For many of us living in London and similar large cities we have a vast culinary world at our doorstep. I know I can go out and partake in pretty much any type of cuisine that I fancy. I was starting to come to terms with the fact that, as convenient as this is and as grateful as I am to live in such a wonderful city, when you have an Italian restaurant next to a Japanese restaurant, across the street from a Lebanese café, you feel a certain lack of authenticity. If I were to offer to you right now, I’m not so please don’t take me up on this, to pay for you to eat sushi in London or pay for you to fly to Tokyo and eat sushi there which one would you prefer? Again, would you rather pizza in Shoreditch or Rome? The answer for the vast majority of readers should be obvious, we would rather eat authentic food in authentic locations. This is where I stumbled across a sweet slice of culinary paradise. I had booked a short trip to the island of Guernsey just to get away from it all for a few days.
Being only a 50-minute flight from Gatwick, English speaking and with the same currency denomination as the UK I thought that this would be the little switch off that I needed. Now don’t get me wrong, I love travelling but this was one of those trips where I didn’t need to worry about exchange rates, or language differences or long flights. On arrival I checked into my wonderful boutique hotel, The Old Government House Hotel, in the heart of the capital, St Peter Port. At £195.00 a night it was rather costly, but I wanted five star luxury for a few days so didn’t mind paying the price. By the time I unpacked my suitcase it was time for dinner; I had thought that with Guernsey being an international finance center there were going to be two or three restaurants of note. I have never been more wrong about anything in my life.
Guernsey is one of those places where none of the restaurants absolutely stand out from each other, but not in a bad way because they are all so brilliant! As you may have picked up earlier in the article I was being a little bit lazy and self indulgent on this trip so my first meal I simply took the elevator down to the hotel’s own restaurant. This is where Guernsey cuisine sets itself apart; yes, in London the fish you are served is fresh, but it is not just-come-out-of-the-water fresh and the restaurant manager would not be able to tell you the name of the fishermen who caught it and where they did so. For starters I chose the homemade crab cakes with Asian salad and sesame oil and soya dressing. They were exceptional. Handmade in the kitchen using freshly caught crab, known locally as chancre (pronounced shan-ker), the blend of the tangy sweet crab meat and the smooth alluring dressing went down an absolute treat.
Keeping in the theme of things I had settled upon moules marinieres with French fries for my main course, accompanied by a bottle of the locally grown, brewed and bottled Rocquettes cider. A very French dish in itself, you can easily see the influence that Guernsey’s geography, being in the English Channel between France and the UK, has on its culinary executions. As my main course was being served to me I was assured that the moules, or more commonly known as mussels, were of local produce having grown in the south west of the island at Rocquaine Bay. Again, from sea to my dinner plate in four hours is as fresh as you are going to get in any top restaurant. With the large bowl of moules sat in front of me in the steaming marinieres sauce I found myself thinking that these were even better than the same dish I had eaten so many times during my visits to France and you were not lacking in quantity either as I was too full to pursue any connotations of dessert.
Given my over exuberance on dinner last night I opted only for a light lunch of Bean Jar on my second day. Bean Jar is a local Guernsey recipe, detailing a rich slow cooked casserole consisting of pork, butter beans, leeks and other vegetables often served with a side of French bread and Guernsey butter. For such a simple dish though it certainly hits the spot and tastes brilliant. Being quite easy to make and very flexible I urge you to look up a recipe and try it at home yourself. After lunch I took a little walk around the town center before heading back to the hotel for a bit of relaxation in the spa.
Given I was now fighting fit and ready to go after my rest and recuperation I decided to venture out for dinner and walked down to a restaurant, aptly named Pier 17, located on one of the piers of Guernsey harbor. With the restaurant’s motto being “The best fresh local produce Guernsey has to offer, prepared to be simply delicious” I knew I was going to be in for a treat. Given that I had subconsciously gone on such a tear for the local produce I had chosen the local crab & scallop thermidor with grated cheese and fresh Parmesan for my starter. Much like last night the sweet tangy crab meat was extraordinary, especially bouncing off the nuttiness of the cheese and then tied in with the saltiness of the Parmesan playing on the lightness and mild sweetness of the scallops.
Given the excellence of my starter I auto-navigated my way onto the pan fried fillet of brill with capers, spring onions, red pepper, lemon butter and oven roasted new potatoes for my main course. Brill is a firm textured fish however it had been cooked to perfection, delicately flaking apart in my mouth allowing the sweet nature of the fish to play on my palate. Superbly accompanied with the vegetables and the potatoes I asked the waitress to pass on my appreciations to the chef. By the time dessert came around I went for a light vanilla & strawberry pannacotta, which was superbly sweet and a refreshing end to a sumptuous meal. At just over £30.00 I truly felt I had gotten great value out off my three courses. After a relaxing glass of wine in the town center I took my leave and hit the hay for the night.
The next morning I woke up and packed my bags as this was my last day in Guernsey but I had time for lunch before my flight departed. As such I left my suitcase at the hotel reception and hopped on a bus to the west coast of the island. Located here in Cobo Bay is the Cobo Fish & Chip Bar, recently voted as the number five chip shop in Britain by Esquire magazine. “Cobo” had been highly recommended to me by the locals and it was not a disappointment. The iron hut that is the chip shop is not the prettiest one you will ever see but the produce that comes out of it is wonderful. Being a traditionalist about these things, I went for the cod and chips and promptly placed myself on the sea wall and set about enjoying my lunch. I only wished I had a bit more time to spend as really I should have visited here to watch the sun set with my chips but alas I had to return to collect my suitcase and board my flight back to London life.
Bio: Emma Williams is an avid traveller and loves visiting new and exotic places. She works to travel and loves to spend as much time exploring as possible. For further information on Guernsey head to www.visitguernsey.com
Photo 1: AJ Yakstrangler – Flickr
Photos 2-4: Images courtesy of “VisitGuernsey”