Of Crustaceans and Constitutions
L’Houstalet is an unassuming white building on the side of the highway. It looks like the type of place you notice, but never enter because you’re too busy chilling by the poolside watching the sunset on yet another beautiful day in Vanuatu.
But its definitely the place you need to go to first on any jaunt to Port Vila. It’s a restaurant of historic proportions!
L’Houstalet has had its doors open to patrons for decades, and during that period it has hosted some of the most pivotal moments of the small island nation’s history. On 19 September 1979 it hosted the Constitutional Committee which included members of every political party, church leaders and the Kastom chiefs as they celebrated the signing of the Constitution of Vanuatu. Then on 18 September 2009, the United Nations handed over records from the Constitutional Committee’s meetings to the Vanuatu government, entrusting the country with its own formative documents. So, it is quite literally a living museum and the birthplace of the Republic of Vanuatu.
The menu is as extensive and grandiose as the restaurant’s history. No matter what you choose you are going to be delighted. Although, if I can make any recommendations as a French-food novice, the garlic butter sauce which is used in some of the dishes is the true hero in this house, so get as much of that in front of you as possible. Dishes that are drenched in garlic butter include the ever-delicate escargots and the very tender langouste grillée (which is more of a tropical cray than lobster).
However, if garlic butter is not your thing the crabe de cocotier will give you the best chance to experience what happens when traditional French cooking is elevated by the Pacific staple, coconut.
The décor predominantly features the most extensive collection of Aloi Pilioko artworks, which vividly depict life from a unique perspective. You will want to spend as much time looking around at the paintings as you have spent eating, so definitely order dessert!
L’Houstalet’s version of an affogato comes with brandy and pairs brilliantly with the pommes chaudes au marsala sur pâte fine, which turns out to be the best way to have French pastry and Vanuatu fruit to end a sumptuous meal.
L’Houstalet is historic, it’s the rock that Vanuatu was built upon, an institution, an experience that you will remember fondly as part of your own history in years to come. But more than that, it’s also the place you want to go back to.
That’s why I’m saying go to L’Houstalet before you do anything else in Vanuatu. Because you’ll want to give yourself the chance to try the lobster on night one, then the coconut crab on night two... or maybe you are more adventurous than me and will go back for the flying fox or wild pigeon on night three.
Footnote from John Ridgway
Thanks Damo. I agree with all the above and just wanted to add some other colours to your kaleidoscope of an article. Back in the 1990s, L'Houstalet also revved itself up at night as the "go-to" nightclub - so as soon as the diners cleared out, Clement would be be hustling his team to literally clear out the restaurant so the good times could begin... those were the days.