I've mentioned before when I showed you the beautiful Ballaugh Shore last year that I only seem to visit the Isle of Man for less than happy family occasions. My recent trip was not really for much lighter reasons, but given a bit more warning that I'd be visiting I decided to do a bit of research to add something into the trip that we could all enjoy together. I turned to the guys at Visit Isle of Man for a few recommendations, and ended up booking a table at a seafood restaurant called Tanroagan in Douglas, the island's capital.
However, four days before we were due for lunch I had an email from the restaurant saying that they were not opening on the day we booked, and would we like a reservation at their sister restaurant in Peel instead? While there are photos of me visiting Peel Castle when I was 6 months old with my parents and grandparents, my memory of the castle was actually I think one of the last times I saw my grandfather, when we drove around the coast from his house together to explore the ruins. Needless to say, after scoping out the menu online, I was more than happy to switch our reservation to the pretty seaside town instead, which is how we ended up having lunch at The Boatyard, which has been open on the quayside for about two years.
You start the meal with a delicious selection of (on the house) homemade bread, with butter served in a sardine tin and thought out so well that each person has a piece of each type of bread each. We were all particularly impressed with the smoky paprika bread; I wish I had the recipe to make it myself at home!
While my parents and I shared a lovely deep bottle of Italian rose, I think the best drink selection was the sparkling rhubarb presse my Auntie Nina ordered as she had to go off and teach that afternoon. Pretty, pink and served in a jar it was perfectly refreshing, sour and sweet. Local, produced at the Apple Orphanage on the island, I enjoyed checking out their website after lunch to hear about their story, and how anyone on the island with a harvest glut of something like apples or rhubarb can take it into the orphanage to trade in for a drinks supply. I wish we had something like it down here in Kent.
Daddy and I were predictable in our starter choices; whenever there is a prawn cocktail or moules marinière on the menu respectively, we can't help but order them. I only stole a bite of his wonderfully presented cocktail (delicious and just what you'd expect), but I can report that my mussels (they were from the specials board, and I got the last portion) were perfectly plump and juicy, in a perfectly executed traditional creamy white wine sauce. They were faultless, and proved a perfect start to the meal.
Nina opted to go classic with her starter and had the mixed fish cakes, chocked full of salmon, cod and haddock of various degrees of smokiness with a dressed green salad and tartar sauce on the side. They looked fantastic when they came, and the bite I stole (it is good that some family members have still not build strategies to avoid my marauding fork!) was delicious; you could taste all the different varieties of fish used, inside one unifying flavour. It was a good portion size for a starter, too.
However, I think that it was my Mother who came up trumps with her starter selection. She ordered the (local) Wild Garlic, Feta and Current Fritters, which as well as arriving beautifully decorated with pea shoots (I'm rather obsessed with them), were simply fantastic - I wish I'd been allowed more than one bite! The feta had melted into the batter to create the most incredibly light bites, and the currents, while they sound like an unusual addition, were fantastically different and made for very more-ish bites.
For our mains, Daddy and I both had the lobster. While he went right off the menu and had his 1/2 serve grilled, with garlic butter and a side of steamed greens and hand cut chips (adorably served with a mini vinegar shaker), I cheekily asked if I could have all the sides that came with a cold, poached lobster (salad, mayonnaise and local new potatoes), but with a hot, grilled lobster instead. The staff (who were so lovely and friendly throughout out meal) obliged, and to be honest I was enjoying it all so much everyone did not really hear much more from me until it was time to choose dessert!
Nina selected from the specials board, opting for baked cod served with sweet potato and a tomato salsa. The dish was simply delicious, and really well rounded; I was very impressed with all of the selections we ordered from the specials, I'd look there before you look at the standard menu. Mummy had a whole sea bass served in a tomato sauce with green olives and toasted pine nuts. I had a bite with everything on it, and the lightness of the fish went perfectly with the rich tomato sauce, acidic olives and creamy pie nuts. I'd love to reproduce this at home with perhaps a different white fish as a fillet taking up pride of place instead?
Any room for dessert? I did not try any of Mummy's ice cream sundae (one of the specials of the day with meringue and raspberry coulis) but I know it must have been delicious because she both finished it (she usually can't manage something that big for dessert), and because it was made from Davinsons Manx Ice Cream made just up the road in Peel, and my grandfather used to keep tubs of in the freezer. Seriously, an ice cream from one of their parlours or The Boatyard is a must for any visit to the Island. Nina had their 'mini dessert' (perfect if you're feeling quite full by that point) of the day, a good, solid Eton Mess.
I had the chocolate and raspberry mousse cake; rich chocolate mouse served on top of the thin cake layer, with a raspberry layer on top before being stacked with the most big and deliciously plump ripe fruits. I almost made it to the end (it was pretty rich, and we'd had a lot to eat!), but I did completely finish another Davisons creation, their mouthwatering raspberry sorbet.
Daddy is not much of a sweets person, so he had a cup of tea instead, which came with fantastically coconutty homemade chocolate squares served in an upturned queenie shell. We called for our bill and it came as a message in bottle, finishing off a wonderful meal where all the little details for presentation had been thought of, making the whole afternoon just that little bit more special.
To be perfectly honest, while I knew there was a rich food culture on the island from newspaper articles and the like, I'd never eaten a single meal on the Isle of Man that I'd actually enjoyed that I had not cooked myself (a particular incident where my Father had to argue the bill in a pub where he'd been expected to pay for a gone off lamb chop springs to mind). However, this meal at The Boatyard, exploring local ingredients and looking out over Peel quayside restored all of our faith in food on the Island, it was one of the best meals we'd had in quite a while.