It was after midnight on a Sunday night (technically Monday morning) as ABBA’s “Gimme! Gimme! Gimme!” pumped through the airwaves as movie star-esque servers danced on boxes and tables while late-night diners dressed in white swayed to the motion, toes planted in the inches-deep sand that coated the floor of La Petite Plage restaurant on the waterfront of Gustavia, St-Barthélemy.
We had traveled all day to arrive in St-Barths just before sunset. Following the check-in and then naps at our villa, we woke up around 10:30 p.m. feeling hungry. A quick Google search revealed La Petite Plage was open daily until 2 a.m. A phone call around 11:15 p.m. confirmed it, but with a gentle reminder the kitchen would close at midnight. From our villa in Marigot, we jumped in our rental Mini Cooper and raced toward Gustavia.
Our table was the last reservation of the night to be seated when we walked in minutes before midnight. The party was in full swing at one of the newest restaurants in the city. The manager, Romain Leclerq, met us at the entrance with a smile and a warm welcome. Seated in the middle of the party, the staff graciously welcomed our midnight party of three like it was five of nine and not five of 12.
At least four times between 12:01 and 12:10 a.m. I thought to myself, “At some point, someone is going to tell us we missed the cut-off for the kitchen and our late-night dinner is going to be reduced to whatever they can pull out of the refrigerator.” But it was not to be. Without an ounce of pressure, we were presented with both cocktail and full dinner menus from a smiling server who pointed out her recommendations and presented the chef’s specials of the evening.
As plates arrived at our table, Leclerq kept a watchful eye on our table from a discreet distance. Plates were laid and later removed in unison from a team of three servers. About halfway through our dinner, we realized we were the last table in the restaurant. Course after course, servers continued to smile and dance while the DJ pumped high-energy beats into the nearly empty restaurant. Around 1 a.m., Leclerq came to our table to check on us. He shared that La Petite Plage had recently opened on the Rue du Bord de Mer in the fashion of its original St-Tropez location, with sand on the floor and a DJ seven nights a week.
“We aren’t a thousand-Euro table tonight,” noted our publisher to Leclerq, “but you’ve made us feel like it.” Leclerq beamed. “That’s exactly how we want every table to feel, no matter if you’re popping bottles or coming by for a quick bite,” he replied.
And this would continue to be our experience over and over in St-Barths. On an island renowned for its snobby approach to, well, just about everything, the warm temperatures of November in the Caribbean matched warm welcomes from every aspect of the island.
Back in September, I was at a birthday party when our publisher mentioned to me that it might be time to go back to St-Barths. It had been three years since our previous promotional tour for Polo Lifestyles in 2019. I was determined not to repeat our 2019 trip – no sense in doing a Been There, Done That trip. That turned out to be the easier part: so many restaurants and hotels have opened or re-opened in the last three years, we barely had time to squeeze everything in. So, whether you’ve been to St-Barths many times or are planning your first trip, here’s your can’t-miss check list to the ultimate French West Indies experience.
From the Vanderbilt Hotel in San Juan, Puerto Rico, a driver from Cloud9 Jets whisked us to the check-in for private aviation at SJU organized by Rome International Services. Edmondo from RIS checked us and our nine bags (every outing requires an outfit change in St-Barths) efficiently. We hadn’t budgeted much time between check in and take off, so Edmondo moved us quickly through the back hallways of the airport to the obligatory but efficient security check point where airport employees come and go. A private party bus awaited us to head over to the private terminal where our King Air PJ, organized by Cloud9 Jets, awaited us on the tarmac. I texted Sam, the Cloud9 Jets marketing director, that we were boarding.
We settled comfortably into the luxurious jet and watched out the windows as Puerto Rico faded away and the port of Gustavia slowly appeared on the horizon. I have landed in dozens of countries, some of them hundreds of times, but there is nothing like landing in Gustavia. From the slow descent over the port – full of yachts and sail boats – to the steep and heart-stopping descent to the ultra-short runway. The moment when the pilots cut the engines and float to the tarmac is somewhere between magical and terrifying – you know that it’s going to happen, but suddenly the aircraft is silent, suspended only on invisible forces for a few moments before the wheels hit the tarmac and it’s screech, screech, screech to the end of the runway.
During high season (November to April) the Gustav II Airport (SBH) is so busy that planes land and take off every three to five minutes. Sam from Cloud9 Jets shared with me that securing landing and departure times at SBH was the hardest part of the entire logistics of our trip from San Francisco.
Whenever the logistics were too overwhelming, we had Brice Cagan of Services St-Barth on speedial. Brice and his team work in the St-Maarten, San Juan and St-Barths airports, ensuring seamless connections with their signature VIP service. We have used Services St-Barths too many times to count over the years. Always a pleasure.
Daniel Correia of Luxury Homes St-Barth, our villa concierge, met us on the wide veranda on the front side of the airport. He took most of our checked luggage with him while we made a quick stop at Alamo SBH to pick up our wheels for the week. We knew we were going to have a commute each day from our villa in Marigot (near the Rosewood Le Guanahani) to Gustavia, and the best way to spend time in the car in St-Barths is with the top down, so we reserved a Mini Cooper convertible. It proved to be a blast: easy to park, great for our tans, efficient and sporty. We jumped into the Mini and followed Daniel to Villa Black Pearl in Marigot. There was new construction going up all around the villa, including other villas, multi-unit housing and smaller structures that dotted the hillsides.
Villa Black Pearl is set into the hillside, facing the sea, which meant we parked above it and descended 12 stairs to reach the front door. The villa’s ceilings soared in the traditional French Caribbean architecture and the entire living room opened to a huge outdoor living space that included a dining table for 12, two more seating areas and deck chairs facing an infinity pool. Bedrooms flanked both sides of the outdoor space. A stairwell led to two more en suite bedrooms on the lower level. From the pool above, Daniel pointed out Le Barthélemy Hotel and Spa, Le Sereno and the Rosewood Le Guanahani in the distance.
I opened a bottle of rose that Daniel had stocked for us and, exhausted from overnight travels from San Francisco to San Juan, a night in San Juan, and traveling for a second day to arrive in St-Barths, we agreed that we needed a quick grocery supply run followed by naps. On the way back from the grocery, we stopped at Le Piment in St-Jean for burgers and fries. It was World Cup play-offs, so Le Piment was packed at the bar. Over the next 10 days, we could tell every time that France was playing based on the number of spectators and the noise coming from Le Piment as we cruised through St-Jean on our way somewhere.
That evening, we dined very late at the chic and hospitable La Petite Plage on the port of Gustavia. The kitchen stays open until midnight, but the ultra-gracious staff and manager served us well after that. We recommend the Beignet de Gambas Epices (Spicy Prawn Fritters), Wahoo Cuit en Papillote (Wahoo Cooked in Foil), Carpaccio de Filet de Beouf (Beef Carpaccio) and the Belle Cote de Veau (Veal Chop). For dessert, the kitchen sent us the Carpaccio d’Ananas (Pineapple Carpaccio)… delicious.
On Monday, we shopped. The shopping in St-Barths doesn’t compare with anywhere else in the world. Even the most basic pharmacies and groceries are filled with both local and imported French specialty supplies. We filled up our shopping baskets before moving on to the other boutique stores in St-Jean. Afternoon storms forced us indoors, so the shopping continued and we ended up across from the airport in traffic feeling very hungry. The Eden Rock Café was within a stone’s throw, so we pulled up and were delighted to find a mix of bakery goodies and tasty sandwiches served alongside artisan iced teas and lemonades.
We had a reservation at Cheval Blanc for dinner, but high winds and rain dampened our spirits and desire to go out again. We snacked at home on the delicacies we’d picked up earlier.
On Tuesday morning, I called the marketing manager at Le Barthélemy Hotel and Spa where our lunch and afternoon itinerary was planned. “Camille, I need to tell you I have never been to Le Barthélemy when it’s not raining!” I admitted. “Don’t worry,” was her reply, “the weather looks much better today.” In fact, the sun was shining… right up until the moment we pulled up at the valet in front of Le Barthélemy when the clouds assembled over our heads and true to tradition, it rained at Le Barthélemy.
The rain, however, cannot dampen spirits at Le Barthélemy. An enormous and airy indoor dining room overlooks the beach and sea. Our table was mere feet from the sand, yet completely protected from the elements that weren’t cooperating at the moment. It was at lunch that day when we met photographer Xavier Merchet-Thau in person after weeks of corresponding first by Instagram and then by email. If you have been to Le Ti St-Barth for a wild evening in the last 10 years, you have met Xavier, who is the staff photographer there. As we were discussing plans for the week, Xavier was full of ideas for logistics and settings, and most importantly, he was incredibly flexible regarding timing. He worked independently for much of our time in St-Barths, proactively capturing images and editorial shots. He worked as his own assistant and only asked that for weekends off in order to take the ferry to St-Maarten to visit his children who are attending school there.
Le Barthélemy worked in a last-minute spa appointment for one of our crew and I headed to the beach chairs that Camille had reserved for us. The rain had let up and the temperature was perfect. The beach-side bar brought piña coladas and cold beers to our chairs, so it was toes in the sand and a drink in my hand. Perfect.
Wednesday morning started with French pastries and coffees from La Petite Colombe bakery, brought back to Villa Black Pearl, reheated and served with fresh juices. Our maid, Christine, arrived with the news that the rainstorms had passed and the forecast called for sunny skies for the next seven days. With a 2 p.m. Reservation at Nikki Beach, we put together our beach bags headed to St-Jean.
Nikki Beach is a world-renowned destination - from Ramatuelle to St-Barths - and the name alone conjures images of beautiful people wearing perfect clothes with every hair in place while dining on delectable food and satisfying cocktails beach-side. Nikki Beach is all that and more.
Not only were we warmly welcomed by name, sat at the best table in the entire restaurant and indulged to no end by the attentive and picture-perfect staff, but the food was delicious and the drinks were never-ending until we had to ask the servers to stop. Nikki Beach is small by design and exclusive as a result.
We started with salads (Thai Beef Salad and Miami Beach Chicken Caesar Salad) with our cocktails and craft iced teas, moved on to main plates (Angus Beef Sliders, Octopus Risotto and Black Angus Beef Tartare). The chef sent an assortment of sushi rolls – a Nikki Beach specialty – and we shared the Light Red Berry Cheesecake for dessert.
We were ready to install ourselves on the beach chairs. With a bottle of rose on ice between us, we spent the rest of the afternoon listening to waves crash and planes land at Gustav II Airport. I went back to the house mid-afternoon to supervise the set up for the evening with Baptiste Gauthier, a private chef, who would be serving dinner at Villa Black Pearl for us at 8 p.m.
It is possible – believe it or not – to tire of dining out several times a day. When this happens, a private chef is just what you need and St-Barths boasts no shortage of private chef choices. We were thrilled to connect with Chef Gauthier Baptiste in early November to secure a place on his calendar for the busy last week of November. The French-born and -trained chef recently relocated to St-Barths from Australia to set up his private chef-catering company, Bon Appetit SBH.
Villa Black Pearl, for all of its splendidness, did not boast a well-stocked, chef’s kitchen. It was everything we needed for warming pastries and making coffee, but a chef requires a certain type of set up. Chef Baptiste arrived with everything from plates to poêlons.
As the sun set and we relaxed with our toes in the pool, Chef Baptiste brought out canapes. While we changed for dinner, he and an assistant set the table and lit candles around the villa. We chatted with the chef in the kitchen while he seared filets and arranged the side dishes just-so. Seated at the table, courses followed courses and palate cleansers as Chef Baptiste pulled out all the stops. As a small, intimate group, we decided to invite both the chef and Lou to sit with us for dessert as we wanted to get to know more about them and their paths to St-Barths. Afterward the two of them washed and cleaned the kitchen, stocked the refrigerator with leftovers and wished us a bon sejour en St-Barths.
Not only was the food and service perfection, but Chef Baptiste and Lou were incredibly warm and thoughtful.
Thursday morning, we headed to Gustavia for breakfast. Parking in high season proved to be difficult, so we ended up on the far side of the port, near La Guerite. On the walk back to the Rue du Bord de Mer, we passed Bagatelle where the crew was getting a head start on unloading fresh provisions from trucks. The guys working in the intense heat of the sun couldn’t have been friendlier as we maneuvered by and mentioned we’d be back for dinner. In addition to looking like Vilebrequin models, their warm smiles and natural ability to chit-chat with strangers on the sidewalk was a good omen for the evening’s dining experience.
Bagatelle offered us, in advance, a tasting menu prepared by Chef Leopold Gillen, which we gladly accepted. A tasting menu eliminates the need for less-decisive members of the group to endlessly review the menu and can help expand the palates of those prone to order safely. As the sun set over Gustavia and we dressed for dinner, Chef Leopold, armed with our food allergies and preferences, was settling into his kitchen with the evening’s guests in mind.
The staff at Bagatelle had organized a superb table for us adjacent to the action inside, but gladly obliged our request to sit on the port-side patio. While the party inside was just getting started, our refuge on the patio provided us with sufficient lighting to take photos for our Instagram accounts without bothering other tables. Small boats came and went and beautiful passersby looked longingly at our table, laden with cocktails and plates of Chef Leopold’s culinary perfection.
Martilde, our server, was an absolute delight, full of joie de vivre and passionate about the Bagatelle experience. She was a wealth of information about the tasting menu and the chef’s background. Bagatelle Passionistas (a specialty cocktail) flowed and plates appeared non-stop for nearly 90 minutes until we could eat no more. Martilde appeared table-side at one point with gift bags in hand, “Just a little something from all of us to thank you for coming,” Everything had been thought-through and well-planned from A to Z.
Inside, the party was in full swing and Martilde asked if we’d like to move inside for dessert. She set us up in a corner booth and Chef Leopold came out to present our desserts and to thank us for dining at Bagatelle. The chef chatted with us at length about his background and approach to food, answering every question as though we were the only table left in the restaurant, when in reality, the tables around us were moments away from dancing on the tables and the spirit was high as the music pumped and magnums of Champagne refilled glasses. If this was only Thursday night, what would Friday and Saturday nights be like? “Oh, people would be dancing on the tables already,” said Martilde with a twinkle in her eyes.
Chef Leopold’s carefully curated tasting menu included Tempura Vegetables, Bagatelle’s signature Tuna Tartare, Riviera Salad, Herb-Marinated Lamb and Sea Bass, with a dessert selection of Meringue with Timut and Crepes in Tonka Bean Cream. Don’t ask us to choose a favorite; we can’t. They were all amazing.
Do you know that feeling: you don’t want to leave a party, but you know it’s time? That’s the feeling you have at Bagatelle. It was nearly 1:30 a.m. when we said goodbye and a bientot to the crew at Bagatelle, once again the last table of the evening to make our exit.
Friday was destined to be a working day for us, as our trip to St-Barths was promotional in nature. We shot the cover that afternoon during the 4 p.m. magic hour on the grounds of Eden Rock. The hotel and restaurant graciously hosted us that afternoon as we took over their parking lot and recruited a handful of their staff members to make cameo appearances in several of our photos.
When we were done, we descended upon Gustavia’s perennial Bar de L’Oubli for sandwiches, French fries and cold drinks for a very late lunch around 6 p.m. In between evenings of fine dining and private chefs, white tablecloths and live music, Bar de L’Oubli is a casual, sporty local hangout nearly on the sidewalk at the corner of Rues de la France and de la Republique. Decorated entirely in red, it is as much as a people-watching locale as a be-seen destination. The last time we were there, Bono was having lunch in a corner booth, with a straw hat and dark sunglasses barely concealing his identity. When you’re short on time, in a hurry or just plain hungry in Gustavia, Bar de L’Oubli is just steps away from any part of the small city.
Down the block and around the corner was Black Ginger, a local Thai restaurant that we always enjoy. We stopped by to make a 10 p.m. reservation. “No problem,” the host said, “We’ll see you later.”
Black Ginger was winding down when we walked in just before our reservation slot. The few tables still seated were several bottles of wine into the evening – everyone was having a good time. The crowd at Black Ginger was decidedly a mix of local residents and international guests. Wildly oversized, hanging lanterns lit an otherwise all-black interior as we slipped into a corner booth. We ordered Green Papaya and Mango Salad, The Crying Tiger and Red Chicken Curry. Delicious and efficient.
By Saturday morning, the ladies at La Petite Colombe greeted me by name, starting my coffee-to-go order without asking. A few pastries and coffee in hand, I sped back to Villa Black Pearl because we had a relaxing beach day planned. Our first stop was at Governor’s Beach, a smaller sand beach that seemed a little crowded to us, so we went on to La Saline, an expansive stretch of sand that meets perfect blue water where yachts dock off-shore in the distance, shuttling their guests back and forth.
By about 5 p.m., the sun was setting and we had enough sun. It was back to the villa to change because that evening, we had a reservation for a tasting menu at La Guerite. Currently situated across the port at La Pointe from most of the city’s activity, its owners are planning to relocate to a beach-front location that will be more on brand with its Cannes location. At La Guerite, the chef is Greek and that influence is reflected ever-so delicately in the menu. Chef Yiannis Kioroglou’s dishes are healthy, carefully crafted and beautifully presented.
We were warmly welcomed into La Guerite about 20 minutes late for our reservation and seated in the dining salon between two large tables near the DJ. The music that evening set the mood for the entire experience and several times, one of us held up our phones with Shazam open to identify the song and artist, which led us to discover Yann Muller. The DJ played his mixes, remixes and covers frequently that evening and I will never hear “Malibu” by Yann Muller without being transported back to La Guerite again.
The dinner service turns into a party around midnight and often goes until 2 a.m. The large tables around us were in celebratory mode, befitting the Saturday evening hour and atmosphere.
Spending the day at Shellona sounded like a good idea to us, so a quick phone call secured us a table for three for lunch and beach chairs. The food at Shellona is Mediterranean-inspired and, like at Bagatelle and La Guerite, it was a tasting menu from the kitchen. Shellona, situated on Shell Beach, just minutes from downtown Gustavia, shares an executive chef with La Guerite, where we’d dined the night prior. Similar Greek influences permeated the menu much to our delight. Plate followed plate until we finally begged for a break and submerged ourselves in the warm Caribbean waters, floating on the currents until the salt water on our lips urged us back to shore for rehydration.
One last dinner awaited us that night at Eden Rock, where we hadn’t been since before Hurricane Irma, which unleashed its fury on the renowned property. In 2019, when we last visited, Eden Rock hadn’t been re-opened yet, so we were ready to experience it again. It did not disappoint. Re-appointed from head to toe and absolutely stunning in every aspect, Eden Rock stands out in its class of luxury hotels and restaurants. We enjoyed every interaction with staff, every bit of culinary perfection and hand-crafted beverages.
The cuisine at Eden Rock is masterminded by world-famous Master Chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten who exemplified a stellar career from Michelin-starred kitchens and restaurants in NYC to Tokyo and Executive Chef Maxime and his kitchen have made the Sand Bar the culinary heart of the hotel. We opted for a few signature sand classics: truffled pizza with crispy salmon, egg toast caviar with herbs, seared fois gras, baked brie, local mahi mahi and poached lobster. It was an extraordinary sensory experience to be repeated.
As the day drew to an end, so did our time in St-Barths – all-too soon. It was time to pack and prepare to meet fly home. On Monday morning, we met our Cloud9 Jet on the runway of the airport. Forty-five minutes later, we touched down in San Juan in the private jet terminal at SJU. The Cloud9 Jet shuttle service whisked us to the American Airlines First Class check-in counter and we began the journey home, with memories fresh in our minds, and our phones full of photos.
by Josh Jakobitz Editor Polo Lifestyles 2023