The Imperial – the smells, sounds and tastes of the sea….

The Imperial
I do love the smell of the sea.  Perhaps it takes me back to idyllic holidays as a youngster, playing on the beach with my family, or maybe just those long summer holidays from school when I was old enough to take a short walk on my own to the rocks at Petit Bot, and reflect on life, love and the universe.
Homemade mushroom soup
Our visit to The Imperial Hotel in Guernsey’s far south west corner evoked similar emotions, as we dined gazing out at a deserted beach, the scene, a few weeks ago, of the now famous Rocquaine Regatta.  What choice did I have but to go for the scallops as a starter?  Beautifully presented, lovingly served, and tasting of my teenage years.  The scallops are local and enhanced by the fennel purée, Provençal breadcrumbs, with lemon and roe sauce.  It was light, refreshing and delicious, and it didn’t fall into the trap of being too big.  I often find myself replete before the main course comes, but The Imperial has much more sensible portion sizes, at least for the starters.
Scallops with fennel purée, Provençal breadcrumbs, with lemon and roe sauce
There were four of us, and my dining companions started with a crispy fried wedge of Brie served with homemade cranberry sauce, all sitting on a bed of mixed lettuce, one had the homemade mushroom soup, and two of them had sautéed garlic mushrooms on sourdough toast.  They were all very impressed, with lots of nods of approval and affirmation.  I’m one for dining with close friends, and that way they don’t mind when we all try each other’s food – this was no exception!
Crispy fried wedge of Brie served with homemade cranberry sauce
The Imperial has changed since I last ate there seven years ago.  It’s had a major makeover in decor, staff, management and menu, and they’ve made a huge success of it all.  It’s greatly enhanced by the view across to the Cup & Saucer, with Lihou in the background.  The sun had decided to be shy that evening, cloaked by the fog which had wreaked havoc on the day’s flight schedules; an occasional inconvenience in this part of the world, but what better place to be ‘stuck’ is my view of it all.
Pie of the Day with mashed potatoes and vegetables
The service was just as it should be – friendly, swift and unobtrusive – just the way I like it.  The staff know their stuff, and can answer any question knowledgeably.  I am always astonished when you ask the soup of the day, and you receive quizzical looks at 7.30 in the evening, and they have to go away and ask the chef.  The Imperial team all knew their specials, including the soup of the day, and we felt very looked after.  I heard one of them coaxing a youngster on the next table, and persuading him to try something knew.  The kid loved it, and the parents loved the waiter.  Jamie, the waiter, should do stand up comedy if ever his career in hospitality fails.  Both Jamie and Iulia made the evening even more memorable.
Veggie Burger with applewood cheese
Between the four of us we ate a great deal of what my parents would have called ‘proper food’ and it was delightful.  The veggie burger was huge, and tasty, with a spicy pickle to liven it up, and sitting on a freshly-baked warm bread roll.  I can honestly tell you, the pork belly Porchetta took me back to the ski slopes.  Half way up a mountain in the French Alps is a restaurant run by a couple from Somerset.  Half way down a blue run, the menu is handed to you with a plate of pork crackling, with barely a nod of acknowledgment to the vegetarians skiers.  Their pork crackling is beguiling and memorable, and so is the crust on the pork Porchetta here at The Imperial.  I didn’t really need the new potatoes, but I took them home to have with a fried egg for breakfast.  The Seafood Hot Pan is a colourful melange of scallops, moules, prawns, and calamari, served on a bed of vegetables with a side of saffron rice.  The white crab meat (locally caught) salad was served with Marie-Rose sauce, and all of us were offered the Imperial’s lovely fresh bread, baked in their own ovens.
Pork Belly Porchetta
The real treat was Pie off the Day, served with potatoes and vegetables, and it is exactly what you’d expect, and of a quality which exemplifies the ‘new’ Imperial.  It’s a Randalls establishment so all of their local well-known beers are here, together with Rocquette Cider, Blue Bottle gin and a selection of wines to suit us all.  I washed much of my dinner down with a glass or two (or it may have been four) of Rickety Bridge, so I was delighted not to be the nominated driver – next time, eh!
White crab meat salad with Marie-Rose sauce
As the sun finally peaked through, just before it set for the day, I was served a Floating Island, a desert of such magnitude and sugar content that I felt sure a diabetic attack may ensue.  It’s a poached meringue, so it’s soft and fluffy, and served floating on a yellow sea of pure pleasure.  Restraint at desert time is not one of my strengths, and I threw caution aside once again, only so you, dear reader, would fully understand the splendid essence of this meal. These are the sacrifices we make in food and restaurant writing….!
Floating Island
My recommendation would be to take the bus (no. 92 stops here, amongst others) and sample the full delights in full, and discard any thoughts of self-restraint for the evening.  The last bus to anywhere leaves at 10.20pm, so that’s plenty of time to lever yourself from the reverie of the monumental deserts.  The organic coffee is prepared by a Barista, and it touched the spot for all of us, just conjuring enough energy to get us to the bus home.
Sticky Toffee Pudding
Do go and try The Imperial.  Whether it’s summer on the expansive terrace, or winter in the cosy atmosphere of old-world charm, you are guaranteed a welcome.  Some may dismiss it as pub food, but it is a significant cut above, as far as I’m concerned.  Anyway, what’s wrong with pub food – anywhere that serves Creme Anglaise instead of custard is just fine by me.  There is something for the most discerning diner, and for the simplest of tastes, but the quality is just superb. is a good place to look for their full menu.  We’ve promised to go back to check out their refurbished hotel rooms, and perhaps to miss the last bus home….!
Eat well

Paradise Found, at Port Soif

I’ve discovered paradise – It’s called Surfside at Port Soif, but it’s not a restaurant, so they say….!

The seagulls bleated in the distance somewhere, and a gentle breeze finally woke me from the brief but beguiling reverie into which I had slipped.  I was entranced by the delightful experience of scoffing a simply splendid bowl of chips and and a cool drink in one of Guernsey’s most surprising dining spots.

Fine dining is one thing, and we will always enjoy our reviews of Guernsey’s restaurants with linen table cloths, shiny glasses of wine, and waiters gliding effortlessly between tables.  Today was something different, as we ventured to the west coast at Port Soif, and parked next to the Surfside Garden and Takeaway.  We popped in just to get an ice cream to take away, but it’s the first time we’ve really explored this haven along the west coast, and it didn’t take much persuasion for us to stop and relax with a bowl of really nice chips, or anything really.

My partner in crime is a bit of a connoisseur when it comes to chips, and I do rather like them myself.  Surfside’s chips touched the spot, but we were distracted by their speciality, which is crab sandwich.  I’m told their daily stress is whether there will be enough locally picked crab to satisfy their customers’ demands, so don’t leave it too late in the day.  Talking of which, they’re open from 9am until 6pm every day, but with last food orders taken at 5pm.

The smiling and friendly service is really great, which it isn’t always at some kiosks on our beautiful island, sadly.  It’s just so easy to stop here, sit for a while and contemplate nothing at all, sheltered from the wind in the sun trap garden, and relax.  It really is a gorgeous spot.

My eye was caught by a hand written sign which tells me I can earn a free drink or an ice cream by taking a wombling kit, which I think means I need to walk a bit and pick up some litter and beach debris. I needed to walk afterwards, as my attention had been too easily drawn to the banana and carrot cake, whose level of deliciousness is difficult to describe or do justice in words.  You really will have to take a trip to Surfside and check it out for yourself.

They have very handily placed public lavatories just behind the place, and they are kept immaculately clean and smelling pristine.  I wouldn’t have know they were there, but for the signs pointing round the back.

Surfside does fabulous food, hot snacks, such as baked potatoes, sausage and bacon rolls, burgers and southern fried chicken.  They also have a great range of sandwiches in addition to the crab.

If you’d like to stay and eat in the peaceful garden they really do have a surprisingly wide choice of dishes, but I’m determined to go back for the breakfast, which sounds extraordinary value at £5 for egg, sausage, bacon, beans and toast. One section of their menu is called ‘Other Lovely Stuff’ so I may have to become a regular for a while, just to try things, you understand.

We were greatly amused by the sign on the wall, which allays any thoughts we may have had that this place is a restaurant.  Frankly, I don’t give a damn what they are – it’s a  great place to go and eat and spend some time, and perhaps nod off in the peace of the afternoon sun….

I’ve also decided to do all my blog posts from Surfside, as they have free WiFi, and I couldn’t imagine a nicer place to work….!

Eat well


The Leopard Restaurant at The Duke of Richmond – the true meaning of ‘fine dining’

I have a problem when I eat at The Duke of Richmond – it’s not their fault at all; it’s entirely mine.  I have a sweet tooth you see, and I just can’t walk past a dessert, a biscuit, nor a sweet jar….

Each time I walk into the Duke, one of the Red Carnation collection of fine hotels, I am confronted by the extraordinary decor, with Bea Tollman’s South African origins clearly on display, even as you step through the door.  The art on the walls is very much an African thing, and the whole hotel almost takes me back to the bushveld in South Africa, and some delightful bush food, the sounds of amazing wildlife and the unmistakable smell of quiet sunset evenings in Africa.  However, and this is where the problem emerges, they have sweet jars with jelly beans, sherbert lemons and soft toffees, just inside on the left, before you walk into the Leopard Bar & Restaurant.  I’ve given the Old Government House Hotel, just down the road, a great deal of stick, as their sweets are really very second rate compared to the Duke.  Now, if you both pay attention please and ensure you start competing for who could have the best sweets in the jar, we’ll pop in much more frequently.  I mean serious competition here folks – check out some of the pick and mix displays and see how much quantity and variety you can achieve, please.  Hint – the Duke of Richmond is winning at the moment, by a long way.

I digress already, but with no apology at all.  There is much to love at the Duke, as last time we visited we scoffed down a delicious afternoon tea, and it is remembered with great fondness.  It was summer, so it must have been a year ago, and we sat on the terrace, washing down the cream and jam and scones with a cheeky glass of something bubbly.  And now it’s summer again, and I’ve brought the family for an early evening meal.

I do enjoy the reassurance of watching the chefs at work through the glass wall which displays all the action in the kitchen.  And you can hear the gentle murmur of a great team of expert cooks as they gently coach superb dishes out of many local ingredients, and without a swear word at all.

I started with the pan seared scallops, pea purée, lemon, and caper sauce.  It was so light, so subtle, so luxurious, and tasted divine.  My dedicated vegetarian partner in crime had a mysterious looking starter of avocado spring rolls with chimichurri and cherry tomato vinaigrette.  She tells me it tasted fresh, light and bursting with flavours, each of which complemented the other – what more could one wish for.

Pan seared scallops, pea purée, lemon, and caper sauce
Avocado spring rolls with chimichurri and cherry tomato vinaigrette

Child One’s imagination does not often stray past prawn cocktail, and it is so difficult to make it original in any way, so it just has to be about fresh and tasty salad, and a good quality to the sauce and prawns, both of which were achieved without pretension.  Child Two’s relatively undeveloped palate was amused by sweet potato soup, but I think he enjoyed the Duke’s bread more, freshly made on the premises, and coming in four different flavours.

Sweet potato soup
Prawn cocktail

I had no idea what wine to order, so casting my eye down the comprehensive wine list I alighted upon an Australian Shiraz called Ass Kisser – I had to have it, and I’m glad I did.  If I’m short of one thing in life it’s an intimate enough knowledge of wines to do them justice in these restaurant reviews.  I decided just to drink it instead of pretending to have much knowledge of it.  That works for me….

My main course was a slightly pink rack of lamb (just the way I like it) with baby vegetables and new potatoes (definitely not Jerseys) all complemented by a rich rosemary jus.  The balance was perfect and the potatoes were plucked out of the steam at exactly the right moment, which I always find a challenge.

Rack of lamb with baby vegetables and new potatoes

The boss went for homemade basil gnocchi with tomato, baby gem and sherry emulsion, and she tells me it’s close to the best she’s ever had.  It was light and tasty with a hint of basil, rather than a flavouring.  I did pinch one off her plate , and I do see what she means.  She reports that it is so different to the usual gnocchi, which often leaves one feeling rather heavy and overloaded – this was light and fresh, and much more gentle on the digestive system.  The boss has a more sophisticated palate than me when it comes to wine, and she tells me the New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc called Frost Pocket was light, crispy and perfectly complemented her food.

Homemade basil gnocchi with tomato, baby gem and sherry emulsion

Child One, a connoisseur when it comes to beef, really enjoyed the braised beef cheeks, scallion mash and glazed carrots.  Well, to be honest I asked him how it was, but he’s a teenager, so I took his monosyllabic grunt as some kind of positive affirmation, as it was accompanied by a vigorous nodding of the head, and there was no sign of choking.

Braised beef cheeks, scallion mash and glazed carrots

Child Two opted for roasted Barbary duck breast with carrot and orange purée, pickled blackberries and sautéed spinach.  He also grunted his affirmation, which is an accolade, indeed.

Baked Alaska

I’m afraid dessert wounded me a little.  Well, by the time I’d tried everybody’s my palate was a little confused and I may have been ready for a diabetes attack.   Many years ago I tried to impress a new girlfriend by cooking her a meal at home, and ending it with a baked Alaska.  It all ran very smoothly, and my seduction technique was swimming upstream towards the ultimate completion, and then I rescued what was left of the baked Alaska which had become a blob of charred waste in the middle of the oven.  My hopes of seduction dashed, my career as a gourmet chef chef in tatters, I vowed to avoid baked Alaska for the rest of my life – until now.  I could run out of superlatives here, but the best thing is to come along to The Duke of Richmond and try it for yourself.  Seated on a bed of Guernsey Gache, with light and crispy meringue holding beautiful vanilla ice cream, and with a hint of raspberry, this was a feast, and I loved it, so much so that I barely had the motivation to fight with the other three over Bea Tollman’s vanilla cheesecake.  We both had a very satisfying dessert wine, the Muscat Beaumes de Venise.  I’ve not yet made up my mind – after years of trying and sipping dessert wines I’m never quite sure whether it’s just a bit too much, but my judgement has usually entirely disappeared by that stage in a meal.

Bea Tollman’s vanilla cheesecake

The colours, the aromas, the presentation and the tastes were all just faultless.  The service was simply excellent – a flawless orchestra of waiters, chefs, supervisors and sommelier gently gliding between tables, attentive but never conspicuous, and producing a symphony of taste, texture and colour.  Now, how am I going to stagger past those sweet jars on the way out….?