YOU can get too obsessed with your belly, especially in such a land of milk and honey (and sumptuous seafood) as Jersey.
'The sight of a silverback gorilla mum, cradling and feeding her baby, takes the breath away'
I admit food was a major lure for our three-night break on the largest of the Channel Islands. Four Michelin-starred restaurants – plus the estimable Andrew Baird, who has been cooking up a quiet storm at Longueville Manor for two decades – in just 45 square miles attest to Jersey’s culinary excellence.
Still there are times when you need to drop the fancy napkins and grab a serious Gothic interlude. The Corbiere Lighthouse supplied ours. It was the first in the British Isles to be built of reinforced concrete and is a good advertisement for the stuff, having survived 140 years of being battered rotten on the island’s rugged south-west tip.
It’s reached by a long causeway, submerged at high tide. A bit Woman In Black. The charts said that high tide had just passed; so did the fresh spume drenching the rough road. We speed read the safety warnings, then trod out gingerly, waves still crashing into huge, jagged rocks around us. Ahead lay our goal, the lighthouse, against a backdrop of gathering thunderclouds. It felt good to be alive – or to be in the land of the Undead!
We only chanced to be there – at the dark end of an otherwise luminous day – while in pursuit of edible opportunities. We were checking out the nearby Atlantic Hotel, which hosts one of the four one-stars you can combine in a Jersey Michelin Star Experience package, arranged by the canny folk at Jersey Tourism. For thriftier diners they also stage, in conjunction with Guernsey an annual Tennerfest, where restaurant menus start at £10 and no fixed price three courser is above £20. The deals run from October 1 for six weeks.
As it happened, our schedule was too tight to eat at Mark Jordan’s Ocean restaurant in the Atlantic. We settled for a basic barbecue up at Faulkners Fisheries. To get there we stepped on the gas up the long, straight west coast road with its combo of ocean rollers, wetlands, Jersey Royal plantations and abandoned German World War Two fortifications.
Faulkners have a stall in one of capital St Helier’s impressive indoor markets, but up at the very top of vast St Ouen’s Bay is where they harvest and store their catches in an old military bunker. We inspected the seawater tanks and their lobster lodgers. A young lad chargrilled us some scallops and prawns. Glad we’d asked – apparently we were the first customers of the season. He said sorry for the lack of salad!
It doesn’t take long to cover the ground in well-signposted Jersey. If you are in a hurry, though, avoid the “Green Lanes”. If you’re not – and what’s the rush? – don’t miss this 50 mile network of country lanes across 10 of Jersey’s 12 parishes. Look for the signs.
They were designated to reveal the island’s beauties and have a speed limit of 15 mph with priority given to walkers, cyclists and horse riders.
Our base for the first two days, Longueville Manor, is in one of the two Green Lane-less parishes, St Saviour. No matter, Longueville is an entrancing paradise in its own right, on the edge of St Helier’s sprawl. Its 16 acre mixture of formal gardens, unspoilt woodland and Victorian kitchen garden are set out much as when they were established in the 19th century.
The Manor itself was first mentioned in 1332 and it was in the 17th century that one Benjamin La Cloche, using oak chests, paneled the Great Hall – today home to the Oak Restaurant. The beautiful Manor frontage, with its elaborate arch, dates back even earlier. We were lucky to stay in the ultra-chic Tower Suite, named after the nearby north turret, whose creeper-clad bulk dominates the back of the hotel. The Manor fell into long periods of disrepair and was used as officers' quarters during the German invasion. It was rescued and restored by the Lewis family in 1949, who have created today’s 5 AA Red Stars, Relais & Chateaux property with its 30 rooms and suites.
If it is a dream to stay in that is only enhanced by the food on offer.It has benefited from executive head chef Andrew Baird’s 22 year tenure in the kitchen and groundbreaking advocacy of local produce from a network of local suppliers and that kitchen garden, where he was the first to cultivate asparagus on the island.
Our Discovery Menu was exemplary, culminating in Baird’s legendary cheeseboard. Perfectly matched wines, service marshaled superbly by Pedro Bento and those dark panels, too. A hard act to follow, but we tried next day.
Shaun Rankin is the best-known of Baird’s proteges. A Great British Menu winner ticking all the telly boxes, he forged his Michelin-starry reputation at Bohemia, in the spanking new Club Hotel Spa in central St Helier. We caught up with him at Ormer, his own, hugely impressive restaurant/bar, open just a few months and yet already with a Michelin star.
Deservedly, on the evidence of a perfectly executed, fish-led lunch. I liked the whole seriously thought-out, smart but casual metropolitan vibe of the space. The culinary pyrotechnics have deliberately been toned down; the flavours are direct and intense. My dover sole, a playful fish and chips style deconstruction, was sublime.
It would have been easy for Rankin, like Baird a Yorkshireman, to use Jersey as a springboard for a more high profile, celeb chef career on the mainland, but he is committed to the Jersey lifestyle and, once gain, the opulence of the raw materials he works with.
These factors may have influenced his successor at Bohemia, the meteoric Steve Smith (right), whose precise, elaborate cooking I first encountered at The Devonshire Arms at Bolton Abbey – just one stop along a Michelin-garlanded career path that has included Australia. Under Smith’s influence, changes are already afoot at Bohemia (which retains its star) to lighten the look of the overwhelmingly brown and tan dining space and provide a more dramatic setting for Simth’s dramatic food, evidenced by a Prestige Menu that featured signature dishes such as scallop, celeriac, apple, smoked eel and truffle and my most unctuous treat of the trip, foie gras cream, rhubarb, duck salad and walnut (below).
After 12 courses, with matching wines, we were glad it was a mere stumble upstairs to our room. The Hotel Club & Spa was conveniently our final billet on the island. It’s a world away from the country house style of Longueville, but it is warm and comfortable with lots of under-stated luxury – including a top-notch spa and indoor pool.
It also makes the perfect base for exploring St Helier, a town I didn’t immediately warm to. The expensively done-up waterfront quarter I found disappointing, but I enjoyed wandering the older streets and visiting those markets – and the gloriously facaded Lamplighter pub on Mulcaster Street is a real gem, its range of ales perfect for cleansing the palate before another Michelin assault. Elsewhere, the best beer offerings are from St Helier’s own Liberation Brewery and if you want to buy wine beyond the regular brands seek out Gorey Wines, run from a farmhouse by Mirto Sappe from Piemonte in Italy.
Of course, there are lots and lots of things to do on Jersey apart from eating and drinking and we managed quite a few using our Jersey Pass (see Fact file). Elizabeth Castle, the 16th century fort that dominates the entrance to St Helier harbour was shut because it was still not quite the season, but we talked our way into the more spectacular Mont Orgeuil Castle, high on its crag over Gorey Bay.
Dating back to King John and the early 13th century, it has been sympathetically restored and enhanced by art installations and interpretative displays without sacrificing the fun factor.
On a blissfully sunny morning, we romped among the ramparts like kids before tucking into a crab lunch (What else? Oh, food again.) at the Crab Shack next door.
It’s a short drive from here (detouring via picturesque Rozel and its cove) to the Durrell Wildlife Park, another wow for the youngsters. It’s a unique sanctuary and breeding centre for endangered species and HQ of the Conservation Trust created by the great naturalist and writer, Lawrence Durrell. The 32 woodland acres are a delight to wander round in their own right, but the sight of a silverback gorilla mum, cradling and feeding her baby takes the breath away (Longueville sponsor the proud father Badongo). I also enjoyed the familial antics of the gibbons and orang-utans and the sheer peevishness of the lemurs.
You can easily tie in a visit there with a detour to another product of one man’s indpendent dream – the Eric Young Orchid Foundation. Opened in 1958, it is one of the world’s finest collections of orchid hybrids. The exotics gathered in the display houses are spectacular and it was one regret we couldn’t risk buying a couple to survive the plane journey home.
My final visit recommendation is an altogether more sobering experience. Jersey’s harrowing wartime experience is vividly relived in the award-winning Jersey War Tunnels. Between October 1941 and January 1944 thousands of forced labourers from all over conquered Europe hacked through rock in the cruellest conditions to construct more than 1km of underground chambers and corridors. The complex was meant for military then as a medical centre for injured German soldiers (never used).
Refurbished in 2001, it is both a poignant memorial to the fallen and a totally riveting, interactive history of the Occupation, striving to understand the feelings of all involved. To stare down the unfinished tunnels, with all their ghosts, is to stare into hell.
We emerge into a placid Jersey afternoon, with all the pleasures of freedom to enjoy. Suddenly we’ve lost our appetite.
Ormer Restaurant By Shaun Rankin
7-11 Don Street, St Helier, JE2 4TQ. 01534 725100,Set lunch £19-24. Seven course tasting menu £75 (with wines £120). It is named after the Channel Islands version of the abalone or edible sea snail.
At the Club Hotel And Spa (see Factfile for address). Full menus, including set lunches £19.95-£24.95, £75 Tasting Menu and £83 Prestige Menu.
3 AA Rosettes. Set lunch, £25-£30, a la carte dinner £52.50-£60. Seven course Discovery Menu £80 (with wines £110).
There are actually two Shacks. The original is bang on St Brelade’s Bay. We lunched at its sibling, high above Gorey Bay with views of Mont Orgeuil. A whole chancre crab with Jersey Royals, herb salad and mayonnaise for £16.95 was the draw, but it’s a safe bet for all fisg dishes in casual, nautically-themed surroundings.
At this self-styled beach cantina location (stunning surfer bay views) is more important than the food, which is an eclectic mix of burgers and pasta with Pan-Asian curries. Go for the specials and the sunset.
Longueville Manor, Longueville Rd St.Saviour, Jersey JE2 7WF.
01534 725501, www.longuevillemanor.com.
Spring Break Offer (until May 31 2014) from £175 per person per night includes champagne on arrival, welcome gift, three course "table d'hôte" dinner, full English & buffet breakfast plus group 1 hire car for duration of stay. Summer Break (June 1-July 31, fourth night free on B&B basis) from £210 per person includes all the above.
Longueville Manor is among 520 Relais & Châteaux properties, recognising the finest hotels and restaurateurs worldwide. For reservations call Relais & Châteaux: 00 800 2000 00 02 (toll free) or visit www.relaischateaux.com. Alternatively, visit the Maison des Relais & Châteaux at 10 Beauchamp Place, Knightsbridge, London SW3 1NQ, where the English-speaking Relais & Châteaux team will be delighted assist with your holiday plans.
The R&C concept grew from the vacationing traditions of well-heeled French society, who traveled to a variety of "relais" (lodges) and "châteaux" (castles) which, while different in architecture, scenery and cuisine, presented consistently high standards.
The Club Hotel & Spa, Bohemia Restaurant, Green Street, St. Helier, Jersey, JE2 4UH. 01534 876 500, www.theclubjersey.com.
Double Deluxe en suite room rates start from £130 in May and £155 in high season. All include a continental breakfast, evening turndown with homemade shortbread, flat screen LCD TV, CD/DVD Player, portable telephone, hairdryer, bathrobes and 24 hour room service. Studios and Suites range from one to two rooms with large bathrooms, steam shower, cCouples showers’, all rooms with floor to ceiling windows.
The hotel offers a number of packages, including stay six nights get the seventh free. Offer details via this link.
The hotel offers a Luxury Spa and Thermal Suite – don’t miss the Rasul mud room –and free parking (a real asset in busy town centre St Helier).
Neil Sowerby flew from Liverpool John Lennon to Jersey on easyJet’s regular service. For full details visit www.easyjet.com.
He picked up a hire car at Jersey’s Airport from Herz. https://www.hertz.co.uk.
Jersey Tourism: www.jersey.com.
The Jersey Pass, starting from £42 for two days to £65 for six, gives free access to 14 major attractions and discounts on many more. www.jersey.com/jerseypass.
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