Looking for restaurants on Tresco? Want to know where to eat on Scilly’s islands? Food and travel writer Clare Hargreaves shares here insider tips for the best restaurants, along with where to find crab sandwiches, rose geranium ice cream and seafood paella.
olive’s must-visits for foodies on St Mary’s
On The Quay, St Mary’s – for hip atmosphere
Crafted from a Grade II-listed quayside warehouse, and furnished with upcycled timber (including school benches, scaffolding planks and the former steps to Porthcressa beach) and local art, this vast and stylish first-floor restaurant-cum-cocktail-bar is as close as you’ll get to hip on Scilly. As you tuck into lobster linguini or duck breast with orange sauce, watch boats setting out for the “off” islands in the harbour (or, if you’re there in May, the World Pilot Gig championships). If you prefer to grab and go, there’s a cafe downstairs.
St Mary’s Hall, St Mary’s – for carefully sourced produce
The chefs at this honey-stoned hotel restaurant, on the main street of Hugh Town, are sticklers for sourcing the best ingredients direct from their producers, whether it’s Scilly-caught seafood, beef and lamb from rare-breed herds reared slowly on the hotel owner’s Gloucestershire farm or duck from nearby Salakee Farm (see below). Try the latter as a duck leg and vegetable spring roll with Korean BBQ sauce, either in the bar or the more formal, table-clothed restaurant.
The Beach, St Mary’s – for tables with a view
Owned by St Mary’s Hall, this casual beach café, set in a converted boat shed on Porthmellon beach, uses the same top-notch ingredients as the hotel but puts the emphasis more on barbecued meats. Sit in its shabby chic interior or outside on the decking and dig into a surf and turf burger (local lobster tail and 28-day dry-cured Gloucester beef), a salt-baked beetroot and feta burger, or barbecued corn on the cob. The Confit Salakee duck leg with black pudding and chilli hash, spinach and fried duck eggs, is the breakfast must-eat.
Dibble and Grub, St Mary’s – for tapas
The style may be Spanish but the ingredients at this cheery beachside restaurant (set in the island’s former fire station, hence the name) are mainly Scillonian. Go for the Taste of Scilly selection, which uses local produce such as courgettes, squash and new potatoes, and eat it on the terrace as you watch the sun set over Portcressa beach.
Salakee Farm, St Mary’s – for duck
Dave Mumford’s family has lived on Salakee for three generations and when he got together with his partner Kylie Carter they wanted a new venture for the 35-acre farm. They hit on free-range duck, which they now raise in small batches and supply to restaurants on St Mary’s and sell at the island’s fortnightly Taste of Scilly farmer’s market – try their delicious Asian-style duck pancakes or pick up a duck or some eggs to take home. They also grow no-dig, naturally cultivated vegetables which they sell via an honesty stall at the farm gate, along with fresh duck and chicken eggs.
Strudel In Town, St Mary’s – for apple strudel
Bavarian Apfelstrudel might seem an unusual delicacy to find on Scilly, but the apple pastries baked every morning by Munich-born Sabine Schauldolph have become a local institution. This pint-sized harbourfront café, up an alley off Hugh Town’s main drag, is attached to a hairdresser (locals dub it The Hairy Strudel) so you can fill up on clotted-cream laden strudel, organic German-roasted coffee or lunchtime soup before having a holiday haircut. If you prefer a peaceful rural location, work up an appetite with a walk to Strudel’s other branch, Strudel up Country.
olive’s must-visits for foodies on St Martin’s
Seven Stones Inn, St Martin’s – for laid-back pub grub
The food may be simple – maybe giant couscous with roasted veg and halloumi, a crab sandwich or pasty – but the welcome at this relaxed, single-room stone inn at the heart of St Martin’s is genuinely warm and the sea views from the terrace are spectacular. The convivial place was recently taken over by Dom and Emily Crees, and they’ve added a new events room for live music sessions and other island gatherings. Scilly-sourced drinks include wines produced by Val and Graham Thomas on St Martin’s, St Mary’s-made Ales of Scilly, and gins from Westward Farm on St Agnes – try the rose geranium.
Island Bakery, St Martin’s – for bread
This artisan bakery, run by Barney and Ella McLachlan, is the only one on Scilly’s five inhabited islands; it’s alone worth a trip to St Martin’s just to buy their breads, pasties, cakes and pizzas. The pasties use a 1945 recipe from a Women’s Institute cookbook that a local fisherman brought in. Sit at the tables outside to feast on one of their sausage rolls or a bread roll filled with St Martin’s crab before relaxing on one of the island’s white-sand beaches. If you’re camping, their dinky ‘campers’ loaves are perfect, and don’t miss the chocolate cola cake.
olive’s must-visits for foodies on Tresco
Ruin Beach Cafe, Tresco – for wood-fired food
Sandwiched between a sandy beach and exotic-gardened timeshare villas, and crafted in the shape of a boatshed, the Ruin’s big thing is its wood-fired oven which brings a Mediterranean feel to the northeastern shores of well-heeled Tresco. Try its roast fish and beef, or pizzas, all cooked in the oven using wood from the island and often accompanied with veg from Scilly gardens. Sit out on the beachside terrace or, inside, on high-backed wooden settles furnished with cushions covered in marine prints. We love its relaxed vibe and no-fuss dishes.
Tuesday Market, Tresco – for street food
With just three or four stalls, this might be Britain’s tiniest farmer’s market. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth making a beeline for Tresco’s New Grimsby Quay on a Tuesday afternoon to stock up. As well as produce from Hillside Farm and Island Fish on neighbouring Bryher (see below), you can buy freshly baked focaccia and homemade vegetable or herb hummus made by herb and succulent grower Issy Tibbs from Bryher’s Veronica Farm – we loved her Thai basil and peanut dip and her home-baked herb scones.
olive’s must-visits for foodies on St Agnes
Coastguards Cafe, St Agnes – for crab sandwiches
Bryher crab sandwiches and mackerel pâté are the must-eats at this scenic cafe based inside the old coastguards’ cottages on tiny St Agnes. It’s run by a local, Tristan Hick, who’s furnished it with scrubbed wooden tables and regional art. Tristan makes scones and cakes while bread is baked daily by his mum, and apple juice, cider and gins come from the island’s Westward Farm. If the weather’s fine, eat on the terrace while soaking up the rugged beauty of Santa Warna cove. At night the cafe morphs into an elegant seafood restaurant, High Tide.
Troytown Farm, St Agnes – for ice-creams
When the flower-growing industry fizzled out, the Hicks family decided to buy a herd of Jersey dairy cows. Today, as well as selling their lusciously creamy milk, they turn it into ice cream, clotted cream and butter – to the delight of those holidaying on its gorgeous beachside campsite, which looks out over the rocks to Bishop’s Rock lighthouse. The standout ice cream is its rose geranium, flavoured with plants grown on St Agnes; try The Works, a large waffle cone with two scoops of ice cream, a chocolate or fudge stick and a dollop of clotted cream. The farm’s tiny shop also sells its own Ruby Red beef, pork and potatoes.
olive’s must-visits for foodies on Bryher
Hell Bay Hotel, Bryher – for high-end cooking
People return year after year to this huddle of New England-style buildings that look out across the Atlantic-bashed rocks on Bryher’s wild western shores. Their walls are packed with original artworks collected by the owners, the Dorrien Smith family. For foodies, though, the draw is Robert Kearsley’s cooking, a skillful celebration of Scilly’s amazing produce, including Bryher crab and lobster, and eggs and vegetables from Hillside Farm a few yards away (see below). Standouts include the frothy bouillabaise, made with local grey mullet, pollack and scallops, and the gazpacho, from Hillside tomatoes. In the summer months you can feast on local mussels, scallops and crab in the hotel’s pop-up Crab Shack, a relaxed, rustic barn near Popplestones beach.
Bryher shop, Bryher – for tattie cake
Recently taken over by Bristolians Mark Bothwick and Aaron Haile, this store combines post office, deli, basic shop and community hub. Top buy is the Scillonian tattie cake – a tray-bake made with local butter and tatties that used to be a favourite with the islands’ flower pickers and is made by talented cake-maker Zoe Dan (she used to run the shop before Aaron and Mark). Be warned: it’s addictive. You’ll also find Cornwall-made pasties, Westward Farm’s gin, cider and apple juice, and Veronica Farm fudge. If you’re renting a cottage, the shop will deliver to your door if you order in advance.
Hillside Farm, Bryher – for traditional-variety strawberries
Graham and Ruth Eggins may sell their fruit, veg and eggs from a modest honesty stall, but the incredible fresh produce from their 40-acre, nature-friendly mixed farm has effectively revolutionised the island’s table. Find their veg served in local restaurants, sold in the island’s shop and used in Issy Tibbs’ beetroot hummous. In June, swing by the stall early to snap up their exquisite traditional variety strawberries, grown (like everything else) without the use of chemicals. The Eggins also rear hardy Devonshire Red Ruby cattle, which help fertilise the land and conserve its great biodiversity – as well as providing excellent sustainably-produced beef.
Veronica Farm Fudge, Bryher – for fudge
The tiny duck egg-blue honesty stall outside Kris Taylor’s home at Veronica Farm is another of Bryher’s foodie must-dos. Kris started making fudge 24 years ago after the bottom fell out of the narcissus market and the farm needed an alternative income, and she’s been making it in small batches ever since. The best seller is vanilla, made with proper Madagascan vanilla extract, plus milk, butter and clotted cream from Troytown Farm on St Agnes. We also loved her Scillonian Seasalt, using salt harvested on St Martins by SC Salt.
Island Fish, Bryher – for Scillonian seafood
Although the Isles of Scilly are surrounded by sea, it can be bafflingly difficult to find locally caught seafood. So Island Fish, a fish shop-deli-cafe run by the Pender family, is a treasure. The Penders have been fishing for centuries, and today three generations of the family take their boats out daily, when weather permits. Their main catches are lobster and crab, which you can eat in sandwiches, salads or soup, but they also sell fish that’s caught off St Martins. Pass the shop at five in the morning, and you’ll hear the click-click of Amanda Pender hand-picking the crab. On Thursday evenings her mum, Sue, dishes out seafood paella on the verandah and on Sundays, her brother, Mark, does grilled lobster and coleslaw.
Every September the archipelago celebrates its food and drink with a Taste of Scilly festival. For more information see visitislesofscilly.com
Words and pictures by Clare Hargreaves, August 2019