Sunday, 19 May 2013

Where to Eat in the Isles of Scilly: Juliet's and Spero's

I had intended to take a break from food blogging while on the Isles of Scilly food course because, let's face it, it can get a little tedious to read about someone's every meal. But then this happened:

This is the "edible garden," a new appetizer served at Juliet's Garden Restaurant, one of our favorite restaurants on the Isles of Scilly. Juliet's used to specialize mainly in teas and baked goods, but then the restaurant got a bit more serious about cuisine. We first started having meals there a couple years ago, and now we make sure to have a Juliet's dinner at least one night during our stay on St. Mary's.

We also tend to eat lunch there after we take the students rockpooling on nearby Porthloo Beach. That was the case on the afternoon when I ordered this fascinating dish. The veggies were "growing" in "soil" composed of sour cream, bread crumbs, Marmite (they sneaked that in on me), and probably some other stuff that I'm forgetting. In addition to home-grown carrots and radishes, the garden also included some wildcrafted plants, including three-cornered leeks and other edible wildflowers. The toast came with a delicious olive tapenade spread that I think was probably also created to mimic the appearance of soil. The whole thing tasted very fresh and wholesome, plus it looked gorgeous and was just really interesting.

The waitress asked me to provide some feedback, because the chef was uncertain about his new dish and wanted to know what customers thought of it. I told her that my only complaint was that I ran out of veggies to dip in, and use up, the "soil" in the little pot. Apparently the dish had been selling very well, so obviously I was not the only one intrigued by the concept. It will be interesting to see whether it remains on the menu; I hope so, because I would definitely order it again next year!

Once I'd begun documenting my meals, I couldn't stop, so I carried on the following evening when we ate out at Spero's. Like Juliet's, Spero's is near Porthloo Beach and has fantastic views of the bay; then again, there aren't too many bad views anywhere on St. Mary's. Spero's is housed in a building that used to be a boatshed; it has giant vaulted ceilings high enough to fit the mast of a yacht, but can only accommodate a few tables because it doesn't have a lot of square footage. As a result, it manages to simultaneously be spacious and intimate.

I have always loved the food here, to the point that I have a hard time choosing whether Spero's or Juliet's is my favorite Scillonian restaurant; usually I pick based on whichever one I've eaten at more recently. Our meal this year was really phenomenal, and was made all the better by the fact that the waitstaff squeezed us in on an evening when all the tables had been booked--extra points for excellent customer service.

I started my dinner with a bowl of apple and celeriac soup with truffle oil and some rosemary focaccia bread. It was rich and velvety and really fantastic. Usually it drives me crazy that 99% of all British soups are blended rather than chunky, but, as this dish showed, sometimes that is the perfect method of preparation.

Two of my colleagues ordered the scallop and chorizo kabobs, which looked beautiful and, I am told, tasted equally lovely. As I have probably written a hundred times already, you can't go wrong with Cornish scallops.

For my main course, I ordered the same thing I had last year: the baked field mushroom stack with veggies, goat cheese, and pesto. I have a hard time saying "no" to goat cheese, and I also have a weakness for mushrooms. This is a really tasty meal, and a hearty alternative to meat.

Some people, of course, aren't interested in avoiding meat at all; two of my fellow instructors ordered steaks. Spero's offers a choice of sauces (pepper, bleu cheese) to accompany its steaks, and we had one of each at our table. Both were highly praised by the carnivores.

Sasha ordered the chicken saltimbocca, which was served with sauteed tarragon potatoes, seasoned vegetables, and a red pepper sauce. Sasha is not a huge fan of cream, so he wasn't in love with the heaviness of the creamy sauce. On the whole, though, I think he did enjoy the flavors of the dish.

Although I don't often indulge in dessert, I did have to break with tradition and try the lemon tart, served with vanilla ice cream:

There are few sweets I love as much as a lemon tart, and this was a good one. As far as I'm concerned, lemon is the best flavor for dessert because you can make it sweet and rich, but the sharp citrus taste ensures that the dish is not overwhelming and heavy. Delightful.

My fellow diners chose finales that were a bit more intense. Sasha got a sticky toffee pudding (above), while Julian ordered the Jack Daniels cheesecake (the cheesecake flavor of the day; below):

Both were quite rich and intense; they were praised by Julian and Sasha, but I have a suspicion that I ended up with the best selection.

With dishes like these on offer at terrific restaurants all over the island, you can probably see why it is a very good thing that we spend our days burning calories by hiking around and trudging up and down the big hill to our campsite! Another great thing about both Juliet's and Spero's is that they are quite affordable; their dishes cost more than our students want to pay (which is great for ensuring some "alone" time!), but they are very reasonable considering the quality of the food and the incredible scenery that you get to enjoy while dining.

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