The Culinary Muratti

I love that moment when the waiter takes the fine linen napkin, folds it into a precise and neat triangle and lays it across my lap with a flourish, and a confident smile. It usually heralds promise of fine food or fine wine, or both. On this occasion, the Leopard Bar and Restaurant at the Duke of Richmond hotel had organised a genuine gastronomic treat as part of the 2017 Guernsey Food Festival, but it’s in the form of a competition. How does Mozart compete with Beethoven? How does Monet compete with Renoir? How does art compete with art?  However, the gastronomic Muratti, or the first ever Guernsey vs Jersey food challenge turned out to be a most enjoyable event, and a credit to The Duke of Richmond Hotel.

Two of the top chefs from each island prepared the most amazing feast, an extraordinary meal of which even Babette herself would approve.  I’ve eaten feasts and banquets before, but this is the first 10-course, competitive meal I’ve gorged on. It was as good as faultless, and surprisingly good value at £55 per head, including a glass of wine with each course.

The competitive element meant that a five-course meal turned into a ten-course feast, with each of the five courses having two offerings, both of which we had to try, and then vote on.  Of course, in the interests of fairness, nobody knew for whom they were voting.  Each of the tastings was beautifully presented, and both teams managed to avoid the pretentiousness that can sometimes creep into these kinds of culinary events.

How can one choose between quail egg with parsnip veloute and prawn cocktail in lettuce gazpacho – they both amused my bouche wonderfully.  Next was foie gras parfait vs venison with celeriac.  The fish courses were turbot with cepe risotto vs a seafood veloute, leading quickly on to fillet of beef with ox cheek vs venison with blue cheese (Fort Grey of course) and poached pear.  Not quite groaning by this time, we were finished off with duck egg tart vs strawberries with white chocolate and ice-cream.

As I said, it was simply a wonderful treat, and with neither side knowing what the other was cooking disaster was potentially looming all evening if both sides had offered the same food, at any point.

The Jersey chefs were Lee Smith from Ormer and Tony Brazendale from Jersey’s Savoy hotel.  They were competing with Kevin Semple from the Old Government House Hotel and Helder Leca representing the Duke of Richmond Hotel.

Looking at the votes on a course by course basis it could not have been closer, with Jersey and Guernsey winning two courses each.  The votes were tantalisingly equal on the fifth course, leaving the result as a draw overall.  However, when the total votes were announced Guernsey was the clear winner with 144 to Jersey’s 116.

The evening was supported by Dunell’s premier wines, Jersey’s leading independent wine retailer, with Neil McAndrew on hand from Bancroft Wines in London to talk us through the wide array of wines accompanying each course.

Despite many promises over the years, I have never had a British wine which excited me enough to go back for a second glass and I hoped that my somewhat conservative nose would be enlightened on this occasion. Westwell Wines broke the duck with a cheeky little sparkling wine from Kent, a non-vintage Pelegrim Extra Dry.

There really were some splendid, refreshing and very palatable wines from Bergerac in France, from Mendoza in Argentina and an unusually fine, white wine from from Terra Alta in northern Spain. It’s worth a look at and to see their full offering.

We enjoyed the evening, and we hope it will become a regular feature of inter-island life.  What about a Muratti Bake-Off?  There’s a thought….

The Captains Hotel

Many of you will know that I’ve been vegetarian for all of my life, mainly because my family brought me up that way, but with this journey of discovery I’m on, of all-things-foodie, I’ve begun to try meat and fish.  And so it was that I was invited to The Captains in St Martin to try their renown tiger prawns and scallops.  It was a very worthwhile journey.  A really important thing for me is the texture of food, as well as the taste, and I was somewhat apprehensive about the scallops, but I didn’t need to be.  Like all good food, the way they are cooked, and what they’re combined with served to quickly dispel any fears I had.  I’m a scallop junkie now.

Ali de la Mare is a real hands-on proprietor, and her personality shows through in all aspects of her hotel – in the menu, the decor, the warmth of the service, and the transformation of the new upstairs bar and lounge – Ali has put her own personal stamp on it all, and she knows what she’s doing.

Of course, they have something to delight the vegetarian pallet as well, and Ali tells us some of her regular visitors from the UK are very keen each year to see what she has on offer.

Ali’s son George has his own fishing boat, so when local restaurants talk of fish being fresh from the line onto the plate The Captains really does have a legitimate claim to being close to the front of the queue, as George almost exclusively supplies his mum.  Actually, it’s a lovely story, and you can hear from George on the video interview we did with him.

I enjoyed it all.  The Captains holds few pretensions, and Ali says her menu is just a list of good, honest food.  There’s everything from some typical english meals to quite exotic fish or meat, and more than a fair share of comfort food, but the quality is excellent.  Ali’s down to earth stance on the hotel and restaurant business has made The Captains into a real gem in the hidden lanes of this corner of Guernsey, and well worth a visit.