One of my favourite food memories is eating a chocolate fondant (more often called a molten chocolate lava cake) for the first time. A friend of my mom’s brought me one, and from the first bite it was like I’d died and gone to heaven. It had slightly crisp edges, a super soft interior, and a middle of melty chocolate goodness. In the years following I’d try many different molten chocolate cakes, but none would ever compare to that first one from Brasserie. Because of how strong that memory is for me, I knew that I wanted Brasserie to be one of the restaurants I reviewed while visiting Cayman this summer. Being vegan, I knew it would be a challenge, but I decided to put my faith in the chef and try their tasting menu.
The description drew me in right away: “Have Chef Niven prepare a 5 or 8 course tasting menu from items fresh from the garden, the Brasserie Catch, and our ever-changing a la carte menu. This will be a blind menu, all that is required from you is an open mind and a passion for food.” Having both of these things, I decided I needed to give the tasting menu a try. I went with three other people (two omnivores and a vegetarian) and we chose to do the 5 course tasting menu. Usually Chef Niven prepares the same meal for everyone in the group, but because of the diverse diets, he prepared vegan meals for the vegetarian and I and separate meals for the omnivores.
Note: Sorry in advance for the not awesome pictures. The lighting in the restaurant wasn’t the best for picture taking, and sometimes my flash was less than helpful! Onto the review!
Even though it’s been a few years since I’ve been to Brasserie, the atmosphere is exactly as I remember it. The restaurant is a little dark, but inviting and beautiful as ever. We’re seated in the back corner, and get an amazing view of their wine collection. To drink, I go for a garden rosemary, ginger, and vanilla soda. The flavours aren’t very strong, but it’s still a nice way to start the night.
Before the tasting menu even begins, we receive small “pre-appetizers” as I like to think of them: crostini with mushy peas and crispy onion. The concept of “mushy peas” has never appealed to me, but this dish makes me change my mind. It’s light, fresh, and the mix of different textures works perfectly together. It definitely sets my expectations high for the rest of the meal.
The first official course is Rasam, an Indian spiced tomato based soup with local long beans, Israeli couscous, bok choy, corn, and cilantro. It’s spicy and warm and incredibly delicious. The long beans and corn are still crisp, and the couscous have absorbed the broth really well, making them extremely flavorful.
The next course is a watermelon arugula salad with balsamic vinegar, Kalamata olives, tomato, roasted yellow pepper, golden beets, and red beet purée. Watermelon tomato salad is actually one of my favorites, so I’m very excited to try this dish - and it doesn’t disappoint! I hadn’t had a variation of a watermelon tomato salad with any sort of greens, but I really like the addition of arugula. The beets are an unexpected touch, but work very well in the salad.
Next, we’re served beluga lentils, local long beans, garden carrots, broccolini, and pickled eggplant. When I see the eggplant I shudder a little, because in the past it’s always been one of my least favourite things to eat. Somehow Chef Niven manages to turn a food that I usually wish wasn’t there to one of my favourite things on the plate. The pickling process changes the eggplant completely, and the tanginess really rounds out the dish. The lentils are seasoned perfectly as well, and the vegetables are cooked so that they’re just tender and not too crunchy or overcooked.
Chef Niven’s take on a veggie burger slider is served next, with a patty made of black beans, potatoes, corn, and carrots on a toasted sourdough bun, topped with portobello mushroom and caramelized onion. On the side is a watercress salad dressed with citrus, a swipe of Cayman pepper jelly, and roasted potatoes. If I could get a full size version of this burger at a fast food place, I would actually go into one again. The outside of the burger is crisp without the inside becoming dry, and the mushroom and caramelized onion make the perfect topping. The pepper jelly is amazing with all of the components of the dish, but especially the salad. The roast potatoes are a little too crisp for me, but still tasty.
For dessert, I receive a mango slushie, mango with cinnamon, strawberry blueberry rhubarb compote, and mango puree (it’s mango season in Cayman if you didn’t know!) Everything on the plate is delicious, though I do wish I’d gotten something more than fruit - my dinner mates received mango sorbet, a mini slice of lemon meringue pie, and a small bread pudding. A cake of some sort or a vegan bread pudding would have been very much appreciated. Still, the berry compote is perfect with the cinnamon mangoes, and the slushy is both tasty and adorable.
Overall, the meal is a massive success. The only thing that could have made it better in my mind would be having anything chocolate or cake-like on my dessert plate. Even so, Chef Niven manages to not only create a unique vegan meal, but a delicious five course one at that, which is more than I would usually hope for from any restaurant. I can’t wait for the next time I’m in Cayman to see what he creates next.
The restaurant is closed for August, but make sure to check them out in September if you have a chance! For more information on Brasserie restaurant, check out their Facebook page or website!