Golden Spoons Review: Cracked Conch

| 29/06/2018

CNS Local Life(CNS Foodie): I’ve had the pleasure of dining at Cracked Conch’s various locations over the years, experiencing the evolution of its ambience and menu. I can’t ever recall being disappointed. It has certainly come into its own, enjoying what now seems to be its forever home at the very tip of the island’s northwestern point, overlooking the Caribbean Sea.

My companion and I arrived without a reservation on a midweek night, expecting it to be relatively quiet and slow. We were ushered to the mid-level, outdoor deck by a very friendly and charismatic gentleman. I think he may have been the bartender, but everyone seemed to jump to fill in where needed throughout the evening, so it was difficult to assign titles.

It was a cool night and the surf was gently beating against the ironshore below, creating quite the romantic atmosphere for diners. We were seated closer to the main restaurant as the seaside seating was “available to persons with reservations” on a first-come-first-served basis, which was completely understandable. Our host was able to place us at a table that, although quite removed from the front row, had an ample view.

We were greeted by our server, who shared his colleague’s jovial and playful demeanor. We settled into the menu as our server recited the specials.

But first, to the drinks. I decided to try the house special: the Cracked Conch rum punch ($10), which boasted a generous mix of Abuelo, Captain Morgan’s and Myer’s rums, guava, passion fruit, orange and pineapple juices and spices. It arrived in a hurricane glass; a cloudy storm of pinks and oranges that proved thirst-quenching and delicious. My companion ordered a decidedly simpler bottle of beer ($4.80).

The complimentary bread basket is always a tell-tale for me, an opening indicator of how the restaurant treats food and what it considers relevant to the dining experience. These offerings can range from merely a hunger-abating placeholder to a harbinger of good things to come. Cracked Conch most definitely fits the latter description. A simple basket of dough paid homage to the island’s heritage with a mix of Johnny cakes and homemade pumpkin bread. Both were fresh and hot, served with a pat of butter that just melted on contact.

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Conch ceviche

Our orders were quickly taken (and enthusiastically approved) by our server. I chose to start with another house specialty, Cracked Conch ($13) with pickled fennel and curried tartar sauce. A very generous portion of conch was served in slices, lightly fried and most tender. The tartar sauce was the perfect condiment, with only the slightest hint of curry, and the pickled fennel surprised my taste buds. The sweet tartness of the fennel paired very well with the savoury conch and dipping sauce.

My dining companion chose conch ceviche ($14), served with a bright and tasty array of tomato, red onion, avocado, lime juice, cucumber water and cilantro. Substantially portioned, the conch was fresh and the dish was bursting with flavour. I barely got my fork in for a taste before it was all gobbled up.

Our mains arrived soon after we surrendered our (very empty) appetizer dishes. I was immediately drawn to the special ($34) which featured Maine clams, wahoo and Patagonia shrimp on a bed of saffron tomato-based risotto. I am a risotto/shrimp addict, so have been around the block a time or two with this particular dish in its various forms. The Cracked Conch’s version was most certainly a five-star experience for me.  Creamy, tasty, crammed with a healthy serving of meats; it met my expectations in all the right ways.

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Seafood risotto

My date chose the catch of the day, tuna ($36), with smoked mashed potato, crispy mushrooms and salsa verde. Considering himself an expert on all things fresh fish-related, he approached the dish sceptically. Many restaurants attempt to pass off frozen fish as fresh, and “catch of the day” isn’t always brought from sea to table as quickly as they’d have you believe. Often, his dining experience is ruined by the expectation that a dish is advertised as fresh and local when it’s not. That was not the case on this night.

His tuna was seared to perfection, full of flavour and as fresh as you please. He opted for medium and enjoyed every morsel between bites of (a very interesting) smoked mashed potato and (uninteresting) crispy mushrooms. He was not a fan of the latter, leaving most behind, but cleared everything else on his plate. The dish could have been enhanced with a heartier vegetable side, as the mushrooms seemed to serve more as a garnish than a main player. The salsa verde was a lovely fresh addition to the fish, as a dipping condiment.

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Guava glazed bread and butter pudding

Stuffed and happy, we still decided that we had to try dessert. There were so many tempting choices, but I ultimately decided on the guava glazed bread and butter pudding ($10) with homemade guava ice cream and a slice of caramelised orange. It was not my favourite, unfortunately, as the textures were confusing and the flavour not quite in line with my past experiences with this dessert. Served in something reminiscent of a toy Lego block, the top layer was quite hard and crispy, resting on a much more pliable and mushy bottom layer that reminded me of flan. Attempts to cut through with my fork forced the bottom layer to expand outwards, making it a bit messy and awkward to scoop up. The drizzle of guava glaze was very tasty, however, as was the scoop of ice cream, which I devoured. But did not finish the dish, leaving about two ‘Lego blocks’ uneaten.

My significant other chose the safe option of the homemade ice cream ($8), served as three scoops of your choice from a lengthy list of flavours. He selected the guava, vanilla and hazelnut and was very satisfied. Three perfectly rounded balls proved an ample serving.  Homemade and natural tasting, but not too sweet, each had a very strong, rich flavour and did not get the chance to melt.

Forks and spoons down, we surveyed the damage and determined it was a night well spent at a beloved local establishment. We enjoyed our midweek dining excursion, but recommend reservations to take in the full ‘under the stars, on the edge of the water’ experience.

The total bill was $149.27, with 15% gratuity included.

Cracked Conch website

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Category: Dinner, Golden Spoons Review

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