Eight Rivers is the signature restaurant at Couples Tower Isle in Jamaica, where I recently stayed. And as you probably know or guessed, "Eight Rivers" is English for Ocho Rios, the Jamaican town where the resort and restaurant is located. As at most all inclusive resorts, you need to make a reservation, and it's best to do this as soon as you arrive since it's first come, first served. As the resort's fine dining restaurant, there's a dress code--men need to wear collared shirts, slacks and closed toe shoes. There's no need to dress too formally though--I wore a casually elegant cotton sundress, and aloha shirts with nice slacks would be fine for men.
When I arrived, I was initially greeted by one of the servers, and the host came over to welcome me and show me to my table. I was given a very comfortable banquettes in a half moon shape, and would request this if possible. The restaurant is romantically and dimly lit, so it's a bit hard to see in my photo, but there are soaring ceilings, and each table has tea light candles and a spray of orchids:
My server introduced herself and offered the menu. I'd already looked at the menu displayed outside the restaurant, but I asked the server for her recommendations for the appetizer and soup. There's no wine list, as the wines are the same ones used throughout the resort, a choice of a Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc for whites, and a Merlot or Cabarnet Sauvignon for red. They're drinkable and the Cab especially is very decent, but I'm guessing retail at no more than $12 or so a bottle.
I was offered various bread rolls, which I declined in order to save room for the meal (plus, ever since Maison Kayser opened in my 'nabe in NYC, I've gotten a lot more picky with the bread I eat!). For the appetizer, I selected Caribbean Crab Cakes, and they arrived quite quickly. They were nicely crusted on the outside and piping hot inside, with plenty of crab in the two small cakes. The crunchy leeks and Asian sweet sour sauce were fine as an accompaniment, although I personally would have preferred a mango or other tropical fruit salsa alongside.
For the soups, it was hard to choose between the Lobster Bisque with Brandy and the Pumpkin & Plantain Cappuccino, but I decided to go with the pumpkin soup, since it came with Jamaican Jerk Sausage. The sausage was in the bowl, and the server poured the hot soup into it tableside, a nice touch. The soup was good, but what really made it was the jerk sausage, which was definitely spicy and complemented the pumpkin very well.
I skipped the Classic Eight Rivers Salad for 2, although I saw the salad cart being wheeled around so that it could be prepared tableside.
A nice touch was a palate cleanser of tropical fruit sorbet. There was a refreshing and distinctly citrusy flavor that I couldn't quite place--it tasted a bit like pomelo.
For the entree, I ordered the Rack of Lamb, which came with a pimento glaze and Lima bean Ragout. I'll confess I wasn't such a fan of the ragout, since I don't particularly care for beans to begin with, but the lamb itself was perfect prepared to just under medium, which I'd requested, and very flavorful with the pimento glaze.
The desserts were classics: chocolate fondue, creme brulee, Bombe Alaska and Crepes Suzette. I decided on Crepes Suzette, and it was an excellent rendition, with warm crepes served with seville orange, a dash of coconut rum, and toasted almond ice cream on the side. My only critique would be that the ice cream was slightly icy, probably from being left out and refrozen, but the flavor was excellent.
I was also very happy that Eight Rivers offers Mighty Leaf Tea for its tea selection, as these are much better than the typical tea bags, with whole leaft tea in a silky pouch. Eight Rivers was out of Moroccan Mint, so I settled on Earl Grey Decaf instead, and asked for milk, which was quickly brought. Once I'd finished it, a friendly server (not mine, but one who was passing by) asked if I'd like more hot water, which I appreciated.
The Verdict: Eight Rivers delivers a true fine dining experience at Couples Tower Isle, with excellent food, professional and friendly service, and a romantic ambience. There are of course limitations--don't expect an amuse bouche or Michelin star level experience, especially as there's no wine list separate from what Couples Tower Isle serves, and the servers are not as well versed in the dishes as at, say, Eleven Madison Park (I asked what was in the tropical fruit sorbet and she couldn't tell me) but the overall experience should delight most guests seeking a more intimate dinner that is still included in their all inclusive pricing. Of course, private dinners at Couples Tower Isle are also available at additional cost.
The Executive Chef for all four Couples Resorts is Stefan Spath, a veteran chef who hails originally from Germany and has been with Couples for 12 years. Here's a brief interview with him:
If you've been to Eight Rivers Restaurant in Jamaica, what was your experience?
Disclosure: I was a guest of Eight Rivers and Couples Resorts, however the views expressed in this post are my own.