attended, just like the regular tapas evenings.
On the bar counter is a collection of glass jars filled with homemade rum in various flavours, and the speakers are echoing with Bob Marley’s rolly voice around the room. The atmosphere is so relaxed that you feel to sit back with one of the Caribbean cocktails on the menu and to just enjoy the moment. Next to a Havana Club bottle is a small red painted wooden horse that we can not help but ask about. Barbara says that they have many international guests who come to the restaurant, including from Sweden, Norway, England, Scotland, Ireland and Belgium.
“Coconut has become a gathering place for those who live in and around the area, a bit like a second living room. We have met many new friends from different parts of the world, and sometimes it’s us who get invited home for dinner! This summer we are invited to visit several of the families in their home countries, including Sweden and Norway,” says Barbara, who adds that they also usually arrange a joint Christmas celebration at Coconut Bar & Bistro.
Before we say goodbye to Octave and Barbara and leave the Caribbean groove, we curiously asked where the restaurant got its name from. They tell me with a smile that the name, just like the move to North Cyprus, came to be by something which from the beginning was a mistake; “When we were recently moved here we mistook the palm tree behind the restaurant for one with coconuts, but it later turned out to be a date-palm! Perhaps we thought a little too much of the Caribbean ways, but it turned out the be a fitting name,” they laugh.
Coconut Bar & Bistro is open every day except Tuesdays, 11:00 to 23:00.
Lunch is served between 11:30 and 14:30. Dinner is between 18:30 and 21:00.
Table reservations are highly recommended as it is often crowded with guests in the evenings.
Phone: 0533 836 13 94
Facebook: The Coconut Bar-Bistro