Catherine’s Café Plage, Antigua

French Caribbean cuisine with polish and pluck

Catherine’s Café in Antigua tacked a “Plage” onto its name a couple of years ago, which was logical enough, given that it moved from the waterfront deck of English Harbour to a beach.

The French-Caribbean restaurant new sits at the end of Pigeon Point Beach. Perhaps you’ll arrive via sea or sand, in which case you will walk in through the view – a slightly soporific sandy garden of spindly-trunked neem trees, behind which lies the turquoise neck of Falmouth Harbour and the Antiguan hills.

I arrive early for lunch. The dining room is open on all sides – typical of indoor-outdoor tropical life – just a line of angled louvred shutters and criss-cross balustrades mark the “wall”. It’s calm as I settle to the sound of a wistful take on Gregory Isaac’s Night Nurse – making the setting a small moment of Caribbean perfection. I take a ti’punch (EC$18, about £4.50), a French Caribbean aperitif of sugar, white rum and lime squeezed within a micron of destruction. As the tables fill and the chatter reflecting from the pitched ceiling lifts the tempo, it becomes clear that lunch at Catherine’s Café Plage is anything but soporific.

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A hefty menu board arrives and is balanced on the chair next door to me. Lots of cocktails and a good-looking light lunch. I start with a gazpacho (about £9) with a difference. A quick chat with the owner – not actually the Catherine of the name, rather Claudine – explains that local tomatoes are not always available, and imported ones have very little taste, so they decided to make their gazpacho from local fruits. They purée melon and mango, add some oil and lime as a base and then season it.

Against the scene of tropical greens – the gazpacho and the neem trees – Catherine’s Café feels gentle if polished; grey parasols stand against mid-brown woods and raked blond sand. It’s not Caribbean authentic, exactly ­– you should go to the beaches in the southwest of Antigua for rickety beach bars with a sunset view – but it does offer a tuna ceviche (about £12) in a small tower topped with passionfruit juice, tomato and chopped chive, and, in my case, a warm lobster-salad sandwich (about £16). Enjoying this turns out to be a little unruly, albeit delicious. White puffs of lobster tail roll out left and right as I try to transfer the sandwich to my mouth, but hey, lobster is one of the Caribbean’s key offerings and it tastes very good.

As lunch is light, there’s no need to crawl to a lounger and remain prostrate. Instead, I settle back to watch the view, where figures waft over the sand and the semi-clad yachts (well, without their sails) slide by in the background, headed for the open sea.

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