Foodie Fiji: elevated dining with chef Matt Moran

Marriott Momi Bay Dining Fiji
Dining with a view at Marriott Momi Bay, Fiji. Image supplied.

With abundant tropical food and flavours, Fiji is a destination elevating its culinary offering — and the Sheraton Fiji Golf & Beach Resort and Fiji Marriott Resort Momi Bay are at the forefront of this revolution, having recently hosted two pop-up experiences with celebrity chef Matt Moran

Sun, sand and dreamy tropical surrounds have long made Fiji a desirable hotspot for travellers. Add in the short flight from Australia, alongside laidback island vibes, and it’s the perfect place to escape.

Fiji plays host to tens of thousands of visitors each year who descend on the mainland and its surrounding islands, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that this gracious island nation knows how to put on a welcome. The personal warmth is a standout to me from the moment I step off the Fiji Airways flight — having been greeted by incredibly friendly locals, seashell necklace included.

Seeing an opportunity to make an already fantastic holiday experience even better, two of Fiji’s top resorts are embracing local cuisines and cooking techniques as part of a new wave of dining and hospitality experiences.

Throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, the Sheraton Fiji Golf & Beach Resort underwent a FJD$75 million makeover; the buildings have been painted with a fresh coat of white paint, making them luminous and bright against the lush green foliage. Inside, the rooms are reinvigorated with luxurious finishes and upgrades to the bathrooms.

Through this renovation process, a five-hectare organic farm in the middle of the golf course has been reclaimed and is now being utilised by the hotel in various ways. As the only farm on the island of Denarau, the Sheraton Resort now offers unique culinary guest initiatives, connecting them with an unforgettable farm-to-fork experience, such as garden tours and traditional cooking ceremonies including lovo (where food is baked in a pit with hot coals).

Arriving by golf cart (naturally!) through the golf course into the garden, I’m greeted with a large coconut to drink and eat — this is the first taste to showcase the truly local flavours and ingredients. The coconut is an important staple in Fijian life, described by the farm manager Shahil as “the tree of life”. And it makes cameos in many dishes at all times of day, as a base ingredient in curries, as well as in cocktails and many other accompaniments. Executing a sustainable farm is no easy feat, but Shahil oversees the initiatives, including a self-sustaining mint crop that supplies other resorts in the Sheraton stable.

Wanting to take the guest experience even further, the Sheraton Fiji Golf & Beach Resort and Fiji Marriott Resort Momi Bay recently developed a partnership with Australian celebrity chef Matt Moran, where two pop-up restaurants took over the hotel restaurants for a night each. Bringing his signature fine dining finesse, Moran and three of his top-tier chefs came out to Fiji to collaborate with the hotels, crafting a special menu, using ingredients straight out of the farm garden.

For Moran and his team, the collaboration was centred on “… finding great ingredients and showcasing them. Like everything we do, we let the product speak for itself. There’s obviously a very tropical flavour; what we created was about balancing signature dishes and new things together.”

While the pop-ups were special events, guests who travel to either the Marriott Momi Bay or Sheraton Fiji Golf & Beach Resort can enjoy the Kokoda-inspired ceviche dish, which was one of the creations for the pop-up and is now featured on the menu as a permanent inclusion.

It’s not just Moran’s influence that is forging a new wave of food at these resorts. The dining menu at Marriott Momi Bay is a complete standout, with fresh local fish prepared in different ways — smoked, baked and cured — alongside exquisite, barbecued lobster and giant prawns, all caught locally wherever possible.

The connection to the land and the local people is critical to the operations of both resorts. Fiji Marriott Resort Momi Bay has a unique relationship with the land, effectively leasing it from six landowning villages. This keeps local people employed and aids in ensuring an authentic cultural experience. It’s an important element, as travellers continue to seek out a whole experience — from the food and wine lists to the design of the spaces and resort activities — of options that are authentic, ethical and sustainable.

Whether a kava ceremony at Momi Bay, or a dinner with your feet in the sand at the Sheraton’s Tatavu beachfront restaurant, these hotels understand how authentic cultural experiences with food can be etched into our memories, long after we return home. Testament to understanding how important these elements are is the fact that Momi Bay has maintained 100 per cent occupancy since March 2022.

“What people want when they travel has changed, and food is a huge component of travel, no question. Expectations are higher than they used to be,” says Moran. Food is a way to share culture and authenticity, and the culinary experience in Fiji is one that visitors will likely savour.

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