Deeply territorial, possessing enough pressure in its limbs to break a man’s finger, and a creature that does not show signs of ageing. We’re not describing the Scillonian islander; we’re talking Homarus gammarus – the lobster.
Step into The Flying Boat Bar & Bistro this year and you will find a splendid selection of lobster dishes peppering Head Chef Jack’s new menu.
From rich and creamy lobster mac and cheese to deliciously simple grilled lobster tails or a crisp and fresh lobster salad, Jack is determined to make the most of our delicious local fruits de mer.
“It seemed crazy,” says Jack. “Scilly has this incredible diversity of seafood and yet crab was the only thing really grabbing headlines. I wanted to change that.”
Cornish lad Jack arrived on Tresco in 2017, accompanied by partner Sophie and daughter Bella, having previously run his own restaurant in a small Cornish fishing village.
“I used to get lobster straight off the boats there, and wanted to do the same here,” says Jack. “It’s been great to be able to make The Flying Boat my own. Where better to be inspired to create a menu than on Tresco? We’re surrounded by an ocean teeming with lobsters, with local fishermen who literally walk along the harbour and hand over their catch at the end of the day.”
The man responsible for supplying the vital raw ingredient is fisherman Mark Pender of Bryher’s Island Fish.
Each day, long before dawn, Mark boards his little fishing boat Tradewinds and heads out to the fishing grounds, returning later in the day to deliver the fruits of his labour.
Mark is the next in a long line of Scillonian fishermen of the Pender clan. Centuries of Scillonian fishing heritage was formalised into Island Fish just a few years ago.
“My father still fishes every day,” says Mark. “I don’t know what he’d do if he didn’t… Drive mother mad probably. Anyway, his father fished, and his father before him. There’s another generation following on behind us, too. Fishing isn’t a job; it’s a way of life.”
Every day Mark and Mike head out to their fishing grounds – anywhere from Bishop Rock to the far side of St Martin’s – hauling pots to reveal the catch inside. Mark skippers Tradewinds whilst father Mike skippers the boat he built with his own hands 40 years ago, Emerald Dawn.
It is the Pender’s local knowledge that makes their lobsters something special. They know where to fish and when to land the very finest – and freshest – produce.
“You can now walk into your local bargain supermarket and pick up a lobster for a tenner,” frowns Mark. “The problem is they are usually American or Canadian so they’re not fresh at all, and it shows.
“The proof of the pudding is in the eating; you can definitely tell a fresh lobster, which – of course – means a local lobster. A good way to tell is if the edge of the meat has taken on a little of the red of the cooked shell, but the rest should be bright white. By the time our lobsters hit your plate, they will only have been out of the water a matter of hours so they’re much sweeter and fuller.”
“Fresh, local lobster is the only way to go,” agrees chef Jack. “The difference is impossible to overstate. Lobster is best served simply, without too many distractions, but of course that means if your lobster isn’t fresh, there’s no hiding it.
“That’s why we only use Scillonian lobster. You can’t beat it, and it means we’re free to really let the meat be the star of the show. My favourite way to cook lobster is simply grilled; there’s not much that can match the contrast of the deliciously chewy, sweet meat against salty butter and tangy lemon.
“There are so many things we can do with lobster though,” Jack says with a small but definite glint of excitement in his eyes. “Last year we did lobster samosas, which went down really well. I’m really looking forward to getting some good classics on the menu, but also experimenting and seeing just what this amazing shellfish can do.
“People used to have two misconceptions about lobsters: that they were the preserve of the wealthy, and that all you could do with them was cover them in an overpoweringly cheesy thermidor sauce. I can’t wait to prove the old misconceptions wrong.”
But does the new-found popularity of lobsters mean this species could become threatened? “We only take what we need,” says fisherman Mark, who is Chair of the Isles of Scilly Fisherman’s Association.
“Sustainability is really important; you can’t just take away without putting back. We’ve learned from Scandinavia and the Mediterranean, where lobster stocks have completely collapsed.
“We operate to some of the strictest sustainability standards in the world. We notch the tails of egg-carrying females, which means they can’t legally be caught and landed for several years. We also have the strictest landing size limits in the country – stricter than most of Europe, in fact. That means juvenile lobsters have plenty of time to reproduce.”
Island Fish is also the only business on Scilly to have signed up to the ‘buy one, release one’ scheme, meaning for every lobster order, they donate £1 to Padstow’s National Lobster Hatchery to rear and release a new lobster.
Mark’s commitment to sustainability was one of the factors that led to him being named Shellfish Fisherman of the Year at the national Fishing News Awards in 2016.
“The words ‘fresh’, ‘local’ and ‘sustainable’ are real buzzwords these days,” says chef Jack. “What I love is that here on Scilly, they’re not new words; they’re old, common-sense traditions. Why would you ship in lacklustre imported shellfish when you have the finest lobster quite literally on your doorstep, once Mark has delivered? Why would you fish stocks to extinction when simple measures mean you can have a better-quality product, indefinitely?
“I see guests sitting down at their table, taking a pause from their grilled lobster, peering out through the window of The Flying Boat. Out of the corner of their eyes they see Mark in his little green punt and his yellow wellies and it dawns on them: this is the very essence, the very picture of Scilly.”
Snap up a lobster on Tresco at the Flying Boat Bar & Bistro, or head to the Tresco Market at New Grimsby harbour every Tuesday afternoon. If you miss the market, call the Penders on +44 (0)1720 423880 and they’ll deliver to Tresco any day of the week.