Just by the harbour in Peel, a handsome fishing town on the west coast of the Isle of Man, there is a trailer from which you can buy a couple of dozen scallops for a trifling £4.50. They are, admittedly, little Manx queenies, not their kingly cousins, but they are cooked on the spot for you: fried until gently caramelised, with little orange commas of coral attached to their sweet flesh, and served in a tub, to be speared with a toothpick.
Anthony’s Fish Van also serves Manx kippers, crab baps and local mackerel, and any unsold queenies from the day’s catch are pickled: jolly good they are, too. It is just one sign of the resurgence of interest in the Isle of Man’s native produce: careful fishery management and a growing appreciation of local, seasonal food have allowed enterprising chefs to serve visitors something more distinctive than the once-ubiquitous fish and chips with mushy peas.
There is local beer, too – try Bushy’s, made with island-grown barley and particularly popular during the annual TT racing fortnight – and cider: Apple Orphanage, founded four years ago, transforms surplus fruits from the Isle of Man into juices, wines and ciders. The clean, crab-apple tartness of their Real Manx Cider reminds me of the Basque wine txakoli; both are a fine foil for sweet seafood.
Also by the waterfront in Peel is The Creek Inn, where you can find excellent, properly oak-smoked Manx kippers, queenies and plenty of local fish. I had fat razor clams with chilli and garlic, a perky, freshly landed plaice – and another pint of Bushy’s.
The island’s most celebrated restaurant is Tanroagan (pictured), in Douglas, a small, friendly place with a chef sensible enough to let his fine produce speak for itself. There are twists and tweaks, though, should you want them: queenie fritters are spiced with chilli and coriander; kippers are turned into excellent pâté and served with little lemon and dill scones.
I could have chosen lobster, pollock or turbot from the specials board, but there was local beef, too, from butcher Harrison & Garrett. I had a rib-eye steak, cooked perfectly rare in Tanroagan’s Josper oven (a sure sign of gastronomic evolution), with excellent homemade chips and a slightly curry-heavy Café de Paris butter. Tanroagan perfectly demonstrates the new-found self-confidence of Manx cooking.
The green shoots of gastronomy are everywhere on the island; and, with its glorious countryside and coastline (just over an hour’s flight from London City on BA, incidentally), there are plenty of opportunities for the enterprising gourmet to work up an appetite. The queenies, I promise, are worth the trip alone.