Let me share with you my favourite little eating place on the island of Jersey. Nowadays, especially since the arrival of our son who is now 4, we no longer stay in hotels but choose the more convenient option of a self catering apartment. However, I utterly refuse to 'self cater!' It may work for some, but in my opinion, cooking tea and washing dishes can be saved for other 51 weeks of the year. During a holiday, whilst many people prefer to partake of their evening meal in the luxury surroundings of a Michelin star restaurant, I prefer to opt for the more comfortable, easy going setting, namely - a pub!
We originally came across Les Fontaines Tavern by accident approximately four years ago. During a leisurely drive around the island late one afternoon, and having got lost a couple of times, we were ready for a bite to eat and, lo and behold, what should appear around the corner (a very tight corner in fact, with a long drop into the English Channel off to one side) but a very pretty, some may call it quaint, tavern. Last year was our fourth Jersey holiday in which we ate our evening meals in Les Fontaines Tavern, and we even had lunch there on a couple of occasions.
Let me explain why Les Fontaines Tavern is my favourite eating place on Jersey...
Les Fontaines Tavern is situated along the coast road of the Parish of St John. Stand with your back to the tavern, look out to sea, and there on the horizon you can clearly see the French coastline (fog permitting!)
Anyway, enough of the views and on with the review. On approaching Les Fontaines Tavern from the car park, my first impression is that of a very pretty, 'oldy worldy' cottage with an open door to welcome its customers. Just to the side of the entrance, there are a number of wooden dining benches with sun canopies, enabling diners to take advantage of the warm summer evenings (haha) to eat their meal al fresco.
To anyone visiting Les Fontaines Tavern for the first time, one thing will become very clear before you even enter the building - there are very few, if any, hire cars in the car park. However, you will soon see that there are many cars with Jersey plates, obviously belonging to the locals - always a good sign in my opinion! We very quickly realised that Les Fontaines Tavern is a firm favourite with the locals, but as it is not on the main tourist track of the island, or in St Helier, the capital, very few visitors are aware of its existence and tend to opt for the larger restaurants in town. On entering the tavern itself, the warm, cottage-like feel continues throughout. Low ceilings, wooden beams (for anyone who is 6' or over, DUCK! These beams have been known to attack some of the tavern's taller customers!!) and comfortable, homely decor. There are two entrances into the tavern, either via the bar or through a small entrance hall. On entering through the bar, there is clearly ample seating for customers wishing to eat their meals in the bar area itself, however, a short walk through the small connecting archway leads you to the main dining area, where on the right hand side is the counter where your order your food, and to the left is the surprisingly large restaurant with seating availability catering for couples, families or larger parties of twelve people or more. At the far end of the restaurant, three or four steps lead up to a further, smaller dining area.
There is a very unique style to the interior of Les Fontaines Tavern. The walls in both the main dining area and the smaller dining area towards the back are decorated with wooden plaques reciting numerous well known sayings, such as "If a job's worth doing it's worth doing well" and "Every dog has its day". In the smaller rear dining area, there is an open, iron spiral staircase leading to a small landing (not accessible by the public). This landing displays various farming implements and an old suitcase, though I am uncertain of the connection here! The surrounding walls are also decorated with old brassware such as pans and bed warmers, together with old fashioned advertising posters and photographs.
The ambiance in Les Fontaines Tavern is absolutely wonderful. Very warm, very friendly and very relaxed. The bar area is usually inhabited by the locals who appeared to be catching up on the daily gossip, and some of whom had even brought their dogs in with them. I can honestly say that we did not see anyone who looked like tourists during our visits, made apparent by the fact that everyone appeared to know each other. However, unlike many establishments where the locals meet up, I did not get the feeling that we were outsiders. Some of the Jersey people made conversation with us (always easy however when you have a young child with you!) and the staff were very friendly and polite. The one thing that may possibly deter some people from visiting Les Fontaines Tavern is that it is very much a family place, and therefore is popular with parents bringing their children in. Although I have two year old myself, I am never keen on eating a meal where there are children shouting and screaming all around me, but I did not find this to be a problem here, which may be due to the fact that there is a children's play area which seemed to keep the little ones occupied. More on that later. I would add that my son is perfectly behaved and would never dare scream in a public place (well, not usually, anyway!!)
Basically, the menu caters for everyone. Being family orientated, Les Fontaines Tavern covers everything from steaks, fish dishes, salads, vegetarian menus and children's menus. There is also a 'Specials' board and a large assortment of desserts. A favourite on the Specials board this year seemed to be freshly caught Sole followed by strawberries and fresh Jersey cream. On the couple of occasions when we stopped there for lunch, there was a good variety of sandwiches with side portions of salad and home-made crisps. Our evening meals usually comprised two adult meals, one child's meal, three desserts (one being a small portion of ice-cream for Matthew) and two drinks. This usually totalled somewhere between £25 and £30 per evening.
I have listed below a sample menu to give an idea of prices:
Homemade soup with crusty bread £3.50
Baby rack of ribs with barbeque sauce £5.25
Grilled Goats Cheese Salad with Balsamic Vinaigrette Dressing £4.75
8oz Gammon with button mushrooms, grilled tomato and egg/pineapple £7.95
10oz Rib-Eye Steak with button mushrooms and grilled tomatoes £10.95
14oz T-Bone Steak with button mushrooms and grilled tomatoes £13.95
Fillet of Chicken Chasseur £8.50
Cumberland Sausage with Onion Gravy £7.95
Pasta and Rice Dishes:
Tagliatelle Carbanara £7.85
Chicken Thai Curry £7.95
Steak and Kidney Pie £7.50
6oz Beef Burger with bacon, fried onions and cheese (served with chips & garnish) £7.25
Cod Fillet in Beer Batter £8.25
Scampi Tails in breadcrumbs £7.25
There is a large selection of side orders to accompany your main meal.
There is also a large selection of salads, baguettes and jacket potatoes.
The menu is substantial and this is only a small selection to give an idea of prices. Portions are large and, in my opinion, very reasonable.
As I mentioned previously, this is a very relaxed setting, so basically, you go to the food bar and order your meal yourself. Before doing anything, you are required to find a vacant table and sit yourself down while you peruse the menu. Once you have decided what you wish to order, make a note of your table member and head to the food bar where you confirm your order, together with your table number. Next to the food bar is a long cabinet on which you will find cutlery wrapped in paper napkins, together with various condiments. When your meal is ready, a waitress will bring it over to your table. The same process should be followed if you choose a dessert. These are situated in a chilled glass cabinet next to the food bar, and again, you place your order in the usual way and it will be brought over to your table.
I would highly recommend you book a table if you are planning a visit on a weekend. As it is a popular establishment with the locals, Fridays and Saturdays do get extremely busy and if you are lucky enough to find a table that is not reserved, waiting times can be quite long. However, week days are usually problem free and tables are usually quite easy to find. It is also worthwhile checking availability on Sunday evenings as, last year, we made the mistake of turning up for food on the Sunday we arrived in Jersey and found that the tavern was closed. This was due to a private function being held which, although it was a bit of a pain in the neck for us, just proved how popular the place is with the local people. So popular, they even close the pub for you!
During last year's holiday, we booked a table for the Friday evening, and on seeing the number of people already sitting down when we walked in, we realised we had made the right decision in booking ahead.
~~~CHILDREN'S PLAY AREA~~~
This is definitely a hangout for families and I think the children's play area is a necessity. Any parents will know that children get bored and niggly when they have to wait for their tea (to be honest, so do I!) so the play area really does keep them occupied. I must admit that the play area does seem to be updated now and then, and is different this year to what it was last year, so it may have changed yet again by 2010. At the moment, there are climbing ropes with cushioned flooring below, together with a tractor ride (I think this cost 20p per go, unlike the rides in the UK which usually cost 50p per go!)
There is an upside and a downside to this play area however. The upside for diners without children is that you cannot see into the play area and so can eat your meal in peace. The downside for the parents is that you cannot see into the play area so don't know what your little imps are getting up to!
The car park itself is not huge. I would say it caters for approximately 15 cars. However, there is an overflow car park across the road with plenty of space. Another word of warning: If parking on the overflow car park, don't leave your car too near to the edge. There is a 100' drop into the sea below!
Food is served seven days of the week between the following times:
Monday - Saturday: 12 noon to 2.15 pm and 6.00 pm to 9.00 pm
Sunday: 12 noon to 2.45 pm and 6.00 pm to 8.30 pm
~~~WHERE TO FIND IT~~~
La Route du Nord, St John, JE3 4AJ
Les Fontaines Tavern is part of Randalls Jersey, a family run business since the 1800's. Details of this establishment, together with the numerous other pubs and restaurant within the group, are detailed on w.randallsjersey.com
~~~MY OVERALL OPINION~~~
You have probably realised from the tone of this review that I am quite partial to eating at Les Fontaines Tavern. If you prefer to eat in a more formal atmosphere where the maitre de takes care of your every need and a wine waiter appears at your table the minute you sit down, then this is not for you. However, if you like a more relaxed, homely setting in which to have either a good hearty meal, or merely a light snack, then I could not recommend Les Fontaines Tavern enough. The overall ambience of the tavern really sells this place to me, together with the extremely high quality of the food. A very varied menu ensures that all tastes are catered for, and families are made to feel extremely welcome.
Basically, I am of the opinion that, if a place gets inundated with locals seven nights a week, as Les Fontaines Tavern does, it can't be bad!
Thanks for reading. Hope you enjoyed!
(Also on Ciao - matthewsmum)