When a resort presents the Maldives’ first vegetarian restaurant, Just Veg, you know its chefs are up to pace with the hottest food trends. Way before of the bend, five-star resort Atmosphere Kanifushi has been home to the Maldives’ first completely meat-free restaurant, Just Veg, since 2013.

A thirty minutes seaplane ride brings me from Malé to Kanifushi Island, a tiny islet on the sparsely populated Lhaviyani Atoll. As I enter Atmosphere Kanifushi I find contemporary, up-to-date ambiance extending through each facet of the island resort. The fresh description of extravagance isn’t about opulent fixtures and fine dining alone, it’s also about the resort anticipating your every need in the true sense of the word and that’s exactly what Atmosphere Kanifushi is all about, notwithstanding at a more realistic price point than most. For those who do not know, this was the first resort to transform the Maldives’ resort scene with a first-class all-inclusive Platinum Plus Holiday Plan, for when even the sweat of signing your name on a bar bill disrupts tranquillity. This island is a dock for flora and fauna, speckled with magnificent palm trees that grip soothingly in the waft and fringed by a sizeable, natural lagoon that entices sting rays and beautiful vibrant fish. I spot snappers, pufferfish and even a reef shark free below the surface near the over-water villas. The over-water restaurant Pier Six, planned in the silhouette of a manta ray offering seafood together with a Japanese teppanyaki grill is beyond compare. There’s all-day dining at The Spice, Sri Lankan Street food at Ceylon Bliss, organic and other cocktails at The Liquid bar and Asian-Mediterranean fusion at The Sunset, which duets as a poolside restaurant by day and specialty dining by night. All In all, on offer is a remarkable choice for such a small island, ensuring picturesque dining every night of the week. That said, I am here for the star the visiting chef’s vegetarian menu where gastronomy flatters a poetic alignment, a song to sprightly where the chef is the poet and, in this case, Chef Fabrizio Marino who is celebrated for Italian natural haute cuisine that is enjoyable, nourishing and leaves an imperative ethical imprint. He has worked for many years with the well-known Chef Pietro Leemann, who gained the first Michelin Star for a vegetarian restaurant in 2015. Marino recently launched Maggese, his revolutionary vegetarian restaurant in the heart of Tuscany.

The Akiri spa: Spa therapist walking.
The Liquid Beach Cabanas.
Private dinner at sunset.

PLANT FORWARD CUISINE
Explorers are far more mindful of the impact on the planet now, with ecologically aware dining, alternatives to meat, and nourishing plant-based cuisines increasing ground in the international gastronomic scene. There is a fresh energy, an innovative focus on vegetarian fine dining. The foremost à la carte meat free restaurant in the Maldives (outdoing TripAdvisor’s ranking) aka ‘Just Veg’ offers carefully selected gourmet cuisine from Indian, Mediterranean and Arabic regions, including a special menu from the Jain cuisine. Fancy this, a meal experience on a deck balanced over the aquamarine ocean waters. Treated to an infinite variety of pioneering, modern-day vegetarian food as you look down on the lagoon below populated by baby reef sharks, making for a flawless glamorous dining experience.
As plant-centric fares advantage world-wide admiration, the restaurant collaborates with Guest Chef Fabrizio Marino every year allowing guests to relish a limited-edition epicurean menu. Marino’s menu comes from a profound awareness of natural, vegetarian ingredients and a familiar excellence of austerity. Each dish is a zenith of this meticulous ingenious course that ends on an elevated note of gastronomic delight. Service, harmony and language, every aspect is regulated for a poised experience. “For various years today, I have been collaborating with the stimulating Just Veg restaurant. Meeting frequent guests is eternally a pleasure and their smiles motivate me to outshine each time. This year’s specifically curated menu brings the restaurant’s emphasis back to delicate flavours over revitalising, Western dishes”, shares Marino. This stimulating four-day (This year was end of July) Just Veg gastronomic festivity is in line with Atmosphere Hotels & Resorts’ philosophy, ‘Joy of Giving’, and is encompassed in the generous Kanifushi Plan and is available to all guests staying at the resort. Fabrizio brings a pulsing and spirited table that amalgams old-style and up-to-date food, with a realistic Hesperian focus.

Butterfly salad at the just veg pop up.
Renowned Italian Chef Fabrizio Marino at Atmosphere Kanifushi, Maldives.

HIGHLIGHTS OF THE MENU
Designed to provide a haven in which to rest the sense, food is given a pride of place. Fairy tales can also take place on a table when the magical powers of a chef make seasonal ingredients tell a story of flavours and colours. On offer is dynamic food and beverages (read organic wines and cocktails) which is present now, looks at the future but cares about the past, a journey into a new dimension or meditation of tastes and generosity, the perfect way to escape to another age. This Gourmet treat combines with the luxury Hotel to offer an exceptional experience. Make a grand gesture with the Fresh tomato soup with avocado, strawberries, and fruit sorbet’. For an Entrée, you may simply discover the distinct touch when you order the Risotto seasoned with parsley’ a generous portion evoking the Tuscan tradition, slow cooked to extract the goodness and served with a side of artichokes and olives. Fabrio’s focus is reinstating people to the delights of natural food. I am a convert when I dig into the pumpkin risotto, and my eyes amplify at its honeyed, powerful, influential flavour. For the first time in years, I gladly polish all my vegetables.
Awarded the “Best food writer in the country” by the Indian culinary forum, WACS and the ministry of Tourism, Rupali Dean writes on food and travel.