Monday, 26 October 2015
Cheese and Biscuits On Tour - Jersey (part 2)
Day two of our Great Jersey Adventure hinged around lunch at Mark Jordan at the Beach, the informal bistro sister restaurant to the fancypants Ocean at the Atlantic. But before we got that far, we had an appointment with some Jersey cows (and their owners) at Manor Farm (yes, another different Manor Farm; for such a small island they have a remarkable lack of imagination when it comes to naming).
Jersey is rightly famous for its dairy produce, and Jersey cattle produce a rich, luxuriant milk, but unfortunately the island can no more escape the EU-wide milk crisis than anywhere else these days and so Julia and Darren Quenault, like so many others in this troubled industry, are gamely diversifying. The wonderful beef from my starter at Ocean the day before was theirs, so too a brie from the restaurant's cheeseboard. Cheese making is a common, and laudable, way of making more money from milk - you may remember I reported a similar story from the Cornish Blue people last year - it's not easy, and the equipment is expensive, but you can sell a handmade soft cheese for a lot more than the milk used to make it, and that's how you survive.
As well as the cheese, the Quenaults keep a remarkable variety of rare breed chickens, pigs and quail and sell most of the products of which in their farm shop, all ways of making what was once a thriving dairy industry (the number of dairy farms on Jersey has gone from over 200 to around 20 in the last few years) pay for itself. Maybe one day people will be persuaded that shelling out more than a handful of pence for a pint of milk is a perfectly reasonable state of affairs; until then, places like Manor Farm will continue to live by their wits.
On a brighter note, an industry that doesn't show any signs of struggling on Jersey is eating out. Though never the most reliable indication of quality the fact there are four Michelin stars on the island is at least a sign of maturity, and with so much incredible seafood so readily available, anywhere with views of the sea, the ability to shuck an oyster and serve a nice chilled Picpoul is off to a running start. Mark Jordan at the Beach has a lovely seafront spot and a menu that includes most of the Jersey Food Greatest Hits, including some lovely pickled anchovies that came with this tray of nibbles.
Jersey scallops, I can happily report, are some of the finest I've ever tried. It probably helps they were cooked perfectly, with a delicate golden crust and just-done inside, but the flesh was so sweet and fresh the only scallops I've ever had that have come close were some tiny Queenies from Nantucket many years ago. They were served on a bed of earthy stewed oxtail and dressed with pea shoots and purée, and surrounded by one of those thick reduced sauces that makes you want to scoop up every last sticky, marmitey drop.
Lobster (local Jersey lobster obviously) and prawn cocktail had huge generous chunks of fresh seafood in it, and the usual thick Marie Rose sauce had been replaced here with an "espuma", kind of a light frothy mousse. It worked very well, a comfort food classic lifted by just the right amount of cheffy trickery.
My only mistake of the meal, of the whole weekend really (when it came to food at least) was ordering the burger. Part of me knew it wasn't going to be my kind of thing, and so when it did arrive with its stupid big Jenga chips, fried egg and cakey brioche bun, my heart sank. It wasn't awful, just not really any different than any other bistro burger, despite quite nice beef and the addition of a lump of foie gras. This is a restaurant, and a part of the world, that specialises in seafood; the burger is on the menu because it has to be. I should have known better.
As if to prove my point, plaice with caper, prawn and cockle butter was great, with little bits of croutons for texture and showcasing a nice big bit of fresh white fish.
Desserts were good too. Raspberry cheesecake came with one of those powerful concentrated sorbets, as bright as neon, that the best pastry chefs do so well.
And this soufflé was just perfect, bags of zingy passionfruit flavour and not either too insubstantial or too eggy, a soufflé masterclass.
We walked off our lunch at the famous Jersey Zoo (sorry, Durrell Wildlife Park; people are very nervous about the word "zoo" these days), and then once closing time there approached, headed back to the Atlantic for our last gasp attempt to keep the holiday (sorry, "press trip") going with a spot of afternoon tea. And that was pretty much that. Two and a bit days in the Channel Islands, a part of the world that had hitherto been a bit of a Bergerac-themed mystery, and now I felt very much at home amongst the narrow lanes and expansive beaches, the sea spray and the seafood. It was all just so easy and comfortable, a little holiday island in the sun just half an hour from Gatwick. And it comes thoroughly recommended.
Mark Jordan at the Beach 7/10 Afternoon tea at the Atlantic Hotel 7/10
Our stay at the Atlantic Hotel and lunch at Mark Jordan at the Beach restaurant provided by the Atlantic Hotel. Flights and car hire provided by VisitJersey, oh who also gave us a pass for the zoo, sorry Wildlife Park, although we quite happily paid for afternoon tea ourselves.