Lobster at Latitudes

Today, I caught the sun.

It was all so unexpected; the sun comes up and drops down quickly here, so that I’ll often be typing away at this blog first thing in the morning, feeling smug that I’m working before sunrise, and I’ll reach the end of a sentence and – bam. There it is. The leafy corridor from my porch down to the pool is suddenly bright and photosynthesising like mad.

New Yorkers will know Sarabeth’s, and the café has a shop just around the corner. In yet another example of lucky timing this week, I got a table just before a rush of customers from the chucking-out of the churches descended. Poached eggs on toast are the closest I get to a religious experience, and Sarabeth’s didn’t disappoint with a side of crispy bacon and a pot of marmalade.

Then it was time to hit the beach. There are loads of bike hire outfits on the island, and they really are the best way to see the place, though my bike didn’t have any handbrakes – you stopped by back-pedalling, which takes some getting used to, and I don’t think I managed to stop gracefully the whole day.

Smathers Beach is in a park, with a guard to take a $2.50 entrance fee, but it is worth it. Great facilities, including showers, a toilet and changing block (none of this Mr Bean-style mucking about under a towel), plus a café and a charming little beach which never felt too crowded.

The beach itself is a line of imported sand separated from the water by a line of rocks that you have to steel yourself to cross barefoot, but the water is clear and warm with just the hint of swell thanks to the coral reef around the Florida Keys. A short way off-shore, piles of rocks give a perching place for pelicans and seagulls above the water, and hiding places for the fish beneath. There was plenty of heavy fish action going on, and I saw more today than I did snorkelling yesterday. Shoals of bright fish with vertical black stripes nibbled at plankton, a fat orange loner gave me the once-over before disappearing into a crack with a few derisory tail-flicks, and a couple of long, sleek, dark things, slowly crossing the seabed. I was glad for all the breathing exercises I’d done at the Lansdowne, as it meant being able to follow the shoals underwater for a decent time.

By the time I left, I’d caught a good colour, and despite thinking I’d not done much in the way of exercise, found a little post-swim tightness in the muscles which made me think I’d earned dinner.

I hadn’t, of course, because dinner was an experience I don’t think many people could truthfully claim to have earned.

It was after sunset, which meant that Mallory Square was en route at the perfect time. Street performers juggled, contorted, acrobatted and did tricks with a trained pig. The best trick I saw was getting tips you could fold in half (I’m British, an amateur when it comes to tipping).

A frozen margarita later, and it was time to board the boat to the restaurant. Yes, dinner was at Latitudes, though by the time I arrived, I was mellow enough for the place to be renamed ‘lassitudes’. We crossed the dark waters leaving the sodium lights of Key West behind, and moored up at a little jetty on the private island, home to a small village of beach huts, a hotel and this restaurant.

It was a bit breezy to sit outside, so I took a table in the dark envelope of the dining room and looked out through the open wall to the palm trees swaying softly.

Crab claws to start, just to take the edge off the appetite and clear the head for making a decision, which wasn’t easy. Second course: duo of tuna, which meant a piece that had been seared and a good mound of tartare with various accompaniments of avocado, miso and wasabi.

Then I took a tasting of chicken, which was variously smoked and baked, with chorizo and baked white beans (you can take the boy out of Essex…) and finally a whisky and key lime pie. No, I know they don’t go together, but I haven’t had a key lime pie the whole trip, and I figured if anyone was going to do it right, it was going to be Latitude. And they did.

The boat back was considerably emptier than the boat there – a few couples and kitchen staff returning to the mainland. As the island retreated into the night, leaving only a few lights to show where it was, it felt that we were leaving a dream behind us.





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