Belinda's Riverside Restaurant

Belinda's Riverside Restaurant

Jon Baker

Wednesday, April 08, 2015

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 Jon Baker, Table Talk Food Awards judge, Portland and CEO Geejam Group starts the countdown to his parish's 10 culinary gems.

My favourite cuisine is Japanese. It's clean and healthy as it must always be fresh. Now I'm well into my 50s so am far more health conscious about what I eat. I enjoy what I call 'honest food' ie food that is unpretentious, that does not pretend to be what it's not, without being overcooked as is often associated with Jamaican cuisine especially with fish.

By the same token, I love creative food especially what Collin Brown does with oxtail and rice and peas. His presentation is world class. But apart from being a work of art it tastes good.

Leaving from Port Antonio you travel along the Breastworks road for approximately 45 minutes into the Rio Grande Valley, passing the turn-off to Moore Town the Portland Maroons settlement, after which you will arrive in Berrydale, the raft embarkation point. Tourism Product Development Company (TPDCo) runs the river rafting office and has 75 captains who work on a rotational basis to punt you down the river. You can pay at the office or book through various local travel agencies and hotels.

By prior arrangement you may ask your raft captain to stop on the riverside at Belinda's. Belinda runs this small riverside restaurant under a rustic-looking palm frond roof with basic bamboo supports just as her mother Betty did for decades before. She continues the tradition of cooking the most delicious local dishes.

After an hour or so of pleasant drifting down the river carefully punted by your captain or guided skilfully through the shallow rapids, one arrives at a huge bend in the river, with a shingle banking. Here you alight and step over to Belinda's restaurant.

Belinda is always on hand to cordially greet you, while at the same time paying due attention to her expansive array of Dutch pots from which emerge some of the most exotic smells on Mother Earth.

The presentation is simple on foam plates with plastic forks, disposable serviettes - note that Belinda and her staff keep their river-side location conspicuously clean and tidy. The simple presentation is irrelevant once you have started her culinary journey. Taste buds will go into overdrive as you eat her curried or fricasee chicken - the chickens are organically reared in Belinda's home yard, the herbs and seasonings are all locally grown too - the result is one of the most flavoursome plates you can imagine, and all meals come with an expansive array of sides from fried plantain to roast breadfruit, rice and peas and even a couple of dumplings on every plate. However, Belinda's repertoire does not end there, in fact it has only just begun.

One of her most remarkable dishes is Crayfish Coconut Rundown, which is made from the juice of grated coconut- simmered to create a thick sauce-curry powder, fresh herbs, and just a hint of Scotch bonnet pepper; the blend creates a burst of mouthwatering flavours. The crayfish are caught freshly by local fishermen who sell them to Belinda as she arrives at her restaurant around 10:00 every morning; some are of a truly remarkable size.

Belinda prepares her meals using wood that she collects on the 70 minute hike through the woods and bush she has to take every morning and return through after 4:00 in the afternoon.

Another favourite is her River ' Bouillabaisse' in which she uses all the goodness from the river- crayfish, bussu and mullet mixed in a medley that creates a hearty broth unique to Belinda's on the Rio Grande.

Tourists who have travelled from all over the world and locals alike revel in Belinda's cuisine and the atmosphere it inhabits. There is nothing quite like sitting with one of her gastronomical creations on the river's edge as it slowly slips whispering by, in the shade of the rocky valley's hilltops surrounding Belinda's, a wonderful and peaceful place to experience and savour some of the best traditional, simple and local fare to be had almost anywhere in the world.

After Belinda's incredible meal there is nothing nicer than to wave her a friendly good-bye and settle comfortably down for another somnambulent hour drifting down the river to its river mouth at Rafter's Rest.

The majority of guests who stay at one of the Geejam Collection hotels or villas in nearby Port Antonio when asked what their most memorable culinary experience was outside of the hotel's restaurants of course, say without exception " Belinda's food on the rafting trip". - I agree.

Location: Rio Grande river, approximately 1hr 30 mins from Rafter's Rest

Cuisine: Jamaican

A rafting trip costs : J$7800

Belinda's chicken meal: J$600

Bussu soup: J$200

Crayfish coconut rundown: J$1200


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