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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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….!
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.
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. https://www.theimperial.gg/food/ 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….!