Saint Lucia, Melbourne’s latest outpost of tropical chill, is named for a tiny island in the Caribbean known for its pristine beaches and relaxed lifestyle. And while Windsor in the depths of July is a far cry from the blue waters of the West Indies, this steamy little venue is a welcome retreat from the oppressive grey outside.
Here, the turned-up heating and soundtrack of Latin jams set you to tropical mode in short order. Candles drip wax down old rum bottles and light up stacks of cigar boxes in homage to their island home. White walls, ferns hanging from the high rafters, antique mirrors and bits of Caribbean art give the room a bright warmth that’s styled rather than themed, never veering into tackiness.
At 9pm on a Saturday, the dinner trade is just winding down, and it's a lot more relaxed in here than at other venues on the Chapel Street strip, which are starting to kick into party mode. Weekends get hectic, but with the limited space filled mostly by seating, this is a place to sit and relax, not bump and grind.
Your next stop is island bliss after ordering the Roll Off Rum Punch. It’s more resort bar than classic tiki, with bits of fruit floating through the sweet orange liquid that’s lifted by the spice of ginger. If you're not into the sweeter punches, their Tommy’s Margarita is a low-fi, balanced rendition, built over ice with muddled lime rather than shaken. It’s nice to find a place more interested in topical fun than esoteric classics, so here you’ll find accessible Caribbean classics on the menu, like a Mojito and a Dark & Stormy – Jungle Boy is the place for serious tiki drinks in Windsor.
More refined numbers like the El Presidente (basically a rum Manhattan) are designed to showcase good dark rum, of which there’s plenty on the back bar. This is a great place to sample some high quality and less common rums like Smith & Cross or Chairman's Reserve – the happy and helpful crew are trying hard to educate Windsor on the joys of sipping the good stuff. There's also Red Stripe on tap and smashable Kona pale ale from Hawaii by the bottle if you prefer your island fantasies to be viewed through beer goggles.
Jerk chicken is rubbed in a sweet, spicy seasoning perfumed with star anise and coriander seed and comes decorated with vibrant strands of pickled carrot. You get half a bird for $18, which is a steal. It could easily feed two people with a couple of sides like fried plantains (starchy bananas – a Caribbean staple) or barbecue corn with lime mayo and toasted coconut. The coconut braised goat taco is a winner too, the rich meat brightened with whole cumin seeds and pickled cucumber.
Out past the kitchen, the tiny courtyard is festooned with fairy lights and paper lanterns; its walls covered in the sort of colourful murals seen all over the Caribbean islands; and turquoise blue furniture recalls the warm shallows of the tropical seas. While deserted in this frigid weather, it’ll be a cracker of a place to sink a Red Stripe or five during summer.