DINNER DESTINATIONS; No1: THE ISLAND HOTEL, TRESCO In the first of two journeys to the furthest ends of Britain, Michael Bateman travels to the Scilly Isles to sample the summery delights of the archipelago's cuisine

LONG HAUL is a term generally applied to a journey of, say, 13 hours, which will carry you to such destinations as Rio de Janeiro, Cape Town and Sri Lanka. In fact, from most of the UK, the Scilly Isles also fall into this category. From London it takes all of 13 hours to get there, via sleeper to Penzance and then a helicopter hop (delayed by fog). So, as a dinner destination, it represents a truly long haul. Is it worth it?

The Scillies are an archipelago 28 miles from Land's End, basking in the comparatively balmy climate of the Gulf Stream, strangers to frost and snow. This enables them to catch the early season market for daffodils and narcissi, the islands' major export. Their livelihood in other centuries revolved around piracy, smuggling and salvage.

The archipelago consists of some 100 islands, many of them no more than jagged-toothed rocks on which many ships have foundered and sunk. The latest was the Cita, which went down two years ago spilling its container- loads along the shoreline (for a while, most islanders were to be seen sporting black-and-white Ascot trainers).

There is a prayer in the churches, say the islanders: "Lord, may there be no shipwrecks, but if there are, please let them come our way."

Scillonians know the names of each jagged rock as well as they know their neighbours, from the furthest-flung Bishop's Rock, to the intriguingly- named Baker, Brewer, Great Smith, Maiden Bower, Rascal's Ledge; from the descriptive Nut Rock, Kettle Bottom, Great Cheese Rock, Flea Rock, Cow and Calf, Chimney Rocks, Chinks, Fig-Tree Ledge; to the more prosaic Mackerel Rocks and Puffin Island.

This rugged formation, so deadly to mariners, offers safe shelter for thousands upon thousands of slow-growing lobsters (they take seven years to reach a weight of 750g, the minimum requirement for the table). And here, too, tasty brown crabs thrive in the shallow aquamarine and turquoise waters between the sandy white strands of the islands. Until just 700 years ago the islands were still connected. Violent erosion from Atlantic winter tides tore away the plains which once linked the islands, but in doing so created the perfect home for thriving populations of crab, langoustine and shrimp - the focal point of every hotel, restaurant, cafe and pub menu; expect to find lobster thermidor, poached lobster, lobster and crab salads, lobster club sandwiches, crab pates.

There are five main islands: St Mary's, Bryher, St Martin's, St Agnes and Tresco, the latter known the world over to horticulturists because of its unique Abbey Gardens. It contains exotic plants which grow outdoors nowhere else in Britain. Of the 120,000 visitors to the Scillies last year (population 2,000) half of them visited Tresco (population 150).

Tresco also boasts the Island Hotel, my dinner destination. Since Ivan Curtis took over as manager seven years ago, its reputation has ascended steeply. Last year it was given the West Country Blue Ribbon by the RAC for best hospitality, food and comfort. The Good Food Guide also commends its cooking and its stunning views. Ah, yes: there is nothing so stunning to whet the appetite as the view of lobster fishermen tracking out to the island rocks to their pots marked by bobbing red flags.

Over to the hotel. No cars are permitted on Tresco (a modest one mile by two), which is privately owned by the Darrien Smith family. Tractors move visitors from one end to the other, cyclists and back-packers reining themselves in to let you by. Paradise is a word often used to describe this island of flowers. It never occurred to me before that paradise might be quite windy.

The Island Hotel is a low-lying cluster of grey-roofed buildings resembling a clubhouse on the 18th green, although inside all is sweetness and light, conveying a sense of colonial comfort, windows opening on a glorious view of St Martin's (and the hotel where Marco Pierre White spent his honeymoon, a piece of local history more enduring than the marriage).

The hotel is protected by a windbreak of trees (also the secret of how the Abbey Gardens withstand the Atlantic's winter gales). Within this dense band of foliage grow exotic plants which have emigrated from the botanic gardens a mile and a half away. Spiky Chilean palms, Mexican yuccas and royal- blue agapanthus - one to two metres high - an explosion of hyacinthine flowers. And monumental flowing echia, which tower up to three metres high, and the dinosauric form of foxglove known as acanthus. All these mixed with clumps of scarlet fuchsia, yellow evening primrose, white marguerites, purple heather. The Smith family (Hertfordshire businessman Augustus Smith acquired the lease to Tresco in 1834) managed to introduce the spiky, globe artichoke-shaped protea from South Africa and bottle-brush plants from the Australian bush.

But this is the thing: never a single exotic vegetable or fruit. So the young chef at the Island Hotel, Peter Hingston, has had to struggle to complement a larder full of lobster and crab. "The growers who cultivate daffodils have started producing fruit and vegetables; asparagus, courgettes, mangetout peas, good new potatoes, and raspberries and strawberries."

The local fisherman bring in fresh monkfish, brill, sole and plaice, but to feed 100 people daily, Peter has to order fish in from Newlyn, the south-west's major fishing port, 40 miles away on the mainland. Clotted cream comes from Cornwall, as does humanely-reared veal, best lamb and beef.

The cooking was manager Ivan Curtis's number one priority after he took over seven years ago. When he arrived, the food was frankly appalling. "It was disgusting and there was too much of it" (unlike food at the Jewish holiday hotel described by comedian George Burns, where customers complained "the food is disgusting and the portions are too small").

Ivan was shocked to find a kitchen equipped with a wall-to-wall stack of tinned consomme and canned ratatouille. He promptly hired a chef from the renowned Imperial Hotel, Torquay, who brought Hingston with him as sous-chef. Peter took over two years ago. The Imperial was once the south-west's chief centre of excellence, hosting gastronomic festivals every year. Then it stumbled into the modern world and a staff of 40 classically-trained chefs was slashed to a dozen or fewer.

Hingston, now 28, is the last to carry the torch from this era. As a teenager he left catering college at the top of his class and was thrown in at the deep end. Here he presides over a young and good-humoured staff. Because the hotel closes for four months over the winter, Ivan hires new staff every year, advertising for people who might like to work on a privately-owned island. In the last two years he's had as many as 1,400 applications.

The atmosphere in the hotel is somewhat akin to that of an ocean-liner cruise, says Ivan's wife, Su; people thrown together for a short duration, with mealtimes representing social occasions. Allowing that some visitors will stay for a full two weeks, Peter has to meet the challenge of producing 14 different dinner menus (each with four choices for each course).

My meal there was ambitious but not pretentious. A ravioli was generously stuffed with masses of fresh lobster, and served with a small amount of intense sauce, a reduction made from the shells (he sells 70 lobsters a week). Chilled tomato soup made from the freshest of plum tomatoes, an original touch being a blob of avocado and basil sorbet. A main course roast steak of monkfish, had been caught that morning. This was followed by zingy home-made sorbets (and a taste of fuchsia-red summer pudding, embracing local redcurrants, raspberries, strawberries). Lastly, a fine cheese tray of south-western specialities.


Serves 4

450g/1lb fresh plum tomatoes

1 large onion (chopped)

2 small carrots (peeled and chopped)

1 stick of celery (washed and chopped)

1 garlic clove (crushed)

2 tablespoons virgin olive oil

300ml/12 pint vegetable stock

300ml/12 pint tomato juice

1 tablespoon white wine vinegar

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

1 tablespoon demerara sugar

salt and pepper

Heat the vegetable oil in a roasting tray; add the whole plum tomatoes and roast in the oven for 15 to 20 minutes at 350F/180C/Gas 4. In a small pan, sweat the onion, celery and carrot in the olive oil for five to 10 minutes, until the onion is translucent. Add the garlic, sugar and vinegar and reduce on a low heat for approximately 10 minutes. Add the roasted plum tomatoes, tomato juice and vegetable stock and simmer for 20 minutes. Season. Blend, pass through a fine sieve and chill. Serve with a blob of ...


Serves 4

1 ripe avocado

juice of 1 lime

1 cup of water

14 cup fresh chopped basil

2 tablespoons stock syrup

2 tablespoons basil oil

Blend all ingredients in a jug and pour into an ice-cream machine. Churn for 35 to 45 minutes. Freeze.


Serves 4

900g/2lb lobster

4 shallots

150ml/14 pint white wine

pinch saffron strands

300ml/12 pint fish stock

juice of a lemon

150ml/14 pint double cream

500ml/1 pint court bouillion

Poach the lobster in court bouillion for 10 to 12 minutes. Sweat the shallots in butter; add wine and saffron, and reduce by half. Add the fish stock, reduce by a third; add the cream and lemon juice. Season.

Separate the tail from the body and remove the meat from tail and claws; clean the head. Slice the meat at an angle and arrange at the head end of the shell, claws angled from the body; pour the sauce over the meat. Garnish with lobster eggs and chives and serve with minted new potatoes, a green salad and fresh asparagus.


Serves 4

For the roasted peach:

4 large ripe peaches

225g/8oz white caster sugar

115g/4oz unsalted butter

150ml/5fl oz double cream

For the compote:

450g/1Ib mixed berries

115g/4oz caster sugar

50ml/2fl oz cassis

For the ice-cream:

450g/1Ib blackberries

500ml/2 pints whipping cream

225g/8oz clotted cream

115g/4oz caster sugar

For the basket:

130g/412oz diced unsalted butter

115g/4oz flour

225g/8oz sugar

115g/4oz golden syrup

2 level teaspoon ginger powder

For the peach, put the sugar in a thick-bottomed pan on full heat until caramelised. Remove from heat, add butter (watch for spitting), mix with wooden spoon over a gentle heat. Add cream and blend till smooth. Coat peaches in this sauce and place, stalk-end down, on a baking sheet. Bake at 350F/ 180C/Gas 4 for five to eight minutes, until soft. Don't let the skins split.

For the compote, put the berries and caster sugar in a thick-bottomed pan and gently heat until the berries release their juices; add cassis to taste.

For the ice-cream, warm the blackberries, cream, clotted cream and sugar in a pan; blend, pass through a sieve and churn in an ice-cream machine. Freeze.

For the baskets, blend the butter, flour, sugar, syrup and ginger powder. Roll into gobstopper-sized balls and space on parchment-covered oven-tray. Bake at 350F/180C/Gas 4 for five minutes until flat discs form. Mould over up-turned ramekin and allow to cool.

Set the peach and basket on plate, a scoop of ice- cream in the basket, spoon the compote to the side and garnish with a sprig of mint.

! The Island Hotel, Tresco, Isles of Scilly, TR24 OPU (01720 422 882). Open this year until 30 October

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Tim Vine has won the funniest joke award at the Edinburgh Festival 2014

Arts and Entertainment
Peter Capaldi and Chris Addison star in political comedy The Thick of IT

Arts and Entertainment
Judy Murray said she

Arts and Entertainment
Tim Vine has won the funniest joke award at the Edinburgh Festival 2014

Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Paxman has admitted he is a 'one-nation Tory' and complained that Newsnight is made by idealistic '13-year-olds' who foolishly think they can 'change the world'.

Arts and Entertainment
Seoul singer G-Dragon could lead the invasion as South Korea has its sights set on Western markets
Arts and Entertainment
Gary Lineker at the UK Premiere of 'The Hunger Games: Catching Fire'
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Bale as Batman in a scene from
Arts and Entertainment
Johhny Cash in 1969
musicDyess Colony, where singer grew up in Depression-era Arkansas, opens to the public
Arts and Entertainment
Army dreamers: Randy Couture, Sylvester Stallone, Dolph Lundgren and Jason Statham
Arts and Entertainment
The Great British Bake Off 2014 contestants
tvReview: It's not going to set the comedy world alight but it's a gentle evening watch
Arts and Entertainment
Umar Ahmed and Kiran Sonia Sawar in ‘My Name Is...’
Arts and Entertainment
This year's Big Brother champion Helen Wood
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Full company in Ustinov's Studio's Bad Jews
Arts and Entertainment
Harari Guido photographed Kate Bush over the course of 11 years
Arts and Entertainment
Reviews have not been good for Jonathan Liebesman’s take on the much loved eighties cartoon

A The film has amassed an estimated $28.7 million in its opening weekend

Arts and Entertainment
Untwitterably yours: Singer Morrissey has said he doesn't have a twitter account

A statement was published on his fansite, True To You, following release of new album

Arts and Entertainment
Full throttle: Philip Seymour Hoffman and John Turturro in God's Pocket
Arts and Entertainment
Kylie Minogue is expected to return to Neighbours for thirtieth anniversary special
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

    We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

    Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
    Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

    Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

    Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
    Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

    The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

    Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
    Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

    Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

    Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
    eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

    eBay's enduring appeal

    The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
    Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

    'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

    Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
    Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

    Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

    After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
    Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

    Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

    After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
    Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

    Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

    Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
    7 best quadcopters and drones

    Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

    From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
    Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

    Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

    The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
    Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

    Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

    British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
    Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

    A descent into madness in America's heartlands

    David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
    BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

    BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

    Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home
    Lauded therapist Harley Mille still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

    Lauded therapist still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

    Australian Harley Miller is as frustrated by court delays as she is with the idiosyncrasies of immigration law