Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Iberostar in Jamaica: Where all inclusive meets portion control

An impressive display of ahi tuna, large Caribbean lobsters, beef and lamb at the Galleon Surf & Turf Grill & Steak House, one of four specialty restaurants inside the all-inclusive Iberostar Grand Hotel Rose Hall in Montego Bay, Jamaica.
My entree of Surf & Surf included portions of smaller lobster tails, above, after the waiter at the 5-star hotel deflected my request for one of the big tails from the magnificent crustaceans on ice near the entrance. I asked for the thick tuna steak cooked medium rare, and it came out perfect.


I ate plenty of succulent Caribbean  lobster, enjoyed many rich European cheeses and drank as much Jamaican rum and Spanish wine as I desired.

But my three-night stay at the highly rated Iberostar Grand Hotel Rose Hall in Montego Bay, Jamaica, turned out to be "all inclusive" with a number of important exceptions.

The 5-star resort from the huge Spanish hotel company offers two buffets and four specialty restaurants that serve limited menus offering guests three-course meals: 

Kiniro Japanese Restaurant, Es Palau Gourmet Restaurant, Galleon Surf & Turf Grill & Steak House and La Toscana Italian Restaurant.

At Kiniro, only farmed salmon and "red" tuna were available as sashimi, not the fresh local fish I had hoped for, and Japanese beer wasn't served.

In the Gourmet Restaurant, which serves classic French dishes, premium wines displayed near the entrance were available only at extra cost, and the menu listed no salads.

Fruit and wine

We arrived last Thursday afternoon too late to eat lunch, but were delighted to see a fruit plate and bottle of wine waiting for us on a table in our spacious oceanfront suite.

Unfortunately, there was little Jamaican fruit on the plate, and no way to open the bottle of inexpensive Spanish red wine.

I asked our butler for a corkscrew, but the bottle sat on the table unopened until we left on Sunday, and wasn't worth taking home.

Italian or Japanese?

Given all the Italian-American restaurants in northern New Jersey, where we live, I decided to try the Japanese restaurant on the our first night at the resort.

I planned to order slices of fresh local fish -- like those I saw at a roadside market only a few miles from the hotel -- content in knowing my wife, who doesn't eat fish raw, could enjoy grilled and other cooked food.

But only pale farmed salmon and tuna were available as sashimi, and the slices were unusually thin.

I ordered warm sake and Japanese beer, only to be told the latter wasn't available, another disappointment.

The following night we ate at the Surf & Turf Grill and on our last night, we had our best dinner at the Gourmet Restaurant, smallest of the four, overlooking the extra charge for premium wines.

I bought my vacation from Costco Wholesale.

At Kiniro Japanese Restaurant, slices of pale raw salmon were the thinnest I have ever seen, above, and the cooked eel sushi had been prepared ahead of time and refrigerated. The rice was still cold when served.
This thin sashimi was described as "Red Tuna Fish" on the menu, which had a number of misspellings. Often, plating of food was haphazard and very un-Japanese.
A serving of shrimp and vegetable tempura was disappointing. Inedible fried noodles came with the tempura.
My entree was unadorned grilled lobster and shrimp, with a side order of grilled vegetables on another plate. The restaurant also served beautifully tender lobster skewered or gently poached in fruit sauce, such as the appetizer below served on a cucumber slice. I asked for seconds.

In the Japanese Restaurant, this chef, who called himself "Egg Foo Young," entertained guests seated around a grill with his skill at balancing and juggling an egg, a bowl of rice and other items on his two spatulas. Here, he was scrambling eggs for fried rice.

Origin of food a mystery

There is no information on menus or signs in the hotel's buffet restaurants on whether fish, meat, poultry, eggs and produce are local or imported.

If you ask, you might find that a juice served at breakfast wasn't squeezed from Jamaican oranges.

French Brie and Spanish Manchego were served, but I never saw Italian Parmigiano Reggiano, which is sometimes referred to as the "King of Cheeses."

I loved the brie and cheddar offered for
dessert in the Gourmet Restaurant, but they should have been served with crusty bread, not crackers.

My wife's Surf & Turf included a small lobster tail and "beef fillet."
A green salad is one of the side orders available in Galleon Surf & Turf Grill.
As an appetizer, sea scallops were offered au gratin with a "ham-and-bread crust," but when I told the waiter I don't eat meat and didn't want a creamy cheese sauce, I got these juicy breaded scallops with diced tomatoes.
At Galleon Surf & Turf Grill and other restaurants, guests can drink as much inexpensive Spanish Tempranillo, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon as they can hold.
Despite the scarcity of local fish at the Iberostar Grand Hotel Rose Hall, this painting in the Surf & Turf Grill offers guests a glimpse of how Jamaicans routinely look to the Caribbean Sea for fresh food.

Part of the menu at Galleon Surf & Turf Grill & Steak House.
A gift from the chef at Iberostar's Es Palau Gourmet Restaurant: Blue cheese and apple puree in puff pastry.
The dining room of Es Palau Gourmet Restaurant.

Perfect fish and more

At the Es Palau Gourmet Restaurant on Saturday night, we found out that "all inclusive" could mean more than smaller portions of the food we wanted to eat.

As we waited to be seated, I looked over several bottles of premium wine from France and California displayed near the entrance.

At our table, I asked the hostess if the restaurant had a list of those wines, and she said it did, but they were not part of the all-inclusive plan.

Still, the restaurant served our most satisfying dinner -- perfectly cooked European fish fillets and desserts of rich cheeses, dried fruit and almonds.

At my request, Hake Fillet Stuffed with Prawns in a Champagne Sauce was steamed without butter or cream, and served with crunchy vegetables. Though the portion was small, I was impressed with the fresh, clean flavors. 
My wife really loved her Sea Bass Cooked En Papillote atop Gratin Potatoes.
My wife is not a big fan of smoked fish, but she enjoyed this appetizer of Smoked Salmon Toasts Glazed with Hollandaise Sauce.
My choice to start the meal was Bouillabaisse with a Shellfish and Tomato Broth.
The brie, one of two cheeses in my dessert, was creamy and full of flavor, but I didn't go near the inauthentic crackers served with them.
My wife, who didn't have room for one of the traditional desserts, asked for almonds.
After dinner, I enjoyed Remy Martin Cognac VSOP and two espresso coffees in the hotel bar.

More on my Costco vacation


  1. hi,
    I would love to try and make that shrimp salad you have pictured above. Do you recall how it was prepared: Was it basically chopped shrimp, mayo, cubes of provolone, and Parmesan cheese? Thanks. Your photos of food always make me hungry!

    1. Yes. That sounds right. The salad was served only once while I was there. Of course, you could also add finely diced celery for crunch, though it was delicious without it.

  2. Hi Dear,

    i like your blog very much. its a very usefull for me...

    you can enjoy Montego bay shore excursions tours.

    If you are looking for ricks café negril, dunn's river falls and appleton black river in jamaica with affrodable price. You can also booking montego bay hotels online at funtoursjamaica.com

  3. Thanks. I recently saw an article recommending two other waterfalls in Jamaica, Reach Falls in Portland Parish and Mayfield Falls, said to be an hour from Montego Bay.


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