story by Julia Steele
photo by Kyle Rothenborg
Garrick Yrondi lives in Eden, on a mountainside overlooking Bora Bora’s lagoon, with Zampano and Farandole … a cat named for a Fellini character and a dog named for a dance. Here he paints canvases filled with color, alive with myth, and here he is building a new home—for his old one, just a few meters down the path, has become Bora Bora’s best restaurant.
It happened like this: Art buyers who came to see Garrick’s work were usually equally entranced by his home, and often lingered for hours while Garrick cooked for them and talked. Then one day Damien Rinaldi Dovio showed up on Bora. He was a brilliant young chef, fresh from training with Paul Bocuse in Paris and a stint at L.A.’s famed five-star L’Orangerie. But Damien was a Corsican, and so an islander at heart, and he’d fallen in love with Bora. When Damien and Garrick met, the plan fell into place: Garrick moved out and Villa Mahana was born.
The restaurant is cultural fusion at its best, a marriage of Parisian cuisine, Provencal chic and Polynesian style. There are many places in the world where you can eat foie gras and drink champagne, and there are many places in the world where you can eat with your feet in the sand, but there are few places where you can do both at the same time and likely none better than Villa Mahana. There are just five tables in the place; it is open to the sky, filled with fairy lights, white tablecloths and wild bougainvillea bushes, a stucco-and-tile palace that evokes the south of France even as the coconut fronds rustle outside. Chef Damien’s menu fuses flavors and cooking styles just as skillfully; this is haute cuisine done with the bounty of the islands: coconuts, vanilla, ‘ahi, lobster.
Thus along with the caviar and blinis, you’ll find mahimahi in a curried banana crust and chocolate cake that comes with tiare ice cream. You’ll also find Garrick’s work throughout Villa Mahana, including a fresco of Jesus holding mangoes and surrounded by beautiful Polynesian women.
“That is my vision,” says Garrick, “the blue, the paradise, no sin.”