Matilona (Ste-Rose, Reunion, France)

I mentioned a few times that I didn’t stay in a lot of “hotels” in Réunion during our visit, since a substantial fraction of the lodging on the island is distinctly less formal than a typical hotel, ranging from our mountain gîtes, to a handful of Chambres d’hôtes (basically, B&Bs), and other alternative lodging arrangments. After our hike up Piton de la Fournaise, we came across one of the more memorable gîtes, Matilona in the quiet village of Ste-Rose on the northeastern coast of the Island.

I mentioned a few times that I didn’t stay in a lot of “hotels” in Réunion during our visit, since a substantial fraction of the
Matilona is a rather funky place. It doesn’t really have any one place you can stand and take it all in, so I didn’t really get a picture, but Matilona is built out of a sprawl of several little buildings, Matilona was originally a supermarket, but it’s been turned into a guest house with quite a few rooms (ranging from simple, compact rooms for 1 or 2 people, to large multi-bedroom suites, to the multi-floor suite we stayed in on one end of the complex). A surprisingly large common area, two common kitchens, and a large outdoor common space are all there for guests, as was a very nicely maintained swimming pool. The owner also maintains a collection of local plants, and keeps chickens in the back of the property. The overall vibe that the owner is trying for (with more than a little success) is that you’re staying in a quirky friend’s house.

But the major attraction of Matilona isn’t the funky decor, the pool, or the relaxed atmosphere. The main attraction is that several nights a week, the owner and his sous chef from Madagascar go out to the local marina and farmers markets, find the best local fish, produce, and other ingredients, and have a large, communal dinner in the outside dining room. The result was the best meal we had our entire trip.

Opening the meal was a large platter of samousas (as an aside, while I had a rather lot of samousas and the related bon bon piments on the island, I realize now I got very few pictures of them) and little fritters made from breadfruit. The samousa were pleasantly spicy little packets of minced chicken and vegetables, much like their Indian namesakes, and many of the samousas I had from stands around the island. I had seen much breadfruit around the island, but until this little fritters (perfectly crisp on the outside, and soft and fluffy on the inside), I hadn’t had a chance to indulge.

Next up was a plate of sashimi-sliced fish lightly seasoned with hot oil and chives. In one of those many linguistic back and forths between us, the owner, and one of the other English-speaking French tourists at the dinner table, we were able to translate the given name for this fish (coryphène) to a familiar name (“Mahi mahi), but this was an outstanding little fish appetizer, immaculately prepared, and fresh from the local dock down in the village.

Next, a pair of carris. The first was another swordfish-based carri, but this one had a particularly pleasant ginger-based sauce to it, and the fish was particularly tender and soft. Of the many carris I had throughout the island, this was my favorite fish carri, and one of the best carris overall…

…Until we came to goat carri. The goat carri was a splendid combination of good, meaty goat and one of the best carri sauces I’ve ever had, a product of the local Tamil influences in the Northern part of the island. I’m pretty sure this carri sauce had everything in it from ginger, to black pepper, to cardamom, turmeric, fennel, mustard, and curry leaves…. just to list a few of the spices I detected. Add in some just barely tender potatoes for texture, and this was pretty much the perfect of “carri”.

Finally, dessert was a plate of local fruit, with the banana and mango being ripe just to the point of perfection (indeed, every mango I’ve had since coming back to the US is just a poor imitation of that mango), along with, yup, you guessed it, rhum arrangé. This mixture had citrus, fresh vanilla bean, and a bit of faham (a type of orchid leaf giving a tea-like flavor). Several rounds of this rhum arrangé and we happily retired for the evening.

Overall, we loved Matilona. The owner is an excellent host (and, in a rarity, fully fluent in English), welcoming you like you were visiting his home, and giving many useful suggestions for tourism and exploration. Add in one of the best meals to be had on the island, and I’m sure to try and visit again on a future trip.

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