Commanding an impressive footage at the heart of Gorey’s picture-postcard harbour front, afoot the majestic Mont Orgueil castle, the Moorings has all the ingredients for an outstanding destination and dining experience. With a husband and wife team at the helm, it is, however, as much a result of their cumulative industry experience, culinary heritage and undeniable passion for food, which has ensured the continued success and outstanding reputation of the hotel.
The double, AA rosette-awarded Walkers restaurant and bistro is renowned, by locals and visitors, for its first-class food with an emphasis on the finest quality local and imported produce. With a clientele that consists of equal measures of overseas visitors to locals (who want an on-island short stay), quality and consistency is key. “From the businessman who’s just pre-booked his next stay and the couple from across the bay who book in each year for a week, to the tourists over for wildflower walks and the locals pre-booking for Tennerfest; most of our business is return business and our guests expect a certain level of service and quality,” explains chef, Simon.
Over their combined years in the industry, he and his wife, Jo, who manages the hotel, have seen significant industry changes, but less than you might expect when it comes to food expectations. “Visitors and diners want local produce,” explains Jo. “The Jersey royal, the iconic Jersey crab sandwich and the timeless sea bass are always on our menu, in some form or another. In many ways, we are a parochial hotel and receive unwavering support from our clientele who often expect such staples, however, it is the quality of our offerings in which we take greatest pride. We source the freshest and best varieties available and we often hear, through diners, about a supplier, or someone nearby, who has a new crop coming up.”
“We have strong relationships with our suppliers: from the woman down the road who grows our artichokes and kale to the farmer around the corner who supplies our tomatoes,” explains, Simon. “Years ago, we used to have to drive to the airport to collect our truffle oil from a guy who came over from France, because you just couldn’t get it here. It was the same with couscous! Things have evolved rapidly with the vast range of ingredients available to chefs and cooks and dining expectations are high. Simon prepares his menus in a way where he can experiment with combinations and introduce guests to new tastes, yet ironically, he doesn’t always highlight this on his menu. “It is a fine balancing act and we often have to introduce new ingredients or combinations quietly and sparingly. When diners taste our latest offerings they are almost always, pleasantly surprised but highlighting new offerings on the menu can sometimes deter our customers from ordering a dish, in case they don’t like it. No matter whether it’s on the menu or not, for example, we will always have guests who request a prawn cocktail but we pride ourselves on our flexibility and always try to accommodate such requests,” says Simon.
Having been impressed by the quality of the beef after hosting a recent John Stone tasting evening, the Moorings decided to switch to the Irish, grass-fed meat producer for their sirloins, which is exclusively supplied in Jersey by Easenmyne Phoenix who are also one of Jo and Simon’s trusted suppliers. “The traceability and standard of the meat is outstanding,” explains Simon. “It’s been dry aged for 21 days, grass-fed and properly hung – which kick starts the tenderising process, as the enzymes work to break down the fibres – so the result is fantastic. The quality really exceeds your expectations.” A recent table of 11 regulars remarked to Jo, that although our steaks had always been brilliant, this latest was the best yet; they could taste the difference in the quality. “This was before we’d had a chance to list the fact it was John Stone beef on our menu. So without being aware we had even changed our supplier, the diners had noticed a favourable difference.”
Simon takes such pride in the quality of his restaurant offerings that he also bakes his own fresh bread, for which the restaurant became so popular they started supplying the village grocers. “It took on a life of it’s own and in order to keep up with demand, I would be up baking at 4am. Sadly, we had to stop supplying the store and just concentrate on what we offer within the restaurant. “There are only so many hours in the day and starting sometimes at 5am and not finishing until 11pm keeps me busy enough,” he smiles. Simon’s level of skill also enables him to immediately tweak dishes that aren’t being received as well as might have been hoped or transform cuts of meat from one dish into a completely different one to avoid wastage. His level of expertise ensures a smooth-running, content kitchen where camaraderie is high. “We are very lucky because we have so much space to work with. For the size of our hotel, the kitchen is colossal, but we’re not complaining,” he laughs. “It means we have plenty of fridge space and therefore, health and hygiene standards are exceptional.”
While outstanding produce is key to the success of a restaurant, the expertise of the chef is what sets it apart. Simon comes from four generations of foodies in the cooking and catering industries, as does Jo, who has also trained as a chef. Simon’s earliest memories are of his late mother (to whom he dedicates his work), “cooking, baking, pickling and preserving,” which serve as his inspiration. The couple’s passion for food and wine is delightfully contagious and their attention to detail is the oil, which keeps the Moorings running so smoothly. Everyone knows what they are doing and when they are supposed to be doing it. “We are like a family,” says Jo. “Our close working relationships are the cornerstone of our success as they allow us to offer a consistent level of service. It can be heaven or hell working together as a couple in this industry but we are fortunate enough to have built a strong professional and personal partnership.” This level of personalisation ensures guests and diners are attended to with great courtesy and consideration. “I work in the restaurant six out of seven nights a week, so very little is lost in translation when it comes to customer service. We know the business back to front and our tight team of staff are so well-informed that any diner queries or requests are answered or accommodated, so that our guests can enjoy their meals and stays and return again and again.”
For a couple who put so much heart and soul into their business, it was a heavy blow when Simon underwent chemotherapy and was out of action for the best part of last year. “It came as a shock,” says Jo, “and was a difficult year, but we were overwhelmed by the support of family and friends who rallied around us and held the reigns in the kitchen while Simon underwent treatment. To know the hotel was running smoothly, all the while, was a great relief.” Having been given the all clear, Simon is a firm fixture at the head of the kitchen again and happy doing what he loves most: sourcing and presenting some of the finest food this island has to offer. With a lack of fanfare, consistently excellent food is always on the menu at the Moorings, and the only criticism is that perhaps they don’t blow their own trumpet enough!
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