My trip this time was to the most faraway place I have ever been to. If you think America is far, then you are in for a surprise. A young man approached Andy Giddon, the owner of a company called Red Lion Foods. They sell many products into the multiples, including tea, sausages, bacon etc., with all profits going to military charities. He asked me if I would like to go to the Falklands to look at some of the wonderful foods available. These included lamb, and many species of fish, mostly ones that I have never heard of, such as King Clip, Toothfish, Moonfish. Plus squid. It also coincided nicely with the 30th anniversary of the ending of the conflict.
I had decided to go and write a series of notes for this website, and the original intention was to make a few bits of film for Red Lion Foods. However, it seemed a great shame to go all that way and not make a film or a series of small films. So, I engaged the services of my good friend and cameraman Sam Berrido, who’s, as it turns out quite bizarrely, great grandfather lived on the Falklands many years ago.
So after a few months of planning, we all finally arrived at Brize Norton in Oxfordshire. After filming my departure from home, driving and chatting to set the travel doc, we arrive in the early evening. Check-in is the quickest ever, no more than 5 minutes, brilliant; it did help the fact that it’s the only flight and only half full. We then made our way back to the Gateway, a sort of 60’s Holiday Inn cum Crossroads hotel. It’s all a bit surreal, with cavernous reception and a bar that’s full of service members going all around the world. We have a pint and meet a lovely cook from Ascension Island called Yvette, and chat to her and Cathrin about Wales, cooking and how beautiful Ascension Island is. Then, all too quickly, we are called to take the bus to departures. After security checks, we are herded into another cavernous lounge. Here we chat to a lady called Sheila and her friend, and she tells us lovely stories about Stanley, the food and her passion for fish (more about Sheila later).
Finally, at 11:50, we board the Titan plane and take off. The flight is only half full, so once airborne, we can move seats. A charming man called Tim, No1, advises me that I can have 3 seats to myself further up the plane, much to the amusement of the military guys sat around me. We are served a hot wrap of some description, not fully sure what was inside, and it’s okay, but not the thing you want at midnight. I settle back and try to get some sleep.
The next thing I know, we are being served breakfast, lights go on; you can’t see and fumble around a bit. Before you know it, another wrap is thrust upon you. This time a full breakfast one. It’s a sort of a tasty full English sludge. The only components I can really decipher are baked beans and sausages, chopped up. If my daughter had been here, I’m sure she would have described it as “breakfast sick in a wrap… dad.”
Yes, after more squash, it’s a dry flight; we begin our descent to Ascension Island.
The weather on the island is subtropical, and even at 8 in the morning is slightly cloudy and balmy. We are herded into a sort of cage by the airstrip. I say goodbye to Yvette and hello to Karen, a cook at the military base on Falkland. I also bump into the head chef for the base on the island. It turns out he is good friends with a couple of chefs I know. He asks me when we are going back and says he will do some nice grub for us on the way back. Cool.
We all have coffee and get our passports stamped, good fun. Then take a few pics and do a piece to camera for the travel blog. Then, in no time at all, we are back on the plane and airborne for the 9, yes 9 hours to Stanley.
After an hour or so, we are fed again, this time sausage, mash and peas in onion gravy. I have to say, not too bad, actually. I toss and turn, and Sam coins a great saying, “I’m bored of being bored”; it’s a long way. Hours later, we are fed and watered again. Yep, squash and something else, I can’t remember now.
We land in the Falklands finally some 18 hours after leaving home; the local time is early afternoon.
Being a military airport, everything is done the military way. The plane is boarded by an Army guy who quickly tells you the score. He then says, can Phil Vickery please come to the front. I do exactly what I’m told, we shake hands, and I’m led into the VIP area, reserved for dignitaries, governor and senior officials.
Quickly followed by Sam. Our passports are taken, stamped and bags duly delivered. Meanwhile, Andy is going the normal way.
Border control, note here for you, have a look at the way the MPA guys do it!!!!!! We all meet up and gently rib Andy as to the plusses of (very slight) media fame.
We are met by Gary Clement, a war veteran who married a local and returned to the island. He was going to be the guy that looked after us since Tony Davies had hurt his leg and could not make the long trip. Tony was another decorated veteran and worked with not only war charities but also Red Lion Foods.
We make the 30 odd mile trip to Stanley, along a road, a sorry track built by the military after the conflict. It’s cold and windy, and the road is pretty grim. As we drive, Gary points out various hills and bogs, including minefields that are still here. The names bring back vivid memories, Mount Longdon, Two Sisters, Harriet and probably the most famous Tumbledown. To the right, we see signs for Bluff Cove, Goose Green and Fitzroy. I then remember a couple of my friends who went to the conflict, a chef on QE2. All these we would see later in the week, something I was not really prepared for.
We arrive at the Malvina House Hotel right on the front in Stanley, just down the Governor’s house. It’s small, quirky and lovely and warm. I’m puzzled as to the name, especially in light of what had happened here. But it turns out it was named after the daughter of the guy who built it in 1881. Her name was Malvina. The inside is modern and welcoming. Carl, the manager, is brilliant; nothing was too much trouble.
We had planned a meeting with all the parties concerned as to the week’s schedule. It’s straightforward to plan from home, but on the ground, it’s always different. This we did with the Army guys, the local TV and radio, Penguin news, local paper and of course Matt Clarke, the head chef. I emailed Matt to introduce myself and get the lowdown on the cooking stuff I need to get ready. Although, in fairness to him, he did warn me about the wraps and squash on the trip.
That done, a shower was needed, after 20 odd hours travelling, and then a cold beer. I don’t think I have enjoyed a beer so much for a long time. We ate in the hotel’s restaurant that evening, me, Sam and Andy. I had squid, deep-fried, delicious. Smaller than the European offering, really tender with good flavour. I then had a braised rump of lamb with a well-reduced sauce, nice and moist with a really deep lamb flavour, similar to a hogget in the UK, lamb after 1 year old. This was very lean. Crème Brule 4 ways for dessert was okay, but I like deep filled, creamy and light, not a criticism at all, just a preference. Slept okay that night.
Up for the first hectic day, we were off around the island, so we met Gary early and, after a full breakfast and headed out of Stanley and passed a sign that reminds you that it’s twinned with Whitby. I never really understood that concept, what actually happens, what are they twinning with, oh well.
Our first stop is Fitzroy, where the Welsh Guards were hit hard in the conflict. It was here that the Argentine air force attacked HMS Sir Galahad and Sir Tristram. The 3 memorials are very moving. It brings back memories of harrowing news footage. The day is cold, windy and overcast, making the mood even more sombre. Andy, being Welsh, is visibly moved; we are all quiet for a few minutes.
We quietly move off to the next stop, Goose Green, probably most famous as the falling place of Colonel H Jones. A cairn marks the spot. We arrive, and Gary announces the news that the house we park outside of is the house Sam’s grandfather had lived in. Sam soaks it up, and I think he is also moved. We take photos and retreat to the Goose Green Café for a cup of Red Lion tea and a stiff one to calm everybody down.
We film a piece to camera, say our goodbyes and head off to our next location San Carlos.
This is quite a trip heading back to the airbase, then skirting around and way out across what they call ‘camp’, meaning farm.
Gary is brilliant in explaining as we go along all the war stories and what had happened in each area. San Carlos is a bleak place, with a couple of small houses and a small museum. Through a gate is the war memorial, neatly kept and is the final resting place of Colonel H Jones. This area was known as ‘bomb alley’ HMS Antelope was hit just outside the bay. The Argentine planes would come straight down the valley at a low level, giving the advancing ships no chance at all. A small shearing shed across the bay has the field hospital still visible. Gary explains that nobody died after suffering heavy casualties and all the injured that entered the field hospital. In the distance, a pole juts out of the water, the final resting place of HMS Antelope, now a war grave. Again he is clearly moved by being here, and when I chat to him on camera, it takes a couple of times, understandably so. We have a quick look at the museum, again very moving.
We head off to find Hope Farm, another good hour drive away out to see Falklands lamb close up. Here we were to meet Phillip’s family, sheep farmers, and interesting stories about the invasion. The farm is an average size for Falkland, some 54,000 acres. We are slightly late for lunch, but Carol, Terrence, Paul, Shula, Jan, Tanya make us really welcome. Quickly we have lunch, a fabulous lunch of braised lamb, vegetables and rice, plus beef stroganoff. Followed by Diddle De jam and cream scones, a small berry that grows on the ‘camp’ plus Tea Berries, named after a small bush whose leaves were made into tea. They also produce small, sweet berries with a pink blush. Shula made some delicious, light meringues and topped them with the berries. All I have to say were wonderful.
We film with Paul and his daughter about his lambs and growing regime, looking at his shearing shed (he is outstanding apparently) and his lovely dogs. We pass by a small shed, and he shows me the dog food, an old ewe hanging with no skin. The first thing I notice is the fat layer, hardly any at all. This is very interesting; 8 years old and less fat than any carcass I have seen.
Carol, Paul’s mum, is fantastic, brilliantly quick, funny and tells us great stories. However, the invasion is still very clear to her. One about meeting an SBS guy one night in the dark and hugging him!!! She shows me the school, a room out the back of the house, also home to a full-size snooker table!!! Middle of nowhere, a snooker table, how British.
We take a picture, say our goodbyes and all head back to Stanley, some 70 miles away, yes and no tarmac in sight. We pass Teal Inlet, a huge collection of old Land Rovers, and finally, as it’s getting dark, hit Mount Kent, a heavily guarded Argentine position in the conflict.
Here Gary shows us the remains of two helicopters shot down by the Argentine army. As I wandered amongst the remarkably preserved wreckage, I see British and also Spanish scribbling on all parts, from rotor blades metal sheeting. Again it’s very moving indeed, especially as it’s getting dark. We head along the valley, then round the back of Two Sisters. Then finally dropping down back onto the main road to Stanley past Sappers Hill. A long first day, but really worth it; I could finally put places to names.
Dinner in the hotel again with the lads. This time I had Smelt, a sort of small fish like a sardine, fried on toast, really nice. Quickly followed by King Clip, similar to cod but with firmer flesh and definitely loads more flavour than Britain’s favourite. Matt serving it with Asian Slaw was a perfect combination and really good. Bed!
The next day, after another monster breakfast, we were to film with Matt in his kitchen extolling the virtues of Falklands Island lamb. After a brief chat, we were into it. Matt producing one of his famous dishes, roast rack, herb-crusted with a braised meat underneath and rosti potato underneath. All went fine; I then prepared a lamb hot pot (my mum’s recipe) for dinner I was going to at Sheila’s, the lady I had met at Brize. Before lunch, Matt produced a Penguin egg for me to taste.
The locals are allowed to take them in season, and it’s very strictly licensed and controlled. It’s about double the size of a hen’s egg and with a white shell. We heated a pan and added some oil, and after taking a bit of time, cracked into the hot oil.
It was quite weird, and the white does not change colour, cooks like bubble wrap in a pan. The yolk, however is like a normal egg, only slightly larger. Taste-wise, the white is like jelly, quite different. The yolk has a faintly fishy flavour similar to an anchovy. Matt hated it; I quite liked it, if I’m honest, but not the sort of thing I can see taking off in the UK.
Filming is done, time for lunch, could not resist the squid again with a little chilli, salt and lemon, delicious.
That done, we headed off to cook a bar-b-q for the locals on the quay. I was going to cook some of John Ferguson’s Falkland Islands lamb burgers and chops, plus Toothfish, wrapped in air-dried ham and baby Falklands squid.
I have to say Gary was brilliant, finding 2 barbies, plus gas bottles. Matt did all the prep and partly cooked some fish, so they did not have to wait too long after my quick dem to camera. The FIDF or Falklands Islands Defence Force also lent a hand. As with a lot of filming, it’s over very quickly, but I think it went down well and even made it onto Falklands Islands telly and radio.
That evening it was off to some of Gray’s friends Sheila and Ian, for dinner, with a few of her friends and what a spread it was. I arrived with my hot pot that Matt had finished off for me. Sheila runs a fish company, so we feasted on Moonfish kebabs, Toothfish bake, whole baked trout, weighing 12lb and stuffed baby squid. This came with roasted veggies, stir fry and mashed spuds; it was truly delicious.
Desserts were equally good Pavlova and Date pudding with local cream. Finally, off to bed stuffed like a squid, but I did sleep really well.
Being Sunday, I thought I might get a lie-in, no chance. So I was off to cook breakfast rolls with Red Lion sausages, bacon and tea for the veterans in Liberty Lodge and a place where war veterans can come on their own or with family. Red Lion sponsors the place, so it was fitting to cook for them. I cooked bacon or sausage rolls with baconnaise, a mixture of mayonnaise, crispy bacon, mustard, parsley and mango chutney. I rather use it than butter, and it really makes the rolls work well, the sweetness offsetting the saltiness of the bacon.
Veterans were accompanied by friends of the lodge, plus radio and telly again, including Carol & Terrence. We took photos and had a good chat interviewing a few of the guys, and Carol is lovely.
Cleared up, we stopped at the Stanley Diner for a quick pic and coffee with Marlene and Richard Short and her mother, the lovely Shirley, then Kevin picked us up from Island Tours for my next adventure.
Kevin and Hattie Kilmartin run The New Bluff Cove Farm & Penquin Tour Company. In the season running cruise ship passengers to and from Stanley to see Penguins at Bluff Cove.
They also have some of Hattie’s fabulous food, more on this in a bit. The weather is really changeable here, and you can and will get 4 seasons in one day. So I was a little concerned when Kevin decides to just drive off the road, sorry track from Stanley. So off we went across peat bogs, rock and mud. It was good fun, I have to say, but we went miles, across a ridge and finally to the lagoon. As we approached, the Belted Galloway cattle saw us a mile away and were gone, but nestled on the banks of the lagoon were 3 areas of Penguins. Most were just standing about whilst 4 king Penguins had fluffy young with them. Kevin was anxious to check they were okay, especially as he explained that King’s were crap parents, leaving offspring for long periods. So we walked right up to them, as they were clearly not worried about humans.
As the rain came in again, we just got the shots and piled back into the Land Rover and drove to their Sea Cabbage Café; all closed up for the winter. Here we drank a superb Upland Goose Bullshot, a sort of unclarified consommé or meat tea made from the delicious bird. It’s then mixed with a large quantity of Vodka and drank warm with lots of pepper or Tabasco. The original recipe came from the shooting scene in the 1800s in the UK and was meant to warm you up on a cold winter’s day. It certainly did that and was perfect for the biting winds and wet clothes.
Warmed and shots in the can, we set off back, and Kevin let me drive. Great stuff, REAL off-roading.
I got about halfway back, and Kevin took over. There was a makeshift bridge over a bog made from Argentine metal leftover from a runway somewhere. As we drove back, the bogs got boggier and wetter until finally, we got stuck. Sam and I tried to push to no avail, so Kevin called Hattie to come and rescue us. This is known locally as getting bogged and can cause a certain amount of embarrassment or fun depending on which side you are looking from. Hattie and Jane duly arrived, with cameras at the ready and poked fun at Kevin, especially when we were pulled out 5 minutes later stuck again. Due to the advent of technology and the fast pace of life these days, Facebook was ready, oh dear….
Happily back on the road, sorry track, we headed back to Bluff Cove farm for lunch and even more ribbing.
Hattie is a serious cook, having cooked almost all over the world, including 2 stints in Mongolia. Lunch was amazing, including brined, smoked lamb, Reindeer kebabs (from South Georgia), smoked Tooth fish salad, veggies, homemade sourdough bread and a fabulous dried cherry tart with the thickest cream I have ever tasted.
Truly stuffed this time, we had to get back to Stanley as we had dinner, yessiree, dinner at the hotel was being hosted by John Ferguson (Falklands Lamb) and chef Matt.
After trying to get an interview with Alex Reid, a squid fishing boat owner, we got back to the hotel, and I had a quick bath to warm up.
The next thing I know, Sam is knocking on my door, it’s 8 o’clock, we are waiting for you. So I rushed downstairs, with that light-headed feeling when you are woken, and suddenly get up.
After Champagne or 2 surprisingly, I felt a bit better and had a lovely meal of mushroom soup with port syrup and some foam. Next, some squid and smoked fish, delicious, loved it. My main was roasted lamb cutlets, with roasted lamb underneath and a sort of stew, okay, but a tad dry. The lamb has a wonderful flavour here though, so I pulled it off!
Dessert was a trio of mini baked Alaska, ice cream with a Toblerone sauce and a chocolate cake, nice combination and not too sweet. This was the first time Matt had eaten his own food at a party, and the ‘boys’ had to cook. I think they did a good job, and I know exactly how he felt.
After the port, I hit the sack and hurrah a slight lay in as Sam went off to get some aerial footage of the telly station films. I then got some souvenirs for the family and then went to the Governor’s house so Andy could drop off a signed portrait of Margaret Thatcher.
We met Rick Nye, deputy governor and had a whistle-stop tour, including the famous snooker table signed underneath by all visitors, office and fabulous garden complete with nectarine and peach house. The grapes are superb also.
Off to the military camp now, to meet some of the boys and girls, as we were staying there overnight to save an hour of travel in the morning. So we arrive, check-in, get passes and meet Tom Hall, accompanied by Paul official photographer.
We go straight to meet Guy, who informs us that the typhoons are taking off any minute. Up in the tower, we meet all the staff, do pics and shake hands. We move outside as the 2 Typhoons are taxiing out onto the runway. One has a problem, so we return, the second one gets ready. It starts very slowly, then increases speed and bingo, off it goes with frightening speed until it gets level with us and literally goes straight up. By the time my camera has taken a pic and refocused, he’s gone, the roar is breathtaking, and with full afterburners, he’s out of sight in a few seconds. Wow, that’s pretty serious stuff; I could feel the hairs standing up on the back of my neck.
Stunned and pretty speechless, I ride in the huge fire engine with driver Vinny and the flight lieutenant.
We arrive at the Typhoon briefing centre and are met but Jamie, one of the crack forces. We have a full briefing with him, and he explains the full roll and aircraft.
He’s charming, funny and eloquent, a former Harrier pilot, turned real-life Top Gun. The strange thing is he looks about 19, and here he is flying 110 million quid aircraft. We meet another guy, ‘Bondy’. He looks mid 20’s relaxed, looks like Steve McQueen, easy-going, nonplussed by the whole thing. He takes us into the hanger to see one of these beasts close up. This is big boy stuff; what a job! We say our goodbyes and arrange to meet them later in the officer’s mess for a beer.
Next stop Rapier site, no joy all locked up, them on to the mess halls to meet the chefs.
This is a huge operation, feeding on a grand scale; from junior ranks to officers, all excellent food indeed. So we have a snack in the junior ranks mess, and it’s pretty damn good.
I meet the guys, shake hands and have a chat, then it’s on to our rooms and back to cook Crepes Suzette for desert in the officer’s mess.
Quick Spitfire beer first (my favourite), hooking up with the Typhoon guys again. Along with Jamie and Bondy where Mark, Andy & Pablo, the guy who was frankly showing off earlier, it’s bloody cool though!
Even having a beer, they have their special flying gear on, just letting you know exactly who they are, and when I was younger, I thought cooking was cool!!!!
Back to the mess hall and knocking up pancakes and sauce to a long queue, with the help from the lads and head chef Mick cheers lads, appreciated that very much. Lots of photos and handshaking later back to the bar for a drink and relax.
As the evening progresses, Tom becomes more and more concerned about Sam, and I am getting up at 6.15 to check in, especially when the guys want to take us to a helicopter bar then onto the legendary Goose Bar.
Off we go, great fun, meeting lots of people and finally leaving them about 1 ish and into bed.
Up and at ‘em early we check-in, back to the officers mess for breakfast and on the plane via, VIP again, very nice.
As I write this, I’m 3 hours from Ascension; yes, lots of squash, resisted the lure of a cheese wrap thing and looking forward to nice roast beef and Yorkshire pudding in-flight meal……….
I hope the chef at Ascension remembers our conversation last week; I really don’t think I could have another wrap.
This has been a fascinating trip, not only for the food and travel but also to be able to put places now to the names of all that news footage so many years ago. I can certainly say that the Falklanders want to remain part of the UK and love having protection and security from my trip. The roar of the jet engines that Falklanders call the sound of freedom, and I can never see them giving upon them. These now peaceful islands, nature, the people, the beautiful baron landscapes and scenery are truly magnificent.
I just wonder for how long with the oil and gas companies gathering on the horizon.
My personal thanks to:
- All the staff in the tower MPA
- The Typhoon guys
- Phil, Tom, & Guy MPA
- Mick head chef and chefs in the officer’s mess
- John Ferguson, Falklands Meat Co
- Gary Clement and all the vets
- All staff at Liberty Lodge
- Alex Reid, squid man
- Kevin & Hattie Kilmartin
- Oliver Reid and all the staff at the Malvina Hotel
- Matt Clarke, top man
- Ros & Andy Giddon
And anyone I have forgotten…