It takes longer to pull up and wait for the transfer bus at Gatwick airport’s offsite parking than it does to fly to Jersey.
That’s not a slight on the airport’s service, which was relatively efficient, but more an attempt to demonstrate just how close the Channel Island actually is.
Roughly 40 minutes after taking off, we touched down on the sunny island that remains as somewhere so many people I have talked to “would love to go”. And you should.
The crazy fusion of languages that is “Jersey French” is just the starting point to an intriguing land of beaches, history and gastronomy.
Known for its cows, dairy products and potatoes, Jersey is blessed with an abundance of native ingredients, and perhaps that is the reason is has become a food tourist hotspot. Featured in Cosmopolitan’s trendy short-stay section recently, the island has three Michelin stars, one Bib Gourmand and 11 other Michelin-recommended restaurants. That’s equates to a high quality F&B venue every three square miles on the island – most of which is farmland.
That is seriously impressive.
Our trip took us first to The Atlantic Hotel in the parish of St Brelade. A four-star hotel with cool white exteriors, marble interiors and an unrivalled view of the bay.
It is home to the Ocean restaurant, the flagship of executive chef Mark Jordan, who has held a Michelin star there for 12 years – the longest under one chef in Jersey, ever.
“It’s quite a nice hat to wear,” says Jordan, who will give up that hat at the end of the 2017 summer season, leaving behind the Atlantic for a fresh island adventure.
“I go through cycles,” says the chef. “Every five years I have to do something a bit different or new. After five or six years here we opened Mark Jordan at The Beach (the hotel’s sister restaurant), and now, five years on from that, I’m looking for the next challenge.
“I think that is what keeps me motivated.”
Jordan will keep his beachside restaurant but is looking to head back to his roots by taking on a pub on the island.
“Jersey needs a proper pub,” he says. “That’s where I started off with Floydy (Keith Floyd). To be able to do something like Tom Kerridge has done, but in Jersey, and take a Michelin star into a pub would be great, that’s my next challenge.”
Hailing from the midlands, Jordan’s career has taken him through some of the most revered kitchens in the UK, including Jean-Christophe Novelli’s The Mill at Gordleton and The Pink Geranium with Steven Saunders as well as stints with the legendary Keith Floyd as well as Michel and Albert Roux.
While head chef at Gilpin Lodge in the Lake District, the Atlantic’s then general manager – a former colleague of the chef – approached Jordan and the move was made.
But pressure to perform came almost instantly at the renowned 50-room hotel.
“Within the first year I picked up the rising star award from Michelin,” he explains.
“It was the first time Michelin had brought out the rising star – which means you are tipped for a Michelin star in the future.
“That was fantastic but it felt like every eye was on me. If I had got to the end of the year and I hadn’t then achieved it, that would have been awful. It was a huge pressure to be consistent in what we did.”
But the Ocean restaurant did achieve a star, and now the restaurant also has four AA rosettes to add in, having had only two when the chef arrived.
Polished silver cutlery, white tablecloths and smartly dressed service staff might fool you into thinking that the Ocean restaurant was stuffy or lofty, but you’d be wrong.
The staff are chatty but professional, a reflection of Jordan himself, who dislikes the nature of those starred restaurants where the staff forget that the customer is key.
“For the past 15 years, many Michelin-starred restaurants have lost their pampering nature,” explains Jordan.
“There are places in London I have been to where the sommelier will look down their nose at you because you’ve ordered a £30 bottle of wine. It can be quite starchy, stiff and condescending. But my money is as good as anybody else’s.
“And people are savvy with money now and they expect the service that goes with the pricey food. It is in hotels where you still get that.
“It’s not just about the restaurant, it’s about the welcome and how you are dealt with.
“People spending big money want to feel special and you don’t always get that in the high street no matter how good the food might be.
“You can still offer a level of professionalism and quality while also offering familiarity and being accessible to people.”
There are 12 chefs in the kitchen during peak season and, as executive chef, Jordan splits himself between the differing styles of the Ocean and the Beach restaurants.
With views of the palm-tree-filled gardens and the stunning beach vista beyond that, the Ocean restaurant offers a menu of seasonally changing dishes as well as a few signature dishes that Jordan has become known for.
One of those is the risotto of Jersey squid and cauliflower with scallop carpaccio. Finely chopped squid sits with a crisp mandolin-sliced cauliflower segment, which has been boiled in pickling liquor. It is punctuated by the flavourful capriccio scallop before a broth is poured at the table to make it all crackle.
“It’s a simple dish, but it’s a clever way of using squid,” says Jordan. “People are a bit hot and cold with squid, primarily because it can be tough. But by cooking it in a water bath for a long time and the pain of dicing it really changes it. It all just works well together.
The dish has been served to more than 500 diners at an NSPCC charity dinner as well as at Northcote’s famous food festival at which Jordan was asked to perform in 2016.
“We almost decided to drop the dish because there is only so much squid you chop in your lifetime!”
The restaurant offers an a la carte as well as a table d’hote for diners with dishes such as Jersey beef tartare, foie gras mousse, oyster ceviche and watercress mayonnaise; whole grilled Jersey sole with brown shrimp, caper butter and spring onion purée; and Jersey shellfish rock pool, oyster mayonnaise, sea herbs and tomato consommé showing off the island’s produce.
“I have been involved with many different styles of food through my career, but my style of food now is about the produce and the flavour,” says Jordan.
A big part of the Ocean restaurant’s offer is the tasting menu, which is often taken up by a third of the diners, showing the continuing popularity of the dining format.
“We do sell a lot of them still,” says Jordan. “But that is partly because of what we offer guests here.
“People often come to the Atlantic on three-day packages. One night they will have the table d’hote. The second night they will cherry-pick off the a la carte, and the third night they will have the tasting menu.
“On a Saturday night, out of 60 covers, we will probably do 20 tasting menus. So it is still really popular.”
The tasting menu is based on the a la carte offering smaller variations of the current dishes while also offering Jordan’s signatures.
“People always used to say they found it hard to decide what to have from the menu, so the easiest way was to do a spin-off of the a la carte. It’s seven courses, but it has the duck assiette and the squid.
“That way you get the best of both worlds,” says Jordan, as customers get to sample an array of choices while the kitchen doesn’t have to stress over too many separate dishes.
MARK JORDAN AT THE BEACH
On the south coast of the island, close to the capital St Helier, the hotel’s sister restaurant Mark Jordan at The Beach offers a more casual, but no less quality, experience.
“It is really good for the hotel to have it,” says Jordan. “The Atlantic want to achieve five-star status, but to achieve that you have to offer at least two styles of dining. So that’s why the link was there.”
With its Michelin Bib gourmand (which recognises high quality for reasonable prices), The Beach has 50 covers inside and 40 more on the terrace.
“It’s a great location, it’s a shame it’s not bigger because we can fill it all the time. Part of the reason I opened Mark Jordan at The Beach is because it’s a middle ground between St Helier and The Atlantic. I know we are on an island. But coming from St Helier out to The Atlantic is four miles. That’s not a lot to you guys, but here in Jersey it’s a fair way, and around £25 in a taxi.”
Designed by Jordan and his wife Magda, the restaurant welcomes a different clientele with more walk-ins – when there’s space – highlighting the enviable position and the passing footfall.
The menu offers a hint of the Ocean restaurant while adding a casual element.
For example, among the starters there is the crab and sweetcorn risotto with herb oil or pan-seared jersey scallops in sticky oxtail sauce and pea purée; sat right next to the free range scotch egg, manor farm pork and home-made piccalilli.
In the fish section there is the more complex poached fillet of sea bass with crab mousse, mussel, leek and potato nage alongside the beer-battered cod, chunky chips, crushed peas and home-made tartare sauce.
The juxtaposition of the main courses included pan-seared calves’ liver, pancetta, grain mustard pomme purée and thyme jus against the MJ signature Manor Farm burger or the Harmony Farm rib-eye steak with sauté potatoes, spinach and Béarnaise sauce.
But it all works perfectly together, in an exceptional setting and really complements the Ocean restaurant for those guests looking to dine in both.
And, as Jordan explains, it is important for The Atlantic to be able to offer that level of dining at both the sites.
“Everybody is more knowledgeable about food now,” he says.
“The hotel is lovely here, but it is now expected that the food should be the same.
“The strength of a restaurant really can make or break a hotel.
“You can have the best foyer or best room in the world, but if you sit down in the restaurant and have terrible food, it is derogatory to what you are trying to achieve.”
With Jersey becoming a renowned foodie haven, it is also important for the hotel to keep up, if not lead, the dining expectations on the island.
“You have to stand out, you have to be a destination,” adds Jordan.
“When you are a destination restaurant, you need the accolades to make customers want to make that special journey out to see you.”
And The Atlantic certainly does that.