Chat with Jessica Fonseka, manager/owner to be of Marie-Antoinette Restaurant |17 March 2022
‘We wanted to keep the essence and charm of the 100-year-old colonial building, while also adding a touch of modernity to it’
Who does not know the iconic Marie-Antoinette restaurant in Seychelles? It is a landmark of Victoria and one of the oldest restaurants in Seychelles, offering authentic Creole cuisine. It is famous for its set menu it offers to clients which has remained the same for many years and is still a hit.
Just before the pandemic, Marie-Antoinette restaurant went through some major renovations and we had a chat with the manager and owner to be, Jessica Fonseka, to tell us more about the future of this iconic restaurant.
Seychelles NATION: Please tell our readers a bit about the history of Marie-Antoinette Restaurant
Jessica Fonseka: It all started in 1972, the birth of the tourism industry, following the construction of the Seychelles International Airport. Mrs Kathleen Fonseka had recently become a widow and had to fend for her family of 10. It was while doing her rounds with tourists at various restaurants that she noticed Creole food was not being served anywhere and felt tourists were being deprived of Creole cuisine.
The Marie Antoinette Restaurant still stands tall with its iconic high red roof, wide verandas and large white shuttered windows, still serving Mrs Fonseka’s Signature Creole Menu, unchanged for 50 years, a well-guarded secret.
Seychelles NATION: Since two years ago if I am not mistaken, the younger generation of the family took over right? You brought some changes, please tell us more about that.
Jessica Fonseka: Yes that is correct; my brother and I had taken over in the beginning of 2019. We spent the first few months during lockdown to declutter and redecorate. The building itself is already beautiful and we wanted to keep the essence and charm of the 100-year-old colonial building, while also adding a touch of modern style. We also added some new dishes to our menu and we now make cocktails, which we didn’t do before.
Seychelles NATION: The changes were also introduced during the pandemic and when there was lockdown, how did you guys manage?
Jessica Fonseka: Well, we like to focus on the positives in anything life throws our way. Like I mentioned, we used it as an opportunity to start over fresh and really make it our own. We are very fortunate that Marie Antoinette is already a well-known establishment, which did make it easier for us, but pandemic or not we had a target, we had a vision and we were going to make it happen. We did have to get creative and come up with some new things like our High Tea, Garden BBQ and live music nights. There have been some ups and downs but overall we are very happy with how everything is coming together.
Seychelles NATION: What was the response of the local clients and tourists?
Jessica Fonseka: We’ve had some great feedback from both our local clients and tourists. From the cultural vibe of the restaurant to the traditional Creole food and extended services. I think a lot of people are happy to hear how Marie Antoinette has been passed down through generations and has remained a small family business.
Seychelles NATION: You had a place where everyone put their business card, did you keep it?
Jessica Fonseka: Yes, the walls are covered with local history, whether it be all the vintage photographs of Seychelles that hang in our veranda, the bank notes from around the world or the thousands of business cards, that are pinned up from our previous guests. We also created our own little family history wall, which of course pays tribute to the woman who started this all, Mrs Kathleen Fonseka, and we hope to keep adding to it in the years to come, with future generations.
Seychelles NATION: What were the recent changes you added in the last renovations?
Jessica Fonseka: We closed the restaurant for some weeks and on Monday January 31, 2022 we finally opened our doors again after the renovation. We are so excited to start off the new year with our brand-new kitchen. My secret passion is decorating so I had so much fun when I was given the opportunity to design the kitchen and overall look of the place. We now have a stunning kitchen, which looks out over the outside dining room and our clients can interact with our chefs.
Seychelles NATION: People usually came for the iconic set traditional creole food, are you keeping that also?
Jessica Fonseka: Of course!! Our Signature board is what we’re known for. We have been serving it for lunch and dinner for 50 years and it’s never changed. We actually still have the same chef, Sabrina, who worked alongside my Granny and has been with us for 27 years, she is definitely a strong member of our team and the essence of our food. We also added some additional local dishes to our à la carte menu like octopus curry, smoked fish salad and some other traditional gems. In 2020 we started collaborating with Mr Fishy and now offer a variety of different types of Sushi with a Creole twist on some of the platters.
Seychelles NATION: How did the staff respond to the changes and how many people are employed by the restaurant?
Jessica Fonseka: Unfortunately, when we took over we had to let go of some staff due to Covid, which was quite a hard decision to make. Since then, the remaining staff seem to be adjusting well to the new changes and are especially excited to get back to work now with our new kitchen. We are a small team of 9 including myself, 3 waitresses, 4 chefs and our all-rounder guy Ranjit, who keeps the garden clean and our tortoises fed.
If by now you have not tasted the iconic creole menu from the Marie-Antoinette Restaurant, ‘une visite s’impose’. You will also see the famous giant tortoises who have been there for years. Seychelles NATION wishes the new Fonseka generation good luck in their undertakings and may they keep serving us good food!