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The Eco Cafe La Dolce Vita on Fiji Time

By Naziah Ali Posted 31 Dec 2014

For those of you that remember Brooke Shields in the Fiji-shot 1980 film, The Blue Lagoon, the Eco Cafe on Queens Highway will transport you straight back to that hand-built beachside hut that had us all sinking our feet into the sand.

Located 30 minutes from the quaint town of Sigatoka, the Eco Café is an all-natural restaurant built in perfect harmony with its tropical surroundings. It practically begs the environmentally conscious traveller to make the right choice and step out onto its wooden balcony for lunch. Preaching eco-tourism before it was in vogue, this unique restaurant calls to those travellers that recognise the energy and serenity in places like the Eco Cafe and are convinced to settle - if only for a meal.

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We stopped at this establishment on a Sunday morning for a quick brunch during one of our rushed trips back from Nadi. As we step out of the car, the charismatic Degei and his beautiful Italian wife, Fabianna, the owners of Eco Cafe, warmly greet us as if they were expecting us.

One could see the satisfaction and happiness in their eyes, which resonated through their smiles as they proudly ushered us inside. I quickly realised that Degei (or Dangz as his friends like to call him), and Fabi were living their dream. We felt an instant connection.

Standing at the entrance, you are straddled between two very distinctively different places. The one behind you, a busy road that hosts many tired and weary travelers, like myself, speeding to their next meeting or engagement and the one in front is home to those who have the time to crawl onto a mat for a quiet time on the beach and bask in nature’s glory.

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As you walk in, you are overwhelmed with the peaceful atmosphere of the café. Dangz’s daughter leans over the counter with a friendly smile to shake our hands. The unique Fijian artifacts and shells on the wall behind her compliment the neatly woven bamboo carpeting on the floors and the colorful cushions that line up on the wooden bench in front of me. The finely-cut tables are situated in the middle of a hand-built bamboo and thatch gazebo overlooking the white sandy beach and the azure waters of the Coral Coast. As if on cue, the cool tropical breeze sweeps through the doors to keep us from feeling the heat of the Fijian sun.

Eco Café serves indigenous Fijian food as well Italian food such as pasta and wood-fired pizza. The menu ranges from Kokoda or Fijian Ceviche-a raw fish salad that is marinated in fresh coconut milk and lemon juice, served with chilies and garnished with fresh spring onions - to juicy burgers made from fresh local meat and garnished with produce that is grown in their farm or surrounding villages.

While alcohol isn't served at the cafe, guests are encouraged to bring their own at a small corkage price. Soft drinks however are strictly not allowed in the cafe.

Once we place our orders, it is time to explore this temporary escape a little more. I find Dangz and Fabi busy in their kitchen humming their favourite tunes as they cut and clean fruits and vegetables while the stone oven flickered in the background. Dangz and Fabi along with the kids built the stone oven six months ago. They explain that all their ingredients are locally grown, and cooked without gas, and electricity.

About five meters from their kitchen is the Lovo Bure, a wood and straw hut where Lovo is prepared. For those who aren’t familiar with Lovo, it is a traditional Fijian method of cooking usually with a pit dug on the ground and covered with hot stones to cook the greens, roots and meat that are wrapped in leaves. Eco Café is known for their traditional Lovo session where guests are encouraged to participate including the collection of greens and preparation of the food for the Lovo.

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Dangz explains that cafe prides itself on its eco-friendly methods, fresh food and its relaxing atmosphere. The couple’s philosophy is to work in harmony nature to lead a stress free life. “We have our own gardens, fish from the sea, hunt, use traditional methods of cooking and avoid disturbing nature. We have to be one with nature.”

The family operated café opened three years ago on the 100 metre beach front property that sees a modest number of guests who come to watch the iridescent waters lapping on its shores or the beautiful sunsets as they enjoy freshly made Fijian and Italian food.

When our lunch arrives, there is no talking. As we devour the hot plates in front of us, I can only hear those around me gesticulating something along the lines of “oh this is too good!” and “wow, it’s amazing”. The expressions on their face told me they were, at the very least, satisfied with their meal.

Sean Lees, an expat friend the United States working in Suva who happened to come to the Eco Cafe with his wife Melissa and daughter Sophia, was all praise about the wood fired pizza. He had called the Eco Café half an hour before arriving to place his orders so he was served on arrival.

“I was told to try the chicken pizza by a friend and I agree that it is the best – it is the real super thin crust Italian pizza that you would find in Italy,” said Sean.

“I would recommend that you have it with fresh lime juice. In the middle of the Queens road, is this super cute place with the best pizza I have ever had in Fiji and the United States. I would recommend Eco Café to everyone. Just don’t crowd it too much.”

Right next to the café is a bigger Bure, home to the couple and their children. Typical of a Bure, the single room home is a living room for the family by day and converts to a bedroom by night. Facing the sea it acts as a cooling room when it gets too hot outside.

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One would wonder what Fabi who comes from the fashion-conscience Milan would be doing in Fiji. Fabi travelled around the world in search of her “La Dolce Vita” and found it in Fiji. She fell in love with Fiji’s simplicity when she first came over a decade ago. She moved here permanently in a bid to live a in a natural environment that was free from pollution. She later met Dangz and they have an eight year old son. Fabi and Dangz are joined by Dangz children in their home that embodies the rugged beach shack with a sophisticated edge.

Out on the front, a child swings on a rope swing as a carefree spirit on the beach. The laughter of the little girl is infectious as she swings around the rope that is tied to a tree on one end and fastened between her toes on the other. I am instantly tempted to give it a try.

This experience is a shortcut back to childhood longing as I drown in the familiar sound of coconuts being scrapped in the backyard and Bob Marley’s music echoing through the kitchen. Kids’ laughter fills the air as they ride horses on the beach or splash in the water on this beautiful sunny day. We are all in a simple Fijian mirage, on a hut, in the sand, on holiday – our souls and body at liberty for the day.

And maybe in the end that’s what it’s about. The possibility that we can escape from our real lives even if just for a day and set up base somewhere else by the sea with almost nothing but ourselves and the food we love. A slice of pizza maybe?

Getting to Fiji for a holiday

Fly to Nadi with Fiji Airways. From Nadi airport,  Sigatoka is approximately 1 hour 15 minutes drive from Nadi Airport on the Queens Highway.  

Organise your Fiji holiday

Flights to Nadi -  Fiji Airways operates flights to Nadi daily from many international ports including flights from Sydney to Nadi,flights from Auckland to Nadiflights from Los Angeles to Nadi and flights from Hong Kong to Nadi.

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