R and R on the Caye

This was the last stop on our trip to Central America - a time to relax but also to check out the locals

Hidden no more

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by MichaelJM on March 7, 2013

I’d seen signs to The Hidden Treasure Restaurant when we’d cycled to San Pedro (see separate review) and wondered if it was worth eating there, so when I heard a couple booking a table at our hotel’s reception I asked what it was like. The receptionist said it was a very good place to eat so after a discussion with our friends and his quick check on the internet, we decided to book for our last night. The restaurant arranges transfer from and to your hotel so there’s no fuss about getting taxis arranged.

As promised arrangements for transporting us to the restaurant were in place and at 7.15 we were sat in the "extended golf buggy" and heading off for Hidden Treasure. After a few minutes the buggy turned off the main road and we were rocked about as we headed down the bumpy, dusty track to the restaurant. I was just about wondering what "delights" were in store for us when the buggy pulled up outside of the restaurant. It looked great and I immediately felt reassured that my choice of restaurant on our last night in Central America was looking like a good one.

A waitress welcomed us as we clambered out of the buggy and led us across a large open courtyard to the open air restaurant. Hidden Treasure is probably best described as a large raised outside decking under a thatched roof. It actually looks much better than that description and the subtle lighting gives it a great feel. We were shown to our table and given the drinks menu to ponder upon whilst our waitress was "allocated" to us by the "meeter-greeter".

We went for a variety of pre-dinner drinks (a couple of us for the Rum Punch, white wine and a Martini Cocktail. Perhaps the most interesting was the Martini which was served in a conical shaped glass placed inside a glass bowl filled with ice. It made the rest of look on in envy as my wife lifted the Martini Glass for her first sip. Now that cocktail looked the business and its taste, I’m assured, measured up to expectations.

We decided to share a starter and chose Shrimps in a coconut batter with me opting for Blackened snapper with coconut rice and assorted vegetables. I know both contained coconut, but it is a strong theme in Belizean cookery and I am a fan of the taste. The starter looked superb and I can confirm that the taste buds were not disappointed. I guess that my only disappointment was that I’d opted to share. I certainly could have eaten a whole one.

My main course was also easy on the eye and soon I was tucking in to delightfully cooked fish with a hint of spice. The meal was freshly cooked and still a nice temperature when the plate reached the table. The delicate flavours of the fish were accompanied by some of the best coconut rice that I’ve ever eaten and even the vegetables, which were undercooked by my normal expectations, were a perfect accompaniment. Overall it was a "belter" of a main course and I fully enjoyed it with just enough room left for a pudding.

To complete the coconut trio I had coconut cream pie with a meringue topping. I’ve never had so many variants of coconut over the course of a meal before and I’d opted for the pie as a bit of a challenge. I was real pleased that I’d chosen it because although it looked a "substantial piece" when brought to the table it was light, fluffy and very tasty. Another hidden delight.

All the meals had looked really appetising and to confirm how we rated this place there was not a morsel left on any of our plates. There had been loads of "ooohs" and "aaahs" as our taste buds worked overtime dealing with the complexity of the taste of the meals. Hidden Treasure is indeed a treasure and I’d strongly recommend it as a place to eat for a meal out in San Pedro. It deserves not to be hidden and judging by the number of diners its location has been revealed.

If you’re going to try it make sure you reserve a table - I’d hate you to be disappointed.
Hidden Treasure
4088 Sarstoon Street
Belize City, Belize

Eating out at El Patio

Member Rating 3 out of 5 by MichaelJM on March 6, 2013

My wife and I were "charged with the responsibility" to identify a restaurant for this evening. We had "no more idea than flying" (using a popular English expression) but as we wandered around town (see separate review) it became evident that many restaurants were very similar. We stopped outside El Patio and as we checked the menu we were approached by Carlos who was real keen to "introduce us to his menu".

It looked good to me and given that the restaurant would be transformed as evening came - that is a sand covered area with wrought iron looking chairs, simple cushions and basic table cloths - would have "rustic charm. We must have looked interested because Carlos then introduced a business card with the offer of 10% discount or a free Rum Punch. "Just ask for me" he said "and I’ll make sure you have a good night.

The taxi taking us to town must have contacted the restaurant because when we pulled up outside a waiter was waiting there to greet us and lead us in to the restaurant. A real nice touch! He led us right through the almost empty restaurant to a large table next to a music speaker. Initially I through that could have been a bad move but the piped music was not loud and wasn’t therefore intrusive. Our waiter again stressed that he "would be there for us for the rest of the evening" and as he brought the menu to the table, reiterated his mantra for the night and then asked used if we wanted the rum punch or meal discount. We all decided to go for the Rum Punch although when it arrived I have to say that it was distinctly light on the Rum. However, it was very refreshing and it was free!

My wife and I went for a shared starter of chicken stuffed Jalapenos. There were four of them with a very tasty dipping sauce - deep fried with just the right level of heat. They were real delicious and the waiter, once again repeating his mantra, assured us that these were the chef’s speciality and were hard to better anywhere else on the Caye.

Now the starter had been a brave choice as I was just getting over an upset digestive system (no side effects were suffered as a result of this choice) and I had opted for the Steak with French fries and salad as my main course. I just fancied something plain and simple. However, plain and simple is not really in the Belizean dictionary and my main course arrived smothered in a thick dressing on both the steak and salad. I sighed to myself and started to tuck in to the steak. Well it was excellent and the dressing was not as overpowering as it looked. It was cooked medium rare, as I had requested, and my only complaint would have been that it was a little on the cool side. I guess it had been waiting for the other three dishes before being brought to the table. Do I complain? I decided not too as despite it only just been warm it was delicious.

The restaurant never really got busy whilst we were there and at one point there were more people clustered around the bar then there were at the table. So because the restaurant was "thin on the ground" with customers it lacked a bit of ambiance but none of us complained about the quality of the food.
It was interesting that as soon as the waiter had given us the bill and received his tip he was nowhere to be seen. Perhaps his mantra that he "would be there for us for the rest of the evening" only extended to the point that he had "signed off" the bill!

We decided that we would walk the 200 yards to the airport where we knew that we could pick up a taxi. It was, after all a very pleasant evening. On reaching the airport there were no taxis waiting but within seconds one arrived and stopped for us. He’d already got a couple in his vehicle, but they happily moved further back to allow the four of us in. It seems to be normal for people to double up in Belizean taxis and of course the driver is happy to accept both fares for the journey.

All in all, our trip to El Patio was a pleasant experience. It’s a rustic experience and the food is no nonsense. No high cuisine but acceptable and well cooked and the cost will put it in the mid-price range.
El Patio
San Pedro
Ambergris Caye, Belize

A quick snack

Member Rating 2 out of 5 by MichaelJM on March 5, 2013

I am not writing about Micky’s Place because of its high cuisine, its creative interior design or its stylish setting. It’s in this journal because we were just craving basic food served in a nice clean, not clinical, setting.

Micky’s place was down a very short entrance alley way off one of the main streets and it looked like it would satisfy our dietary needs

There was an uneasy mix of interior design, I use that term loosely, with classic Chinese restaurant regalia mixed with splashes of Afro-Caribbean. Some might say eclectic furnishings! Red fabric roses were displayed on each table with small plastic teddy bears hanging on to the stems. Not sure what that was about but I guess it was a source of amusement.

We saw Cheese burger and French fries on the menu and decided that would do nicely. The serving lady was soon taking our order (well they were hardly that busy) and looked a little surprised when we suggested that we wanted to share. However, they look of surprise was only momentary as she headed off to the kitchen to place our order. Our "coffee" was served fairly quickly and I was just relieved that we’d also been served iced water. The coffee was awful and despite our best efforts we couldn’t face finishing it off. Perhaps the cost of 2 Belizean dollars should have given us a clue as to the quality especially when the serving was a large mug of the stuff.

The burger was slow in coming but a faint ringing heralded its arrival as our server moved ponderously slow towards the serving bar. When it arrived, accompanied by a huge serving of fries, we were pleased that we’d opted to share. It was absolutely delicious and it was a strain to fit the burger into our mouths. In the end we used knife and fork to eat with. Tasty and very satisfying!

Another table with 4 diners seemed to be tucking into huge platefuls of food and they also seemed happy with the food quality.

This isn’t the place to go for an evening dinner but as snack places go it was perfectly acceptable. But don’t bother with the coffee!
Micky's Place
Pescador Drive, San Pedro
Ambergris Caye, Belize

Our final few nights in Belize

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by MichaelJM on March 3, 2013

Victoria House was our last stop on our visit to Guatemala and Belize and we’d purposely decided on it to give us a bit of R&R before making the journey back home. The whole trip had been pretty busy and we were all ready to chill out and enjoy a greater degree of luxury than we’d experienced in the jungle lodges. My wife was just wanting to get her hands on a hairdryer and our friends were looking forward to resuming "normal service" on their internet devices. Me, well I was looking forward to getting over my digestive tract problem, resuming my love of food and taking to some snorkelling (see other review).

We’d been picked up at the small mid-town airport by our agency and soon found ourselves outside the lobby at Victoria House. Somehow it wasn’t quite as grand as I’d imagined it to be, but that apart the reception we received could not have been better. The air-conditioned reception was small and intimate and we soon found ourselves completing the required booking-in form. A cold welcome drink was handed to us and then we were taken to our rooms. We were in garden superior rooms, because as you would expect we had a room overlooking the garden. We could also see the sea from our window. The room was nicely chilled with real efficient air conditioning and a central fan to help with the air circulation. A small sitting area and a roomy, comfortable King Sized Bed with more than enough soft and squidgy pillows. The room was well lit, a real plus after our jungle lodge experiences, had a decent sized safe and plenty of clothes storage space. The latter was good news because this was the time that our cases would be fully emptied to be repacked for the journey home.

There were mosquito nets hanging around the bed giving it a four-poster appearance and when I asked if we would have a need to use them the member of staff smiled and said "not at all, the netting is just for appearance, to make it pretty." On the bed was a small box with two chocolates and a personalised note welcoming us to Victoria House and offering us a free drink (Rum Punch, Beer or wine) during our stay. A nice touch!

The bathroom was perhaps the roomiest we’ve had all holiday and it was well stocked with good quality, soap, shower gel, shampoo and body lotion. Nice big towels and a bath robe completed the presentation. Disappointingly we notice cracked tiles and poor grouting in the bath room, just taking the edge off what should have been a show room.

The view from the shared veranda was super and from here were able to see woodpeckers pecking, humming birds humming, Baltimore Oriels showing off their bright orange plumage, cormorants drying their wings on the shore line and pelicans plunging in to the sea. A great view and for most of the time it was very peaceful and relaxing. I say for most of the time because this block of accommodation was on the first floor above reception and the dining room. The more expensive rooms were further away (some even had access to a private pool) and are we assume faultlessly extravagant.

The grounds are superb for sitting in and just relaxing watching the sea and the activity on the water’s edge. Occasionally a hawker would pass by offering woven craft work but a simple no thanks kept them moving. They certainly didn’t bother us. If you fancy cycling or canoing you can hire these for free. We'd made use of the cycles to get to San pedro (see separate review).

Victoria House is apparently one of the top places to eat on the Caye and. Unfortunately I was just in "recovery mode" so didn’t do it justice. I had a starter of fish cakes in a gently spiced sauce and they were terrific as was the ice cream that accompanied my cookie dessert. Everyone else had a main course and they looked delightful. Empty plates returned to the kitchen is perhaps the biggest accolade! Service was impeccable and the prices not off the wall, although, in hindsight they’re probably twice what you pay anywhere else in the region.

As part of our "deal" we had a continental breakfast – basically it was tea or coffee, fruit juice, a fruit plate, toast and muffins. You can’t go far wrong with that combination but once again the service was spot on.
Overall we had a good and relaxing stay at Victoria House and it nicely rounded off our Central American Experience.
Victoria House Resort

Ambergris Caye, Belize

a town worth a wander?

Member Rating 3 out of 5 by MichaelJM on March 1, 2013

We made use of the free transport provide by Victoria House and cycled our way into the small village of San Pedro. I’m not sure quite what I was expecting but as the words of the cab driver who took us from the airport to Victoria House resonated in my mind I found a certain incompatibility. He had welcomed us "to Paradise". Is paradise a littered highway? Do people live in roughshod accommodation? But then the sight of beautifully coloured birds and smiling faces...

From Victoria House it’s about two miles to the end of town and as the road is flat all the way it was a fairly leisurely ride. Every so often we had to take defensive action against the wave of golf buggies creeping up behind or surging towards us. These are the favoured form of transport for tourists on Ambergris Caye and we were told that were literally thousands on the island. Certainly it seemed, on some stretches, that thousands were heading towards us and we then decided to follow the example of other tourists and cycle on the pavement. That was much less risky as it seemed that pedestrians, the few that there were, preferred to walk on the road. What a topsy-turvy world!

On the road to the airport we saw many birds, mainly a tiny yellow seed eating bird and a bright orange and black one (sorry I’m not an ornithologist) and we made several "emergency stops" to try and capture them on film (with varying success). After passing the main Tropic Air airport we headed to town "proper" and at the corner, of what we presumed was front street, we padlocked the bikes together at the side of a ramp down to the sea. We’d been told that we could leave them anywhere and if they were linked together no-one would take them. To be sure we used both padlocks front and back to ensure that they were well and truly hitched. Security sorted we headed off along front street with a plan to meander back along Middle Street and then up to Back Street all running parallel with the coast line. That would comprehensively cover the town!

There were many brightly coloured two-storey shacks (every so often a three storey place would seem like a sky scraper) as we made our way along the main street. Several had washing lines strung across them and unfortunate piles of litter down the side alleyways. Soon we obliterated the litter from our sensors and took in the ambiance of the place. Small market traders, one with a pet racoon, tried to interest us in their wares but none were persistent or aggressive in their demands. Most were claiming that the wooden bowls on display were personally made by them, but my natural scepticism ruled that out as a possibility (maybe I’m wrong).

We stopped off to check out the Catholic Church close to the town centre which was marked with a clock tower and electronic display (a real contrast to the rest of town) and were genuinely surprised at how large a building it was inside. It’s made out of breeze blocks and transparent bricks (the sort that seemed to have a popularity back in the 70’s as shower walls) but a large and impressive stained glass window dominates. Clearly it’s not a patch, architecturally speaking, on its older counterparts, but it just shows what can be done with modern building material.

We were surprised when we saw a flash of green in front of us and a parrot landed in a yard in front of us. This was obviously one of his normal haunts because he strutted around quite contentedly and ignored the growing group around us taking photographs.

Whilst in town check out the street names - some are quite elaborate - and the messages around the town. These include "no loitering, no drugs, no weapons, no fighting, no bicycles"; "keep the street neat"; and a memory back to hippy days "trash goes in the can, man". Perhaps you’ll see others!

San Pedro is an interesting place to visit (if you’re on the Caye) with a great mix of locals and and real nice feel to it. If you ignore the litter and the golf buggies it’s quite an endearing place and on Saturdays the town is full of traders bar-b-Qing food for visitors and locals..


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