Savour the good life is the guiding mantra at Le Méridien Maldives Resort & Spa. And that’s exactly what I intend to do over four days at this property where relaxation is the order of each day. I am lucky enough to be visiting at the same time as award-winning chef Soenil Bahadoer, who has been invited to create exquisite meals, so guests have a chance to enjoy award-winning fare during their island holiday.

I step off the seaplane to a warm welcome by the GM and his team, which puts me at ease immediately. En route to my sunrise overwater villa, I catch sight of a baby reef shark and sting ray gliding along in the shallow waters, making me feel like I’ve entered a magical realm.

Chef Soenil, whom I meet later that evening, is equally taken by the property. “This place has an amazing vibe. The beaches are never crowded and the staff are so hospitable. It feels like a warm blanket,” he says.

Born in multi-cultural Suriname to parents of Indian heritage and raised in The Netherlands since the age of eight, chef Soenil describes the food he offers at his 2 Michelin star restaurant De Lindehof as “Surinamese-French cuisine influenced by various cultures”. With a mop of salt-and-pepper curls, an uninhibited laugh and a jovial personality, it’s hard not to be drawn in by his creative genius, which led him to refine his mother’s recipes after he realised he had to change his kitchen and “stop cooking like the rest of the world”. He admits that his Surinamese-Indian background has played a huge role in the chef he is today.

“I brought my mum into my kitchen – she is my best teacher and chef,” he says with pride in his voice. “Even though I was a chef, she would rap me on my knuckles if I did something wrong. Together we refined the dishes of my childhood to showcase them on a global platform.” He confesses that diners were initially confused by the flavours of his new menu, “but my food spoke for itself.”

Interiors of Tabemasu

Interiors of Tabemasu

Chef Soenil Bahadoer touring the resort’s greenhouse

Chef Soenil Bahadoer touring the resort’s greenhouse

My first meal at Le Méridien Maldives Resort & Spa is at Velaa Bar & Grill, which opens daily for lunch and dinner. “For lunch, we offer burgers, pizzas, sandwiches...more like fast food. During dinner service, Velaa turns into a grill restaurant, with steaks and seafood,” explains chef Asaf Tasdan, executive chef who oversees all four of the property’s restaurants as well as specially curated private-dining events.

Tonight, Velaa is chef Soenil’s theatre and his five-course set menu has diners buzzing with excitement. Dinner opens with an amuse bouche – featuring a bite-size portion of seabass and langoustine, avocado, a cucumber-based solution and re-imagined tom kha kai – that fills my mouth with light, refreshing flavours. Soenil’s Indian roots shine in the two dishes that follow: halibut tandoori topped with a sauce that is reminiscent of the silkiest butter chicken gravy; and scallop with marinated pumpkin and mango chutney, which is a medley of textures with a palate-pleasing balance of sweet and sour notes. The third course is buttery Wagyu beef topped with caviar served alongside rendang and a ginger beer sorbet that cuts through the richness of the meat. Goose liver paired with amaretto jelly, amarena cherry and macadamia shavings is the final savoury dish that takes me by surprise – the subtle bitterness of the almond and cherries is the perfect foil to the fattiness of the liver.

I must admit, the closing act was my favourite. I have a weakness for anything sweet, but this dessert was outstanding. Slices of poached wild peach, airy vanilla cream, delicate panna cotta, fresh raspberries and snowy shards of meringue make me want to dive right into the plate, but the taste and textures were equally appealing with the sweet chewiness of the meringue offset by the roasted almond slivers and tartness of the berries.

Scallop with truffle dashi, truffle shavings, radish parcels

Scallop with truffle dashi, truffle shavings, radish parcels

Live cooking station at Au Soleil Fest

Live cooking station at Au Soleil Fest

The following morning, I head to Turquoise, the all-day dining restaurant serving an array of cuisines. I remind myself to eat lightly, since I will be attending a picnic brunch at Bodu Finolhu, the resort’s private island. But it’s hard to resist trying everything once I see the spread – especially mas huni, a traditional Maldivian breakfast dish of shredded tuna mixed with freshly grated coconut, onion and lime juice, which I eat with a soft flatbread called roshi.

Bodu Finolhu is a quick speedboat ride from the property. The water around the island is so shallow that I must jump out of the boat into knee-deep water to reach the beach. Chef Soenil and his team is on hand to greet me with a welcome drink and an appetiser – fresh oysters topped with a zingy ginger sorbet. I am not a fan of this seafood but after hesitantly downing the first, I shamelessly reach for three more.

Both mains prepared by the chef have a medley of flavours and textures, but the scallops and radish parcels in a truffle dashi, topped with truffle shavings is an umami explosion. Not a word is spoken as everyone present savours each mouthful.

Every restaurant on the property has sweeping views of the sea but Riviera Tapas and Bar sits within 10 steps of the waves so I combine an afternoon of gazing at a soothing medley of blues and greens with relishing a Spanish-inspired meal of gambas al pil pil – succulent tiger prawns in a tangy tomato broth topped with fresh microgreens grown in the resort’s greenhouse – served with the kitchen’s signature sourdough bread. “It’s the top seller on the menu,” says chef Asaf. The bread might seem unnecessary at first, but mopping up the broth, after I wolf down the prawns, is half the fun. If I were alone, I’d lift the plate and drink the broth from it.

I notice all the leafy greens and herbs at each meal look like they’ve been freshly harvested. I assume they’ve been flown in from Malé, but upon asking chef Asaf, he leads to me the climate-controlled greenhouse, where rows upon rows of spearmint, peppermint, basil, coriander, six types of lettuce, spinach, bok choy and more grow in pipes in a hydroponic system, which also captures and recycles rainwater. “We grow more than enough to meet the resort’s needs, and sometimes we supply the other Marriott resorts in the Maldives,” explains horticulturalist Juby Thomas. “And everything is grown without the use of pesticides.”

Oysters topped with ginger sorbet are a refreshing start to chef Soenil’s picnic menu

Oysters topped with ginger sorbet are a refreshing start to chef Soenil’s picnic menu

On-site hydroponic greenhouse

On-site hydroponic greenhouse

The greenhouse is one of several sustainable initiatives undertaken by the resort. Food waste produced by its kitchens is segregated and fed into organic waste converters to produce rich compost that is used to fertilise the lush greenery on the island. There’s no trace of plastic bottles on the resort – the RO (reverse osmosis) water bottling plant supplies all the restaurants and villas with freshly bottled water every day. Solar panels contribute to 25-30 per cent of the total electrical demand thereby reducing fuel consumption and lowering carbon emissions.

Even the fresh tuna sourced for Tabemasu, the resort’s overwater Japanese restaurant, is locally-sourced from Malé. Only open in the evening from 6-10pm, this tastefully designed space has wall-to-ceiling windows so diners can watch the evening sky change from orange, to pink and finally a deep shade of purple. The menu is extensive, but I narrow down my selection to a marinated seaweed salad that is crunchy and refreshing followed by a veggie-friendly tantanmen soup, which has a base of mildly spiced sesame broth and plenty of texture from bok choy, tofu and mushrooms. The salmon nigiri and my all-time favourite spicy tuna roll don’t disappoint. If you’re struggling to select dishes, throw caution to the wind and allow the chef to select for you at the teppanyaki station.

While there are close to 200 resorts in the Maldives, Le Méridien Maldives Resort & Spa has cleverly set itself apart by collaborating with award-winning chefs and mixologists from around the world – so guests can participate in masterclasses and experience fine dining during their stay – and hosting programmes such as the Au Soleil Fest.

The fest is a relaxed ‘evening out’ at the resort where guests can try food from live cooking stations offering Indian kebabs, sushi, paella, salads made with fresh veggies from the greenhouse, grilled seafood and more. I spend my last evening here under the stars, breathing in the salty air and trying my best to stamp everything into my memory to last a lifetime.