VIDEO: Villa Bella Hotel

Omar Tomlinson

Thursday, February 06, 2014    

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Talk about a landmark. The Villa Bella Hotel — one of Manchester's hidden treasures and an impressive dining establishment, to boot — is 73 years old, and its accompanying Hummingbird Restaurant has been serving up palate-pleasing fare for almost three decades. Tucked away in the salubrious, hilly climes of Christiana, Villa Bella, once the home of Manchester Member of Parliament Audley Shaw, is operated with clock-work precision by Monica Zijedemans, herself an iconic presence to those in-the-know.

The Mile Gully-born Zijdemans, an accomplished octogenarian in her own right, having appeared between the pages of National Geographic and The Los Angeles Times (which once christened the Villa 'the best unknown hotel in Jamaica') told Thursday Life her journey in the hospitality industry "is a long story of coincidences, suffice to say I owned a 165-seat restaurant in Toronto."

She assumed control of Villa Bella 28 years ago and reminisces: "When I arrived it was truly country, perhaps there were only four cars...it has since grown into a striving town."

The gregarious proprietor, who looks not a day over 65, chalks up Villa Bella's intrinsic charm to "the ambiance, the staff, the service and of course, my sparkling personality."

Zijdemans welcomed the Jamaica Observer Food Awards judging panel to sample the fare at her Hummingbird Restaurant Monday evening, and quite a treat it turned out to be.

Ahead of five-course meal — which featured pumpkin soup, the signature Villa Bella Chicken, honey garlic pork chops, smoked curried goat, fish simmered in coconut milk and lemon grass, and bread pudding — the judges were stunned to discover Zijdemans' colourful past. Regaling her spellbound guests on the balcony, framed by lush green hills in the distance, with tales of her time in England as a model and actress in such films as Cleopatra, Don't Look Back In Anger, and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang,our hostess far exceeded expectations of ordinary.

As for the menu whipped up by her capable, young team, it was true comfort fare: easy on the frills, but a welcome familiar home-made deliciousness.

And what's her secret recipe to staying as fresh as the herbs and spices in the restaurant's menu options? "It's in the genes and living a fairly balanced life of physical, emotional and spiritual well-being.

Join Thursday Life as we enjoy friendly company and fine eats around the table at Villa Bella.

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