A trip to the Seychelles isn’t complete without a taste of authentic Creole cuisine at this most unusual of eateries — the Marie Antoinette, billed as the oldest restaurant on the islands. It has been open for over 50 years, becoming an institution of sorts in this Indian Ocean archipelago.
Situated in Victoria (the capital, on Mahé Island), the 100-year-old colonial building with its emblematic red roof, white window shutters, and warren-like series of rooms was once home to the explorer David Livingstone and has been designated a historical monument. It is here that Kathleen Fonseka first opened her restaurant’s doors in 1972, launching what would become her signature Creole menu.
Half a century later and the restaurant is now in the hands of Fonseka’s granddaughter Jessica. While adding some modern touches to the historic space, she has kept the menu relatively unchanged, serving up a taste of authentic island flavours through her grandmother’s beloved (and coveted) recipes. The Creole cuisine of the Seychelles draws on the flavours of Asia, Africa, and France, along with local tropical ingredients and the plethora of fresh seafood available, to create a unique culinary identity.
The best way to experience this, according to the chef and owner, is through the restaurant’s signature board — a multi-dish sharing menu designed to be enjoyed by everyone at the table. It’s what the restaurant first opened with and is still their most popular offering.
As I enter the wood-panelled dining room at the Marie Antoinette, a jazzy take on Cher’s Strong Enough comes from speakers in the bar. To my left, the wall is plastered with business cards, ticket stubs, family portraits, and bank notes — a visual history of the thousands of tourists who have passed through the eatery — while out back a creep of Aldabra giant tortoises laze about their enclosure.
Running 11 dishes long, the menu offers up an array of Seychellois staples and delicacies. With crispy fritters of eggplant and parrot fish served with a fresh mango salad, a creamy and flavourful chicken curry with local fruit chutneys, freshly crushed chillies, and bowls heaped with rice, it is an absolute feast. The seafood is obviously not to be missed either, with the tuna steaks and Creole salsa and the grilled fish of the day both worth a mention. The same goes for the fragrant prawn curry — a sterling addition to the standard board. Rum-soaked cooked banana, served with a simple vanilla ice cream, brings the meal to a close.
It’s a fabulous experience, far removed from the polished yet somewhat generic feel of resort dining. This, after all, was Fonseka’s intention — offering locals and tourists alike the opportunity to indulge in traditional Creole cuisine, experiencing the real flavours, tastes, and ingredients of the island and its unique culture.
Under the guidance of the third-generation owners, the Marie Antoinette remains one of the few places on the island where visitors can experience authentic Creole gastronomy — along with jazzy Cher covers and giant tortoises to boot.
• From the February edition of Wanted, 2024.