The moment chef Seamus Duggan first set foot in Guernsey he felt at home. Twenty-five years later he is still delighting in the Island’s fresh produce - and the unparalleled views from his harbourside restaurant. Irish born Seamus tells Condor how he came to make Guernsey his permanent address.
Most days, Seamus Duggan stands by the window of his restaurant and gazes for a while. ‘I go into a little dreamland for a minute or two,’ admits the chef-proprietor of Guernsey’s Pier 17.
If you take a look to the left yourself as this ship sails into St Peter Port Harbour, then you’ll see why. Perched at the far end of historic Albert Pier, with dazzling views of the Fish Quay, Castle Cornet and the lighthouse, it’s so close to the fishing fleet’s berth that he can see the food he cooks coming into land. The restaurant simply has one of the best views in Guernsey and with the constantly changing scene of one of Europe’s prettiest harbours as everyday cabaret, it’s no wonder Seamus is in love with the place.
The Galway-born and trained chef arrived in Guernsey 25 years ago and instantly felt at home. ‘I loved it - I was used to living near water. The Island shares a lot of the characteristics of where I come from.’ He made good friends, loved the social life - although the draconian licensing laws of the times were a shock.
‘I thought it was a bit strange that the pubs closed at 10.30pm and I was finishing work at 10,’ he grins.
Back then the local dining scene was dominated by Italian restaurants, and Seamus’ first job was with a successful restaurateur who owned several.
When his boss offered him the chance to buy one of his most popular restaurants, a little wine bar/trattoria right opposite the harbour, his initial thought was ‘With what?’ But the vision took hold and in 1997 he opened Simply Ireland, a bistro serving hearty Irish dishes, but with a clever twist.
‘It was a bit of a punt,’ admits Seamus. But although it was his first venture into business he was confident it would work - and he was right.
The restaurant took off from day one. Casual, atmospheric, often hectic, usually packed, some of its regulars still talk about Simply Ireland today.
Seamus’ clever blending of the food he’d grown up with and the best of Guernsey produce was a winner. ’People liked the relaxed atmosphere. On a cold winter’s day they’d love bowls of Irish stew, which sat very well alongside quality fish dishes. It was one of those places where you could do that kind of thing.’
He spent 10 hectic years at Simply Ireland and later worked in Spain, but Guernsey drew him back. And there was one restaurant in particular he had his eye on.
‘I loved the site,’ he says, gaze drawn towards that view again. ‘I thought, “I want to be on the harbour, to see the boats, look out at it every day. ’So I pretty much knocked on the door and said, “I want it”. It was a shot in the dark, but it paid off.’
In 2009 he launched Pier 17. Seamus was back, and with him came a couple of Simply Ireland’s most popular dishes: lightly-spiced scallops and ‘fierce and fiery’ fillet steak.
The recipes remain a closely-guarded secret but they’re as well-loved today as they were then: ‘I’ve tried taking them off the menu,’ he says, ‘but it makes no difference. People order them anyway.’ Seamus’ cooking style has stood the test of time and the advent of Pier 17 gave him an opportunity to, as he puts it, ‘up the game: location, style of restaurant, service.’ And justifiably so, Pier 17 is featured in the Michelin Guide.
Locally-produced ingredients still excite him: brill, turbot and scallops are his favourites to work with and are best-sellers. Seamus nods towards the Fishermen’s Quay, a matter of metres away. ‘Real quality fish,’ he says. ‘To me they are the mainstay of any good Guernsey menu. I never get tired of them. Why would I?’ His beef travels a bit further: Seamus uses a local master-butcher who imports from Ireland: ‘We can trace it pretty much back to the field it grazed in’.
These days he happily balances family life - he and wife Kim have two young sons, Ciaran, two, and Callum, seven months - with running the restaurant.
Cooking aside, the whole hospitality thing delights him. ‘That’s our job,’ he explains, simply. ’To try to make people feel good, relax, take away the stresses of the day-to-day.’
Celebs as diverse as the EastEnders cast (regular visitors to the islands for charity cricket matches) and international sportsmen and women have enjoyed Pier 17’s mix of great food and that view.
Just like Simply Ireland before it, Pier 17 is as relaxed and engaging as its owner. ’We’re lucky,’ Seamus says, reflecting on his job. We’re dealing with happy people, by and large all the time. Generally, that’s what it’s all about. Making people happy…’
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Just a taster
Lobster, crab, scallop and king prawn thermidor
Roasted sea bass filletwith lime and ginger butter, served with spinach and champ
Shellfish thermidor: half a Guernsey lobster, pan-fried scallops, crab and king prawns, creamy thermidor sauce, glazed with a duo of cheese
Club steak: double sirloin of Irish beef (700g), served with all the trimmings.
Salted caramel brownies