Maldivian cuisine makes good use of native fish species, a staple ingredient on many restaurant menus here. But contemporary Maldivian restaurants are also influenced by international cuisines such as Indian, Malaysian and European. We pick ten great restaurants to try innovative food in this small island nation.
Ithaa Undersea Restaurant
Restaurant, Seafood, Fast Food, Mediterranean, Vegan, Vegetarian, Gluten-free, $$$
For a unique experience, patrons of the Ithaa Undersea Restaurant, part of the Conrad Hilton Rangali Island resort in the South Ari Atoll, can enjoy contemporary European cuisine five metres below sea level. The intimate restaurant, whose name means ‘mother of pearl’ in the native Maldivian language Dhivehi, offers a luxury six-course set dinner featuring such delicacies as, Malossol imperial caviar with sour cream potato blinis, and yellowtail kingfish with a saffron champagne risotto and beurre blanc foam, followed by vanilla chocolate vantage with mango sorbet. While definitely high-end dining, the view of beautiful coral gardens and the possibility of seeing a passing reef shark or manta ray make the Ithaa experience an unmissable treat.
Situated in the idyllic South Ari Atoll is the Mirihi Island Resort, home to Muraka, a rustic, wooden restaurant built on the end of a jetty over the island’s lagoon. The restaurant serves an international menu with a focus on seafood; dishes include the pink peppercorn-crusted Maldivian tuna loin with fried bok choi and crispy potato wanton, as well as lobster bisque with papaya salad and papaya seed dressing. Muraka also offers special dining experiences such as the Whole Fish Delight, where the chef prepares and fillets a whole fish of a guest’s choosing at their table. The restaurant has stunning views over the ocean and Mirihi Island, and features an open-floor section with views of the sea below.
Sala Thai, which is part of the small six-room Sala Boutique Hotel, serves healthy and fresh food in authentic Siamese surroundings, amid tasteful wooden furniture and beautiful Asian artwork. This quiet restaurant, popular with native Maldivians, provides a relaxing escape from the bustling streets of Malé and features an outdoor courtyard area with overhanging trees perfect for an al fresco meal. Sala Thai’s experienced chefs fly in fresh ingredients on a weekly basis, creating generously portioned dishes such as the shrimp marinated in a spicy fish sauce with Thai herbs, flavorsome Penang curry or the traditional Thai dessert, sticky jasmine rice with mango.
The Shell Beans café company has been operating in Malé for over ten years and has two premises on the island; one on the northern edge overlooking Malé’s jetties and one on the other side of the island, on Ameenee Magu. The relaxed and friendly atmosphere of the Shell Beans cafés attracts a diverse crowd of young local Maldivians, expats and sightseers, and it also provides free Wi-Fi for patrons. The menu offers a range of main courses from around the world, including salads, such as tandoori chicken and teriyaki beef, and the café’s signature ‘croissantwiches,’ croissants with a sandwich filling. The café also serves what has been dubbed as the best coffee in Malé along with a range of delicious cakes.
A stalwart of the Maldivian café culture, the Seagull Café House is a charming bistro situated on two levels. The lower level is a small, peaceful courtyard with sandy floors and trees providing shade for diners, while the upper level features a huge tree growing through the middle of the floor and great views of the bustle of the street below and the nearby Grand Friday Mosque. Seagull Café House offers a varied menu featuring western, Maldivian and Indian cuisine; try the orange and herb glazed roast turkey breast with Normandy cream or the snapper steak with mango salsa and parsley rice. The café boasts the best ice cream in Malé too, with 30 flavors including mango, pineapple and coconut.
Located down a quiet alleyway off Ameer Ahmed Magu, Aioli Restaurant cooks up an impressive range of delicious south Asian food with a Mediterranean twist. Aioli is a stylish restaurant, tastefully decorated in dark wood furnishings and contrasting cream shades of upholstery and walls. The restaurant features two large dining rooms and an outdoor balcony seating area, where guests can enjoy their meal under the Maldivian sky. Patrons can choose from mouthwatering dishes such as the addu kukulhu reha, a traditional Maldivian chicken curry served with steamed rice and bread, or fried cuttlefish with spicy Spanish-style saffron rice, in a chic but relaxed environment.
This chilled and trendy European-style café-restaurant opened in 2011, and like many eateries in Malé, serves an eclectic range of dishes with Maldivian and international influences. Jazz Café’s healthy, fresh and simple menu features exotic fare, such as Thai chili beef and prawn arabiatta alongside diner-style food such as succulent beef burgers. The air-conditioned venue is popular with both young and old local Maldivians and is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The Jazz Café also hosts regular music gigs, featuring talented Maldivian musicians playing jazz, rock and soul. Past gigs have featured maestros from the Maldivian band Zero Degree Atoll.
Palace Sichuan is an elegant Chinese restaurant opened in February of 2011 by Terence Tsui, who wanted to offer Malé quality Cantonese food served by warm and friendly staff. The large restaurant has seating for over 80 people, with private rooms named after Chinese cities available for hire, and is decorated in a tasteful and authentic oriental style. As the restaurant’s name suggests, the menu consists of recipes from the Sichuan province in western China, which is typified by its spicy, yet sweet and sour flavors. Dishes on offer are prepared by experienced Chinese staff with ingredients imported directly from China and include sweet white fungus with a pawpaw sauce, and steamed wax gourd with shrimp meat.
Located on the first floor of the ferry terminal, The Sea House boasts one of the most scenic views on the island. The restaurant’s open-air deck overlooks Malé’s harbor, with panoramic views of the beautiful Indian Ocean and the lagoons surrounding the city. Patrons can view planes landing and taking off at the airport on neighboring Hulhule Island, an ideal place to enjoy a meal and a ‘mocktail,’ while watching the sunset. The food at The Sea House is varied and reasonably priced with southern Asian influences including dishes, like Thai green curry and som tam, a papaya based salad. The restaurant also holds special sushi brunch events and serves mashuni roshi, a traditional Maldivian breakfast meal made of tuna, coconut, onion, chili and lime.
Symphony is the Maldives’ most longstanding restaurant group, which includes Symphony Solo and Symphony Garden,. Located in the heart of Malé, Symphony serves up western, Indian, Indonesian and Chinese-style food in a small and cozy dining area. The venue is popular with the local Malé crowd, who come for dishes such as the hot tuna macaroni developed specifically for the Maldivian palate. Other menu highlights include Lebanese chicken served with vegetable rice and salad, mixed seafood and vegetable pie and the grilled lobster with lemon butter sauce.