The Coco Reef Resort enjoys a reputation for fine dining. I can only repeat the opinion expressed in previous reviews: we consider the catering very good, but not exceptional. Yes, perhaps it may be exceptional by Tobago standards. Perhaps even by the standards of all-inclusive Caribbean hotels. In fairness, I have to say that our opinion seems to be in a minority. Most of the guests we spoke to considered the catering excellent.
Breakfasts were always superb. They are served buffet-style in the main Tamaras Restaurant; a large circular open-sided domed structure with beautiful views over the beach and sea. A multi-level layout engenders a cosier feel than might be expected from a large restaurant with a capacity of more than 160 covers.
Those not wishing to face the world too early in the morning can enjoy breakfast in their room, or on their balcony.
Lunch is served in the casual Bacchanals bar and restaurant. Bacchanals is an open-air beach bar made up of several interlinked wooden decks and furnished with all-weather tables and chairs plus a number of large sun umbrellas. Located directly next to the beach, it couldn't be more convenient for sun worshippers. The multi-level layout creates a more intimate feel.
Luncheons consists of a barbeque grill, a themed buffet with daily theme, or small a la carte menu offering a range of items from sandwiches through to heavier fair.
Bacchanals is open for dinner five evening a week. It offers more casual dining experience than Tamaras, with a simpler a la carte menu, themed buffet or BBQ. This venue tends to be popular with families with young children, or guests who prefer to dress more casually than would be appropriate for Tamaras. Nonetheless, the presentation was always superb and service excellent.
The Coco Reef website describes the cuisine in Tamaras as "international based on local ingredients". Dinner is served buffet-style twice a week. On other nights the dinner menu is akin to table d'hôte, with a choice of around six entrées and a similar number of main courses. The presentation of the food offers more than a passing nod to nouvelle cuisine.
Table reservations are normally essential and generally placed at breakfast. Reservations are not required for buffet evenings (Wednesday and Sunday evenings).
Birds can be a problem at every open-air Caribbean restaurant during daylight hours. The moment you leave your table, opportunistic Carib Grackles (a blackbird with yellow eyes) and cheeky little Bananaquits (known locally as 'sugar birds') take your departure as an invitation to dine. In fact some don't even wait for you to head to the buffet. Most guests enjoy seeing the birds and many actively encourage them by feeding them titbits. Other guests find the birds hugely annoying.
The Coco Reef Resort has found a wonderful way to minimise the problem. They utilise the services of falconer Kelton Thomas of the Tobago Birds of Prey & Rehabilitation Centre. Kelton, a trained harrier, brings his magnificent Indian eagle owl, Lakshmi, and a juvenile Common Black Hawk, Sampson, to the hotel several times a week, either during breakfast or at lunchtime. The birds are not allowed to fly or hunt and remain tethered to the balcony, but their presence has a quite remarkable effect on other birds. Simply walking along the beach with Lakshmi is enough to cause the gulls on the lagoon wall, 75m away, to abandon their roosts and fly off with raucous alarm calls. Not only is this a practical and eco-friendly way of dealing with the bird problem, it has also become a hugely popular feature with hotel guests.
The hotel also owns the fascinating Café Coco Restaurant & Bar, a short 7-minute (500m) walk or taxi journey away. Café Coco oozes character. It is the largest restaurant on Tobago. In fact it is frankly too large for the island. Although clever design prevents it from appearing cavernous, the restaurant is seldom busy enough to generate the ambience that the décor suggests, or restaurant deserves. Both the décor and cuisine are more casual and relaxed than Tamaras Restaurant. We have enjoyed every visit to Café Coco. It is just a pity that the cost of dining there is not covered by the all-inclusive package.
The Coco Reef has a small 'champagne bar' next to Tamaras. In addition, The Gallery Bar & Lounge, located above the lobby, is a pleasant place to have a drink with friends. Afternoon tea is served in The Gallery, but guests should note that this too is excluded from the standard all-inclusive package.
Most guests would endorse the dress code requested in the hotel's room notes:
Dress at Coco Reef is elegantly casual. We would be grateful if our guests would comply with the following guidelines in order to help us maintain an ambience with which everyone will be comfortable. Hotel Lobby/Reception area: Shoes and shirts should be worn in this area. Tamaras, The Gallery and Bobsters: During the evening we request that our guests dress appropriately. For breakfast, Gentlemen are requested to wear shirts and Ladies a cover-up. For Dinner, we request that Gentlemen wear long trousers and a shirt with a collar. Footwear must be worn at all times."
Obviously compliance with these policy standards does vary. During our week at the Coco Reef almost everyone honoured the dress code. However, over the years we have heard a number of complaints from fashionistas claiming that they have either been refused entry to Tamaras, or given a table in a dark corner and largely ignored; invariably because they were wearing jeans, cut-off trousers, collarless shirts or open sandals. Many local staff will take such disrespect personally. It will inevitably affect the way they treat you.
As mentioned in the hotel notes, evening dress for the Tamaras restaurant is smart casual. Ladies tend to favour dresses or long skirts. Slacks and open-necked short-sleeve shirts are the norm for men; jackets and ties now being virtually unheard of. Guests who prefer to dress less formally have the option of the more casual Bacchanals or Café Coco restaurants.
Daytime dress is typical of most beach resorts. Ladies generally throw a sarong or wrap over their swimwear for breakfast or lunch. Men simply add a T-shirt, although inevitably there always seems to be at least one oaf who ignores good manners and remains bare-chested in the beach restaurant.
Topless or nude sunbathing is strictly forbidden. It is both socially unacceptable and against the law on Tobago. Local society is steeped in religious values and may appear old-fashioned to many, but as guests in their country, these restrictions should obviously be respected.