A Taste of Guernsey
My visit to the Channel Islands
I’ve been planning this vacation for over six months. The main reason was to spend some quality time with a family member I’ve not seen in years and years. A bi-product of that would be experiencing a new spot on the map I haven’t been to yet. And to scope out as much culinary delights the island has to offer. Excitement was an understatement. Any chance to escape the asphyxiating desert heat in Qatar would be joyous repose.
I spent a few days in sunny London with my cousin. Thoroughly enjoyed shopping, eating and walk abouts in Camden Town, cocktail bar hopping in Convent Garden and the cherry on the cake- Pride celebrations in Soho, all in one weekend. Then off to the Bailiwick of Guernsey we flew. Part of the Channel Islands and archipelago of British Crown Dependencies in the English Channel, and off the French coast of Normandy. They’re actually much closer to France than they are to England.
First meal right off the aircraft, was at a lovely cliff side restaurant on the South Eastern part of the Island called Le Gouffre Cafe and Restaurant in Torteval. A quick breeze through the menu and I settled on a hearty portion of risotto and a large glass of the house white wine.
So I had high expectations of incredible, fresh ingredients and delicious mash-ups of French and English country flavours, but I really didn’t expect to be blown out of the water with how seriously good everything tastes on the island. Literally everything is grown, caught and produced right there and to me, that was sustainable living at its best. Wowee, I couldn’t have been more infatuated from that first meal. Risotto is like comfort food to me. Cooked perfectly, the rice, stock, earthy mushrooms and rich truffle oil cut by the peppery rocket leaves felt like I was being wrapped in a warm blanket on a cold, windy day. What a welcome. I was off to great start already.
On the drive to my cousin’s home in L’ancresse, situated in the North Eastern part of the Island called the Vale (how Game of Thrones is that?) we stopped by a few of what the locals call ‘Honest Boxes’. They look like large, open mail boxes, placed outside of most homes and cottages, selling whatever that person or family grew or raised in their gardens. I was so intrigued by this idea. The whole unsupervised transaction is based purely on trust! Hence the name of course, but it took me a minute to wrap my head around it. Felt like I just walked into Narnia. The only thing I wanted were farm fresh eggs, and we found some easily. A carton of 6 for only £1.50. Come on! That was like gold to me, coming from a place where good eggs costs five times that.
I made a scramble the next morning with those eggs. Holy smokes, what a treat! I could taste the pure, unadulterated collagen and proteins in them eggs. And they were quite sweet in taste. Scrambled with Guernsey butter, a bit of milk and a dash of salt. I could live on that every single morning for the rest of my life. And the dairy that is produced Guernsey, is something I’m going to have to touch on a little later.
The next day I checked out the town of St.Peter Port.
A very picturesque and charming little town, with cobbled streets, endless restaurants, cafes, all kinds of shopping and pubs all over. I had my first meal in town at Christies. Most restaurants close after lunch at 2:30 and re-open again for the dinner crowd at 6:30. But Christies is open throughout the day with a substantial snack/light lunch menu for those in between hours.
Writing this a few weeks later, I can still taste that succulent, oh-so-tender meat and fat of the pork belly, made so dumbfounding-ly delicious with the rich sweetness of its maple glaze. To me, that was quite a food-gasmic dish if I ever had one. Every single element of the dish was perfection. The softness of the meat, the crunchiness of the fresh vegetables and the sweet tartness of the cider sauce. AND bubble and squeak. All washed down with a glass of French Merlot. I could see myself already falling in love with Guernsey.
I met up with my cousin after work let her off, and she said lets do dinner. Already looking forward to the next meal, I said why the heck not. So we went to The Lobster and Grill Restaurant at Le Friquet Country Hotel. Set in a stone-built Guernsey farmhouse, Le Friquet is an award winning hotel, with pristine gardens and an exquisite restaurant with the freshest catch of lobster and oysters. I was told that all of summer was the season for lobsters so I looked forward to a good meal of that. I was however still full from my very satisfying lunch, so I ordered just a starter instead. I was also introduced to a wine that I’ve not had the pleasure of trying before. A sprightly, mouth watering grape varietal called Voignier.
Golden in colour and full bodied in taste with fruity accents and a soft finish. The origin of the Voignier grape is presumed to be an ancient grape varietal. Originating in what is now present day Croatia, it was brought to the Rhône by the Romans. It was quite a common wine once upon a time, but it almost went extinct in 1965 due to the downsizing of the acreage producing the grapes. I liked it so much I became a willing convert to its obscure history and tantalizing taste, and I will forevermore go forth and preach of its magical wonders.
My starter and only meal for that night was the Guernsey Chancre Crab Claws. Tossed in a buttery citrusy sauce with white onions. Chancre crab -or Brown Crab — is indigenous to the Channel Islands and found in abundance. The waters around the islands teem with top quality shellfish, including: chancre crab, spider crab, lobster, mussels, fresh scallops and oysters. And all very affordable when dining out. My crab claws were a force to be reckoned with! With a very tough outer shell, it was almost impossible for me to crack them open. But with severe determination, one will always succeed in the end. The crab flesh is really meaty and doesn’t come away from the shell too easily. Very different from our sweet tasting and much smaller South East Asian crabs that I love so dearly, or even its more popular cousin, the Dungeness crab. The onions and buttery sauce were a great compliment to the dish though. And good to wipe crusty hazelnut bread up with.
I obviously had to go back for the lobster on another night. Or else I’d never forgive myself.
And so I did. Guernsey lobster -served with piping hot new potatoes and a fresh garden salad, it was a vision to behold. I wanted a really creamy sauce for my lobster, so the Cardinal sauce was perfect. Made with a base of finely diced shallots, clarified butter, white wine and the truffle cream, it drenched my lobster in sweet, creamy goodness. My cousin and I, being the only two Asians at the table among some very proper Guernsey folk, went to town on our lobsters! Cutlery chucked aside, eagerly tearing up the crustacean with our bare hands, and sucking up all the lobster-y deliciousness. They did not die in vain for us. I also said a silent prayer to the great lobster God, thanking him for his generous offering of his sea bed.
After a beautiful hike up the Guernsey cliffs with my cousin, we stopped for lunch at the Fermain Valley Hotel on a very sunny afternoon. Located right outside St.Peter Port, the 4-Star luxurious boutique hotel boasts stunning views of the coast and lush greenery surrounding the property. My cousin and I lunched at Ocean Restaurant, before going for a hike on the cliff walks overlooking the bays of the southern Coast of Guernsey.
I love a good cold blonde beer. Nothing better on a boiling summers day. The rock salt and chili squid hit the spot as well. Tender calamari rings battered perfectly with a cheeky kick of spice.
The burger was almost phenomenal. A massive slab of breaded white fish, crispy, soft and flaky all at the same time. I’m crazy about pretzel bread so that bun was an added bonus for me. With extra thick country cheese, fries and spicy salsa, it was a meal fit for gods. Oh, and not forgetting two very plump, seductive, beautifully poached jumbo shrimp on speared display. The only other restaurant in the hotel is the brand new Rock Garden Steakhouse that comes highly recommended for an evening of exciting cocktails, fabulous wine and mouth watering steaks. A place I absolutely have to come back to.
Another day, another trip to town, another restaurant to enjoy. This time, as I was again caught between the after lunch and before dinner timing, I checked out Le Petit Bistro and Cafe, who also serve an all day menu. A very darling little French bistro right at the beginning of Le Pollet Street in St. Peter Port. I couldn’t decide between the Mussels Meunière or the Coq Au Vin but I settled for the latter. And of course, it blew my socks away.
That gorgeous, heady stew of burgundy, lardons and onions made my head swim. The chicken was braised till it fell of the bone. I couldn’t get enough of the gravy, pouring it over the yummy mash and soaking my bread in it. I had such a feeling of dread when that meal was done. How I am going to leave this place? I’ve never been anywhere that delivered consistently amazing food at every single place that I’ve eaten at so far. Has any of them been a fluke? Was I jinxing myself out and the next place I’d eat at would be nothing to shout about?
But no, this is actual real life here.
And the next place I ate at was a Thai restaurant called Sawadi, and it rocked my world. I ordered my green curry Thai spicy -a little smug-like- and ended up with a no nonsense spicy as heck delicious curry that I still dream about. Unbelievable. They even get authenticity right. There’s nothing that I do not love about this place.
This is the first part of my Guernsey write up. Stay tuned for the next part.