I cannot think of a place I have travelled to without it evoking the face of someone I encountered and interacted with, or a passerby I simply noticed. One of these is Vik. One syllable. Easy to pronounce in more than one language. Impossible to forget. His real name is Vikash. “I was working on a cruise ship, and there were a few other Vikashs’. We couldn’t all be Vikash so I shortened it to Vik” he tells me candidly, his eyes focused on the stalks of sugarcane he feeds into a crusher. He looks up. His greenish-brown eyes scan the horizon. “It’s whale season. Lots of mothers with their calves. They’re heading down South.”
He sets down a glass of pressed cane juice with a squeeze of lime. It is sweet and tart. I look around. There are shelves filled with trinkets, cooking utensils, photographs. The navy blue and white wooden beach shack is tucked under a Coqueluche tree at the far end of Le Morne beach on the West coast of Mauritius. Vik’s Place. The stuff of dreams. He built it all by himself during the pandemic. “I was inspired by the kitchens of the sixties and seventies in Mauritius. It’s a little messy like my house but it’s clean. People love it.” During the pandemic, the island’s borders were closed. The General Manager had an idea: upskill all 300 team members. Everyone was taught the basics of electricity, plumbing, painting, woodwork. They ended up renovating the hotel – a story that was made into a case study at the London Business School.
Vik’s official title is Guest Experience Manager. His wetsuit reads ‘Mr Vik - the Sea Urchin Master.’ Before that, he was the resort’s Food and Beverage Manager. “The more time I spent in the office, the less I could be on the terrain where I’m happiest. One day I decided to call it quits. I told my manager that I just want to fish, cook, eat oysters, and talk to people.”
On the counter: thin slices of fresh tuna marinated for two hours in orange juice, crushed green chillis, and salt. On the stove, a fish and eggplant curry. Vik has three sisters. He spent most of his childhood on the heels of his mother. It seems her love for cooking was passed down to her only son. “I love being in the kitchen. I can’t say I follow recipes though.”
A table is set in front of the beach shack, steps from the lagoon, which is turning liquid gold as the sun sets. There’s a boma, a bonfire. The flames light up the beach, which at this hour, is magical. This might frankly be the most chic table setup I have seen. Here’s the caveat: Vik can only serve one table per night. Could this be the world’s tiniest restaurant, I wonder. If you type Vik in the search bar on LUX* Le Morne’s TripAdvisor page, you get an idea of the popularity of the place. Rave reviews. Everybody wants a seat at the table. So how exactly does one book a table? Chance encounter. There is nothing more to it. I spotted Vik hunting sea urchin while I was out paddle boarding (he’s usually underwater or on the beach). I asked him about the sea urchin since I had noticed purple ones and green ones. “They’re not all edible. You need to find the black ones with the white needles. Boulvav, we call them here.” That is when I got the coveted invite to his table that evening.
I love being in the kitchen. I can’t say I follow recipes though.
Vik cracks open the urchin. They’re sweet and briny. Buttery. Like oysters, they taste like the ocean. The Indian Ocean, in this case. He pours a glass of white wine. My friend opts for a ti punch – local rum poured over crushed ice, a squeeze of lemon and brown sugar. And then begins the feast… There is the fish and eggplant curry, chatini coco, a coconut chutney with tamarind and mint. Braised salty fish. A moringa greens broth, and homemade chilli (every Mauritian home has their own recipe). The cuisine is a cross-pollination between Indian, Chinese, and African cuisines. Vik has as many recipes as tales to tell. He narrates his adventures across Australia. He evokes a childhood spent in Beau Champ, on the island’s east coast, where he learned to fish after school. He is knowledgeable about his island, and we are hungry for knowledge.
Then comes dessert; the classic banane flambée. Or not so classic. Vik uses fresh sugar cane juice instead of refined sugar, and throws in a few star aniseed for a little spice. It is caramelised and delicious and served with a scoop of homemade vanilla ice cream. It sticks to your teeth in the best way possible. To offset the sweet, Vik brings out the house speciality: his rum arrangés. Cheap clear rum, fruit and spices macerate for months in big jars. The result is its opposite: an absolute, unique digestif, its formula impossible to replicate, even for the person who made it. I sample the coffee one, and the lychee-passion fruit. It is fiery. A magic moment. And in the middle of this full-on sensory overload, it is suddenly clear to me: this is the WHY of travel. This is it.