Some two or three years ago, quite by accident, I started writing about food and restaurants. Well, I enjoy good food, well-made food, very much indeed, and it is enjoyable to relive a fine meal in writing about it. Which is what I do. Write. My enforced layoff of over a year has sadly meant no restaurants … until now, when I’m back, solo, on European soil and living in the kind of flatlets which mean I’ll be eating out most days or nights.
Starting the day before yesterday. And carrying on last night. At the same restaurant. For I seem to have started off my new ‘tour des restos’ with a surprising bang.
The Dockyard Restaurant, Havre du Pas, St Helier, has been open for … four days. Three, on my first visit. It’s right across the road from my lodgings, and hasn’t yet even got a sign outside telling you it is a restaurant. It’s clean-lined, unfussy, modern, comfortable, unpretentious, with an atmospheric view over the narrow promenade to the sea (if you sit with your back to the incinerator), and, best of all, it serves wholly delicious food.
My kind of food. Edibly-sized helpings of bright, clean-looking food, tastily and not eccentrically conceived, attractively presented without being fussily decorated (you eat everything), and cooked just perfectly. Remember, I’m the no lettuce, no chips man. Not that this chef would ever stoop to those. But it’s amazing how many do.
Now I’m going to relive my meals. Normally I’d have taken pictures, as I did during my last triumphant Jersey meal two years ago, at ‘Bohemia’ (my top favourite meal of the last five years), but this was so tasty that I just bowled in and ate it, while the camera sat on my hip. Next time.
Meal one, in brief. The qualifying round, so to speak. Starter: salt and pepper squid. Crisp and tasty, not rubbery and not piled high. Accompaniment a nice wee rocket heap. Not lettuce. Yum. A good preparation for my main event: seared fillet of sea bass. Yes, that’s how it’s described in the menu. No resturantese, no silly adjectives. Straightforward English. Gold star. The accompaniments: celeriac, tomato, and a good grain mustard dressing. By now, I realised I’d fallen into something really good. Pint of Guinness please, because I’m not a desserts man and I’m having cheese. No, not a Simpsons in the Strand-sized trolley-load, but chef’s selection (so much more sensible) a complementary trio of room-temperature pieces: blue, soft and hard, with a very nice spoon of chutney. It appears the English expect biscuits with their cheese. I don’t. Horrid habit. But that’s just me.
As I savoured, I bethought me of another seaside restaurant where, last time round, I struck a similarly delicious ‘me’ meal: the Bay Grill in the Isle of Wight with its young chef, Ryan Burr. Love you, Ryan. Your food, that is. Well, there is evidently something in youth: the Dockyard’s rising star chef is called Chris Matthews. He’s from Newcastle (and sounds like it ☺) and he’s even younger … here he is with his team …
24 hours later I returned, determined to put Chris to a tougher test. Not the table d’hôte (17.50 for 3 courses) tonight, but a la carte. First course – cruelly – a ‘home-made twice-baked cheese soufflé with soft herb cream’. Cruelly? Oh yes: if you go back in this blog, you’ll see the tale of my worldwide star dish of 2010 ... the famous Isle of Wight gallybagger soufflé. Main course? Chris incautiously mentioned bouillabaisse, which was not on the menu. I leaped.
Well, I can only say the ‘test’ was passed summa cum laude. The soufflé was light, without being insubstantial, and thoroughly cheesy, the cream quite superior; the bouillabaisse ... well, it wasn’t one, and he knew that, it was a simply delicious fish stew, rich and light, full of fishy things and prawns and, to my surprise, tomato-ed. Which, in spite of not being a tomato fan, I liked a lot. Guinness, cheese … and, goodness, two sybaritic hours had just slid away … and my beautiful a la carte meal, with 2 aperos, and two Guinnesses, had cost me less than 40 quid.
The Dockyard has the potential to become very, very popular. Especially with good food lovers. I’m going to try to bring all my pals along during the Festival. Oh, sure, on day four there are still things – little things -- to get right. New staff (all five star charming) to hone. Butter dishes. Extra dry sherry at the bar. Maybe, eventually, fabric napkins. Well, these things do make a strange difference. But so, so much is so very right.
Thank you, Rogerio, Chris and all the staff for two grand meals. And I’ll see you tonight, about 6. There are still 8 mains and 7 starters I have to sample…