Food Chan­nel

Guernsey sets out its stall with spot­light on new bars and din­ers

The Guardian - Travel - - Front Page -

‘The best things in life are usu­ally closer than you think,” says Luke Wheadon as he pours a healthy mea­sure of his ar­ti­san gin over ice. I’m in Guernsey with my hus­band to dis­cover some of the is­land’s new food and drink of­fer­ings, and we’re sam­pling Luke’s “gin ex­pe­ri­ence” in the cel­lar lounge of the Bella Luce (bel­laluce­ho­tel.com), a bou­tique ho­tel in leafy St Martins.

Among the sam­ples is one of Luke’s own in­ven­tions, dis­tilled in the gleam­ing cop­per still be­side us, named Old Nick after his late fa­ther. The gin is in­fused with hi­bis­cus flow­ers and man­darin limes grown in one of the is­land’s vast green­houses – which once sup­plied many of the UK’s to­ma­toes. His sig­na­ture gin, cre­ated from 13 ex­otic botan­i­cals, uses rock sam­phire for­aged from a nearby cove. “Each in­fu­sion fea­tures a key in­gre­di­ent that I source lo­cally, so it’s hon­estly a taste of Guernsey,” he says.

Jersey may be known for its Miche­lin-starred restau­rants, but Guernsey is now es­tab­lish­ing it­self as a gas­tro des­ti­na­tion, with sev­eral new eater­ies and bars open­ing this year and an in­creas­ing num­ber of ar­ti­sans cre­at­ing stand­out prod­ucts.

The fol­low­ing morn­ing we walk down to the cove at Moulin Huet – a spot favoured by Renoir. Rugged cliffs tower over the sea, crowned with a man­tle of wild flow­ers and sam­phire. At half-tide, a sandy beach is re­vealed, and a heav­enly, al­beit chilly, swim sorts out our gin-soaked heads.

Renoir also fre­quented the La Valette bathing pools near St Peter Port, built in 1865. Vic­tor Hugo, who made his home at nearby Hauteville, was also a fan. Years of storm dam­age had made them un­us­able, but now the pools are be­ing re­ju­ve­nated as part of an on­go­ing com­mu­nity project. It’s still early when we visit and we have the mir­ror-calm water to our­selves.

Back on the food trail, we warm up in Oc­to­pus (oc­to­pus­gsy.co.uk), an airy new restau­rant on the wa­ter­front run by Del­phine Pes­rin-Auder and chef Mick­ael Pes­rin, the cou­ple be­hind Le Petit Bistro in town. Un­sur­pris­ingly lo­cal seafood takes cen­tre stage, with bouil­l­abaisse and crab on a long menu that also in­cludes steaks and ra­men. The break­fast choice is less bewil­der­ing, and we tuck into a “house break­fast” – Guernsey sausages, cured ba­con, eggs and beans (£10) – on the ter­race, with views across Havelet Bay to the ram­parts of Cas­tle Cor­net.

There are re­minders of an em­bat­tled past all along Guernsey’s coast: me­nac­ing Ger­man con­crete bunkers; stone Martello tow­ers, rem­nants of Napoleonic-era de­fences; and Plein­mont Tower, an in­tim­i­dat­ing six-storey look­out which stands sen­try to one of the is­land’s most pic­turesque walks. Hap­pily, there is also no short­age of tea­rooms or “kiosks” nearby, such as Portelet kiosk (on Face­book), serv­ing hunks of Guernsey gâche (pro­nounced gosh), a fruit loaf that’s best spread with golden Guernsey but­ter.

The is­land cham­pi­ons ar­ti­sans such as Fenella Mad­di­son with her Fort Grey blue cheese, and Rick Cre­ber’s Home Grown Chill­ies. A grow­ing num­ber of small-batch pro­duc­ers are cre­at­ing cider, gin, craft beer and fruit liqueurs flavoured with lo­cally grown fruit and wild herbs. Box stalls filled with fresh pro­duce, known as “hedge veg”, can be found on hedgerows, with an hon­esty jar along­side.

St Peter Port, with its cob­bled streets, bou­tiques, restau­rants and cafes, is the heart of an in­creas­ingly vi­brant foodie scene. At Tin­tos (tinto. gg), a tiny new ta­pas bar, chefs trained by London lu­mi­nary José Pizarro cre­ate mouth­wa­ter­ing com­bi­na­tions: ten­der lamb cut­lets with ajo blanco (cold gar­lic soup); as­para­gus with manchego cheese; and Monte Ene­bro goat’s cheese with honey. The rose­mary cheese­cake is silky smooth, with hints of rose­mary and ginger, topped with nougat – quite ex­quis­ite.

Nearby, up Con­sti­tu­tion Steps, is Moroc­can-in­spired ho­tel and restau­rant Zig­gu­rat (hotelzig­gu­rat.com). Cock­tail in hand, we catch our breath in a cosy beach hut on the roof ter­race. Be­low, slate roofs sweep down to the har­bour, and be­yond lie the is­lands of Herm, Jethou and Sark, in a glit­ter­ing sea.

Closer to sea level, Slaugh­ter­house (slaugh­ter­house.gg) is an­other new hang­out. The old abat­toir be­side the har­bour has been given a facelift and its bar is well-stocked with lo­cal ales – such as Ran­dalls Breda and Roc­quette cider – and gins. There’s also an ex­ten­sive cock­tail list, while mains in­clude pan-roasted sea bream with parma ham and sea herbs, and fen­nel pollen-en­crusted lamb loin with miso and wild mush­room fric­as­sée.

For those with a sweet tooth, nearby choco­latier Ben Le Prevost (ben­lepre­vostchoco­latier.com) offers ar­ti­san con­fec­tions with cumin, miso or rasp­berry and sting­ing net­tle. For a more hands-on ex­pe­ri­ence, Re­becca’s (on Face­book) at Oat­lands Vil­lage now offers cho­co­late-mak­ing work­shops. I leave clutch­ing a bag filled with boozy prunes dipped in dark cho­co­late and a del­i­cate white cho­co­late oys­ter shell.

Un­til 24 Septem­ber the Guernsey Food Fes­ti­val in St Peter Port guernsey­food­fes­ti­val.gg) will shine a spot­light on lo­cal pro­duce, with mar­kets, demon­stra­tions and pro­mo­tions in restau­rants and bars – it’s also Cock­tail Week (cock­tail­week. gg). And in Oc­to­ber there’s Ten­ner­fest (1 Oct-11 Nov, three-course menus from £10 , ten­ner­fest.com), a six-week tasteathon in which ho­tels, restau­rants and gas­tro pubs across the Chan­nel Is­lands of­fer low-cost menus.

We com­plete our weekend with fish and chips on the sea wall, just up the coast at Cobo. Watch­ing the sun set over the sea with sand be­tween your toes, is hard to beat: sim­ple and lo­cal. Yes, the best things in life are usu­ally closer than you think.

• Flybe (flybe.com) and Aurigny (aurigny.com) fly to Guernsey from sev­eral UK air­ports; Con­dor Fer­ries (con­dor­fer­ries.co.uk) sails from Southamp­ton and Poole. Dou­bles at Bella Luce (bel­laluce­ho­tel.com) cost from £102 B&B; gin ex­pe­ri­ence from £20pp

Rose­mary cheese­cake is silky smooth with hints of herb and ginger, and topped with nougat – ex­quis­ite

Moroc­can-style fish at Zig­gu­rat

▲ To die for … the Slaugh­ter­house

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