Tag Archives: Isles of Scilly

Strawberry Fields of BryherJune 24, 2019

 

It’s strawberry season, hurrah. There’s no food that evokes British summer like this jubilantly juicy fruit. I’ve yet to meet someone who doesn’t love them and from my personal experience it’s impossible to overdose on them too. And believe me, I’ve tried. 

I’m helping out my friends Graham and Ruth Eggins on their mixed farm on the wild one-mile-long island of Bryher in the Isles of Scilly, best known perhaps for its Atlantic-bashed Hell Bay. The Eggins produce pretty much everything from beetroot and broad beans to beef, but the crop that flies fastest off the honesty stall outside their Hillside Farm is their strawberries. Holidaymakers abandon their breakfast coffees or jump on early boats from neighbouring islands to hover outside the barn where Graham and Ruth pack them first thing. Snooze you lose. And a day without strawberries on Bryher in June is a loss indeed.

If you think you’ve tasted a good strawberry, quite simply, you haven’t. (Okay, if you grow or pick your own, I’ll grant that you might have. Possibly.) The Eggins’ secret? They leave their elongated fruits to ripen on the plant until they’re mature and fragrant. That means properly ripe; so no coral underbelly, no white collar, but pillar-box red top to toe. Warmed by the summer sun, they’re so gorgeously sweet you can throw away your sugar packet.  

Of course Hillside can do this as their strawberries are sold and eaten within hours, if not minutes, of gathering. In contrast, supermarkets have to pick these fragile fruits underripe to ensure they last, so the sad truth is that many of us have never tasted a strawberry at its best. And although supermarkets no longer worship solely at the shrine of Elsanta, the varieties they’re chosing are still selected for shelf life, disease resistance and transportability. Here at Hillside the Eggins have chosen their variety (which is a closely guarded secret) for flavour. Yes, flavour. Remember that? Flavour that fills the mouth with summery ecstasy, and for many of us, the flavour of childhood.

If you care about your health and that of your natural surroundings, it’s also good knowing that nothing has been sprayed on Hillside’s strawberries. Did you know that “conventionally” grown strawberries contain the most pesticide residues of any fruit and vegetable we buy in Britain after citrus fruits? UK government tests carried out between 2011 and 2015 (the most recent years for which figures are available) found that over 91% of strawberries showed residues of a single pesticide while over 87% showed several. A cocktail of pesticides aren’t what I want to eat at a midsummer fete or al fresco supper at home. Two of the most commonly used in 2013, Boscalid and Iprodione, were known carcinogens.

Even if Hillside wanted to use these pesticides (which they don’t – they value the biodiversity of their insect life), they’d actually be unnecessary as the only threat to the strawberries is the rain which can damage a few if you don’t get to them on the right day (and is making Hillside consider switching to growing them on tabletops so fruits are not sitting in water). And occasionally, birds; although the strawberries are netted, somehow the birds find their way in, so the task of gathering strawberries can also entail cajoling terrified blackbirds towards an exit. One feels like saying ‘You shouldn’t have come in if you didn’t know how to get out’ but they carry on. At least I’ve not had to do battle with a kamikaze seagull yet.

Fruits that are less than perfect go into jam (pictured), which Ruth makes and sells on the stall along with the raw fruits. What jam – full of whole strawberries that you can sink your teeth into. It’s decadently good with fresh Hillside strawberries, homemade scones and local clotted cream as I discovered when Ruth laid on the lot for tea (pictured) last week when a crew were filming the farm. Life doesn’t get better than that.

June is strawberry month here. If ‘for ever’ means all year round, Bryher’s strawberry fields are NOT for ever and in a couple of weeks my nostrils will no longer be filled with strawberry-scented aromas. But seasons are good, they make life interesting, give us something to salivate for. Just as it was asparagus’ turn before the strawberries, when the strawberries are over, courgettes and tomatoes will be the next seasonal treat. As Graham puts it,”If you have Christmas every day, it wouldn’t be special. The strawberry season is special because you look forward to it.” I don’t want sprayed strawberries that taste of cardboard in the winter. I’m happy to wait for a proper June one – and come to Bryher to find it!

Hillside Farm, Bryher hillsidefarmbryher.co.uk

Isles of Scilly Tourist Information visitislesofscilly.com

Plot to plate eating on the Isles of ScillyJanuary 7, 2019

One of the many lovely things about eating out in the Isles of Scilly is that while you do so you can usually see the place where your meal was born. Food generally travels yards not miles. So bag a seat at Juliet’s on St Mary’s (pictured above) and you gaze over the bay in which the crustaceans for  its crab sandwiches were caught, and below, the century-old greenhouses where Juliet’s family cultivates tomatoes that taste like your grandad’s used to taste (and if you’re lucky, you’ll grab a stonking sunset too).  Boat it to Tresco to eat in its New Inn or Flying Boat, and you’ll be offered a Beef and Stilton pie or sirloin steak using beef from the island’s herds of Devon Red and Limousine cows which you’ll have passed. On Scilly you won’t find Michelin stars (although there are plenty of the other kind in its pristine skies) or celebrity chefs. But you will find food that’s as fresh and local as anywhere in the British Isles. Time your visit to coincide with Scilly’s annual Taste of Scilly Festival throughout September.

I recently ate my way round the Isles while researching a food feature for their annual guide (read the 2019 one here). Here are ten of the many places I can recommend (with pictures taken by me):

Juliet’s Garden Restaurant, St Mary’s

This old-time favourite, owned and run by Juliet May, may have been going for nearly 40 years but hasn’t lost its touch. One of the best things about it (apart from the crab sandwiches and tomatoes) is that it’s a fifteen minute walk from Hugh Town, so you’re suitably hungry when you get there. The views are as delicious as the food, and almost as good inside the glass-fronted restaurant as outside on the terrace.

John Dory on a pea risotto at Juliet’s, St Mary’s

 

On the Quay, St Mary’s

As its name suggests, this industrial-chic hangout is right on the quay where Scilly’s inter-island launches depart from, and its balcony is a prime spot from which to view its famous May bank holiday gig races. We loved its contemporary vibe, original pine floors and art-daubed timber walls. Much of the spacious interior is created from reclaimed materials, including scrubbed wooden tables made from scaffolding planks and poles and a well-stocked bar formed from the steps to Porthcressa beach! Sensibly-priced food hovers between casual and fine dining, so there’s something to please everyone. We loved the grilled mackerel fillets with salsify, baby fennel, parmentier potatoes and celeriac puree.

 

Strudel in Town, St Mary’s

This tiny cafe (attached to a hairdressers) on the main drag of Hugh Town is the second of two strudel cafes owned and run by German-born Sabine Schauldolph. Grab the table in the window to see the goings-on on Town Beach, and choose from a range of Bavarian goodies; the must-eat, of course, is Sabine’s apfelstrudel, made daily from locally grown apples and served with generous lashings of clotted cream.

Apple strudel at Strudel in Town

 

The Spirit Restaurant, St Mary’s Hall Hotel, St Mary’s

Sustainability and provenance are the catchwords at this gastronomic boutique hotel, in the centre of Hugh Town. So the hotel will even be able to tell you the name of the Scillonian boat that caught the crab accompanying your linguine for starter! Meat all comes from the owner’s Gloucestershire farm which slow-rears rare-breed cows, pigs and sheep.

 

The Beach, Hugh Town, St Mary’s

Feel the sand between your toes as you eat that this joint, housed in a converted boat shed on  Porthmellon Beach. In summer you can sit out on the balcony and watch the sunsetting over Samson and Tresco. But, with its scrubbed wood tables and reclaimed wood walls and blackboard menu, it’s equally atmospheric inside. The restaurant is owned by St Mary’s Hall hotel, so you can expect the same scrupulous sourcing of both (rare-breed) meat and seafood – but here it’s barbecued. Lobsters come half or whole, with a choice of flavoured butters, and burgers (in a sourdough roll) are from 28-day-dry-aged Gloucester beef. If you want the real deal, plump for the Beach Surf and Turf Burger which combines the two.

Lunch at The Beach, St Mary’s

 

Dibble & Grub, Porthcressa Beach, St Mary’s

The building housing this friendly, Moorish-feel restaurant used to be a fire station – hence the name borrowed from two of the firemen in the Trumpton children’s TV series. The style is Spanish tapas but the ingredients are very much Scillonian. If you want to eat truly local, opt for the Taste of Scilly menu which, on the night I visited, included butternut squash, courgettes with tomatoes, and edible flowers and leaves (pictured below). The service, convivial atmosphere and coffee are as wonderful as the food.

Taste of Scilly tapas at Dibble & Grub, St Mary’s

 

Hell Bay Hotel, Bryher

Made it to the tiny island of Bryher? Sit by the fire in the bar along with contented dogs and anoraked walkers, or settle into one of the hotel’s restaurants; either way the food is firmly rooted in Bryher’s earth and sea. Vegetables and strawberries come from Hillside Farm, down the road,  while fish is from Island Fish, near the landing stage. In summer, get your fingers sticky in its Crab Shack, in the hotel grounds, where you feast on locally caught crab and mussels, followed by Eton mess from Hillside strawberries. Heaven.

 

Hillside Farm, Bryher

If you’re self-catering you might not want to eat out every evening, so the roadside honesty stall at Hillside Farm is a godsend. Stacked with everything from asparagus to eggs, courgettes, tomatoes and strawberries, it has everything you could need for a gourmet supper. There’s meat too – beef from their North Devon cows and pork from their Saddleback pigs.

Hillside Farm, Bryher

 

Island Fish

Doubling up as a fish shop and cafe, Island Fish – by the landing stage on Bryher – is the place to get ready-to-eat crab. It’s run by brother and sister Amanda and Mark Pender whose family who have been fishing for three generations, and their operation now includes a boat run by Amanda’s teenage son. On Thursday evenings, Amanda and Mark’s mum makes seafood paella which you eat on the verandah, and on Sundays Mark grills lobster which he serves with potato wedges and coleslaw for a tenner. “People are often scared of shellfish,” says Amanda. “We try to make it accessible.”

Crabs ready for picking at Island Fish, Bryher

 

Westward Farm Gin, St Agnes

Offbeat, quiet and stunningly beautiful, St Agnes has attractions enough. But add ice-cream and gin to the mix, you have something that in my book is something approaching heaven. The ice-cream and clotted cream produced at Troytown Farm at the end of the island’s single road has been amply covered but the gins at Westward Farm are new. Westward Farm has long been producing essential oils (some of which are used in Troytown’s ice creams) and now they’re using them in their gins, along with foraged botanicals such as gorse flowers and kelp which are  the key ingredients of their Wingletang gin, named after their local downs.

A house on St Agnes