When it first opened in 2012, the Magdalena Grand rapidly gained a good reputation for the quality of its catering. We were highly impressed during our first visit, but in truth, were not over-confident that the high standards exhibited during those opening weeks could be maintained. How wrong we were! The restaurants are now more focussed on local flavours and offer a wonderful fusion of Caribbean, Asian (reflecting Trinidad's large Indian community) and international cuisine. I can confidently say that the Magdalena Grandsets new standards for dining on Tobago.
The hotel has two main restaurants and an open-air poolside grill. Bar meals are available in the Robinson Crusoe Pub. During the day, drinks are available at a swim-up pool bar. Room service is also available.
The hotel's main restaurant is called Pembois, the patois word for breadfruit. It is normally open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The catering is buffet-style, with a different local or international theme to the cuisine each day.
Breakfasts were particularly notable. Even the most picky and fussy eater is bound to find something to take their fancy. The luncheons always featured a nice mixture of hot and cold dishes, both local and international. The evening buffets were relatively expansive and varied. Nicely presented, there was always a choice of hot and cold appetisers, salads and main dishes with reasonable vegetarian options.
The dining room itself is pleasant and fully air-conditioned. However, given Tobago's wonderful climate, it seems such a shame to eat indoors. Our preferred dining spot was the wide covered terrace just outside the restaurant. Always in shade, it offers lovely views over the pool deck and out to sea.
The Kalina Restaurant could easily establish itself as the best dining experience on Tobago. It would certainly get our vote.
The restaurant exudes an air of quiet calm and sophistication; exactly as a fine dining restaurant should. The quality of service was as good as we've experienced on Tobago.
The Salaka Grill is located in an attractive open pagoda at the end of the pool deck, on a small headland jutting into the ocean. Since our last visit, glazed panels have been installed, overcoming our original complaint that the restaurant was too windy. In fairness, we do tend to only visit Tobago in the winter months, when the trade winds are at their strongest.
The Salaka Grill serves drinks from 10am and is open for lunch from 11am. Subject to weather and the season/occupancy, the grill is also open for dinner most evenings.
Lounges & Bars
The Tavaco Lounge is a popular venue for guests to meet and enjoy pre-dinner cocktails. The dark heavy furnishings give the bar a traditional clubhouse feel. Entertainment, in the form of a piano player, is provided a couple of evenings per week. Local jazz bands often feature on Sunday evenings, although all entertainment at the resort does vary depending upon the season.
On the other side of the foyer, Robinson Crusoe's Pub is open from 3pm until 1am daily. Equipped with a pool table and darts board, this English-style pub has a dark and moody nautical theme designed to reflect the famous novel of the same name. The bar serves casual meals and features live entertainment most evenings, from 10pm until midnight.
Our visit was in late March, when the high-season was tailing off. One of the only complaints we heard from other overseas visitors was the fact that the bars, restaurants and entertainment were not always open as advertised. As in any seasonal destination, full service and all features are only possible when the resort has high occupancy.
Tobago is not known for high levels of service. Tobagonians have difficulty differentiating between service and servitude. They have huge hearts, but the colonial past hangs heavy. Unlocking the magical smiles and experiencing the warmth of character that makes so many of us return year after year can take a little effort. However, it is easier than you might think: it often simply takes manners and respect.
The management of the Magdalena have clearly recognised the problems and put considerable effort into overcoming it. Training is one thing, but changing attitudes is more difficult. I am delighted to report that they appear to have succeeded. We were impressed by the staff during our first visit, but even more knocked out during this visit.
We were particularly impressed by the way that the hotel's Director of Food and Beverage, Vinod Bajaj, was every-present and clearly leading by example. From gardeners and ground staff to housekeepers and waiting staff, we found nothing but welcoming smiles, good humour and a desire to provide good service.