Clients don’t need to travel far to sample foodie delights on holiday. The Isles of Scilly offer an abundance of taste-bud-tingling culinary experiences.
The UK is enjoying a bit of a food and drink revolution, with new distilleries popping up in almost every city, vineyards winning awards against the finest French wines, and farmers’ markets becoming ever more popular. But nowhere has quite such a unique foodie draw as the Isles of Scilly, as I discover on a recent trip.
Standing in the middle of the ocean floor with a gin and tonic in one hand and a pot of olives in the other, waiting in a queue for a lobster roll, isn’t exactly how I’d expected to spend the first day of September.
But when the tide is low enough to walk across the seafloor between two islands, this is what you do on the Isles of Scilly.
I’m here for the Low Tide event, essentially a party on the sand, always located between the islands of Tresco and Bryher. The extreme tides here mean it’s often possible to wade between the islands, but for a few days each year there’s a big enough sandbar for locals to create the literal Sand Bar that I purchased my G&T from. Here, Bryher-based fishing business Island Fish cooks up spectacular seafood dishes on an open fire, and bands play acoustic music to bopping crowds.
Hundreds turned up to celebrate this year’s Low Tide – it was the biggest in its 10-year history – and yet the event only lasts 90 minutes until the tide starts to turn. It’s a testament to the unique, quirky and fun-loving nature of the 2,000 or so inhabitants of the Isles of Scilly, but also to the spectacular food and drink they produce.
The gin I sipped is made just across the water on the island of St Agnes, where the young family at Westward Farm creates fragrant spirits using botanicals from across the Scillies, such as seaweed collected off the beaches, or the coleonema (confetti bush) that grows in Tresco’s huge, gorgeous botanical gardens. For clients who fancy learning more about local gin, recommend a tour of Scilly Spirit on St Mary’s. Its Gin School Lessons also teach clients how to create their own spirit (£148 for two).
The ice cream I taste at Low Tide is produced on St Agnes’ Troytown Farm, where a small herd of cows provides all the milk for more than 30 delectable flavours. And then there’s the hit of the day: the seafood. Caught, prepared and cooked by the Pender family – who have been fishing these waters for more than 50 years – the lobster rolls, homemade fish fingers and seafood paella were the highlights as far as everyone at Low Tide was concerned, and it’s easy to see why.
“Island Fish is about selling directly to the consumer with no air miles – not even foot miles, really – at a price that’s accessible so that shellfish is available for anyone,” Amanda Pender tells me at her shop on Bryher, where she sells hand-picked crab and delicious lobster sandwiches for just £6 a pop.
Beverley Scarr, general manager of UK Islands at Premier Holidays, talks about the foodie appeal of the Isles of Scilly
For visitors interested in the origins of their food, the Isles of Scilly tick the box as so much of the food is locally sourced, and restaurants pride themselves on using local ingredients including crab and lobster caught in local waters. Chefs then put their own twist on such dishes – St Mary’s Hall, for example, serves theirs spicy: whole Scillonian wok-fried brown crab with chilli, ginger, spring onions and herbs.
It’s an exciting time for food on the Scillies, I’m told, making it a great place for foodie clients to plan a trip to. “There’s lots of new, younger people who have taken over businesses on the islands,” explains Philip Callan, general manager at Hell Bay Hotel on Bryher, whose restaurants are popular with tourists and locals alike. Locals who grew up here and left for university or college are now coming back, he adds, bringing fresh ideas with them.
But the passion for food goes beyond the restaurants and hotels here. Everyone who lives here seems to grow something and the evidence is on the streets. It feels like there’s an honesty box on every corner, offering up fresh veg, plants or eggs to passers-by. There are even honesty shops where apple juice, milk and meats are sold from staffless stores, a delectable system built on trust.
It all adds to the idyllic feel of this slow-living archipelago. With Caribbean-worthy beaches, glistening clear waters and hiking trails and wildlife to satisfy the most active of clients, food on the Isles of Scilly is just one of the many reasons this place is a spectacular holiday destination. And it is, rather inexplicably, right on our doorstep.
Book it: Premier Holidays offers a five-night Isles of Scilly Discovery trip including three nights’ B&B at St Mary’s Hall on St Mary’s and two nights B&B at Karma St Martin’s on St Martin’s from £819pp, based on two sharing and including return ferry with Isles of Scilly Travel from Penzance, travelling between 1 and 24 May 2020 and 6 and 30 September 2020.
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Smarter: Tell clients to keep an eye on the St Mary’s Boatmen’s Association and Tresco Boat Services pages to find out sailing times each morning.
Better: Instead of driving to the end of Cornwall’s coast to pick up the Scillonian ferry, clients can take the train to Penzance – the overnight sleeper from London arrives in time to catching the morning ferry.
Fairer: Buying local – from the honesty boxes and farm shops scattered across the islands to the fisheries and farms themselves – helps keep the Scilly economy afloat and lessens clients’ environmental impact.