We have the Costa Neoriviera in St James's Bay today.
This Behemoth of a ship is one of the largest of the 12 Cruise ships we are going to see this year.
She dwarfs everything else in the bay and looks like a gigantic floating apartment block. On board there are nearly 2000 passengers and crew, which is just about half the population of the island.
This could potentially upset the whole food chain here if all the visitors eat three meals today. Luckily they are well fed on board so we should see food in the shops tomorrow.
The press release below has announced the first air carrier to St Helena in the history of the island.
This has been a long awaited answer to the question on many people's lips.
Now the question has to be How Much ? and When are other carriers going to be interested?
Its exciting times and this announcement is one more piece in the jigsaw to get this island connected with the world!
AIR SERVICES TO ST HELENA
SHG and DFID are pleased to announce the appointment of Comair Limited as the preferred bidder for the provision of air services to St Helena.
Comair is a South African aviation and travel company offering scheduled and non-scheduled airline services within South Africa, Sub-Saharan Africa and the Indian Ocean Islands. Managed and owned by South Africans through its listing on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange, Comair has been operating successfully in South Africa since 1946. The company operates under its low-fare airline brand, kulula.com, as well as under the British Airways livery as part of its license agreement with British Airways plc.
Comair is proposing a weekly flight between Johannesburg (O.R. Tambo International Airport, formerly known as Johannesburg International Airport) and St Helena using a Boeing 737-800 aircraft. The flight time from Johannesburg to St Helena will be about four and a half hours.
Through Comair’s partnerships with numerous international airlines, the St Helena air service will offer connections to the international route network, via Johannesburg, to destinations such as London, Amsterdam, Paris, Sydney and Hong Kong.
SHG and DFID will be holding detailed discussions with Comair over the next few weeks and will make a formal and more detailed announcement once these have been concluded.
This marks a very positive step for St Helena in working with an airline that has such a long track record of successful operations and which provides an excellent gateway to the rest of the world, including the UK.
Further announcements will follow.
16 March 2015
Time just flies here and it is with embarrassment that I see there has been no entry to this blog since the beginning of December for goodness sake!
What have we been doing?
Well just getting on with it is the short answer!
The restaurant has been running to high capacity and to great reviews on Tripadvisor.
It is with sadness and regret that the time is creeping towards 2onmain closing its doors.
The buildings we are occupying are going to be made into a 30 bedroom hotel. Work is likely to start in June so we are probably going to be our of here sometime in May.
That's the bad news, the good news is that we will be moving to a great new location (yet to be confirmed) which will be a permanent home to all Hospitality Up-skilling on St Helena. Some of my time has been taken up with some of the planning on this project and looking at how to maximise on the space we will have in our new premises. All exciting stuff and more on that in future blogs.
Christmas came and went (my third on St Helena) . We enjoyed super weather so I took a few trips round the island with my camera. Down on the waterfront the Saints took to the water in a variety of craft as depicted in the photo below.
One of the annual phenomena that is eagerly awaited is the arrival of the Whale Sharks. These enormous creatures congregate in Jamestown bay from the beginning of January until the end of February. Boat trips are offered in a variety of craft. I took advantage of two trips, one we saw nothing but dolphins (not complaining) and the other we saw just one and the photo I took really doesn't do justice to these giants of the sea.
Our AA Guides arrived today!
They were sent from the UK in September and have travelled by sea via Bristol, Tilbury and South Africa to St Helena.
We use them as a point of reference for our students and anyone here on St Helena who wishes to look at what's happening on the UK hospitality scene.
Restaurant dishes and hotel décor schemes can be checked out.
The criteria which these guides work from means that they also illustrate standards of customer service and cuisine at each of the star levels.
This information can be invaluable to a new business.
Our students were keen to read about the menus from some of Britain's best chefs and as its early summer here, decided to sit on our front step for this photo shot!
The cruise ship season is upon us with 5 ships due in the next few months. Today’s visit by the MV Astor is the first. With 650 passengers and 300 crew potentially landing on the island there was much planning. As part of the island’s focus on increasing tourism we set up a street market with some of the island’s crafts people and our students preparing a variety of fast food items using local produce.
Our strategy is to wow the passengers so they want to return when our airport is open and also that the passengers return to their ships with the message that St Helena is a great destination to cruise to.
The ship was due to allow passengers to disembark at 11.00am but we had the rigmarole of wondering whether they would be allowed off as the ocean was perceived to be a bit rough.
As the Astor’s passengers hadn’t been allowed off at Ascension Island because of rough seas, they were in no mood to stay on board at St Helena. I spoke to one couple who were said they were determined to get onto the island and had made their views felt to the Ship’s Hotel Manager.
By 12.00 we knew that the passengers were going to be allowed off so it was all hands on deck as they say! Souvenir stalls checked their wares, the food purveyors got hot food cooking and the accordion player cranked up a tune! There was a real party atmosphere.
The first folk I spoke to were keen to find a laundry of all things; saying that they prefer not to pay ship prices for this service. I am not too sure whether they found someone who would get their items washed and dried in the 6 hours before they needed to get back on board as the people in town usually offer a 24 hour turnaround. Maybe this is a business opportunity for someone!
The day continued with music from our local accordion player and three of the junior schools on the island. This enhanced the atmosphere and reminded all in Jamestown that something was going on at the bottom of Town.
Many of the tourists on the ship were British, some had chosen the cruise because it was specifically coming to St Helena. One man I spoke to was from Bridlington in Yorkshire, he and his wife had decided not to take an island tour but to stay in Jamestown to get a feel for the place. He said to me that he had thoroughly enjoyed his day here, especially the friendliness of everyone he'd met. "It's not just the scenery that makes a destination, its the folk!".
As St Helena is a small island of only 8 or so miles by 4 miles, the notion of a boat trip around the island on a sunny Sunday morning is one most folk here consider. This time of year the attractions include humpback whales, a variety of dolphins, nesting sea birds and later in the year whale sharks. There are a number of boats who offer this and other trips and the tourist office here keeps tabs on who is going out and when.
This three hour trip is hosted by skipper Johnny who’s boat the Enchanted Isle is an ex USA Coast Guard Vessel. My fellow passengers included Saints, tourists and some like me who are working on the island. A number of us show our devotion to photography in the length and variety of cameras and lenses brought on board.
Rounding the Barn, a massive piece of volcanic cliff which dominates the whole area, and into Prosperous bay, we could just see the new airport runway 400 feet above us. Prosperous bay is also the first landing point of the British in 1673. A tiny beach marks the spot.
By this time the weather has turned. Blue skies are replaced by the more common grey clouds created by the trade winds and seen on this side of St Helena.
Thankfully the air temperature is kind enough for us not to feel the cold however the sea now looks rather less appealing with white caps and an undulating demeanour. Most of my fellow passengers take to the cabin of the boat rather than stay out on deck as the motion and sea spray intensifies. Two young lads show their determination not to be seen as quitters with their weather protection hiding their grins of delight each time the boat lurches in a different direction.
Around another headland twenty minutes later and into blue skies and calm water. You would never think you were on the same trip. This side of the island is the one where we are most likely to spot dolphins and whales. As its coming to the end of the whale watching season in the South Atlantic it was no surprise that we didn’t spot any. Dolphins were a different story. There were so many that the crew could see them half a mile away.
Taking photos on a moving vessel is a skill I have not yet perfected, nor is taking photos of moving objects such as birds, animals or dolphins. Even with today’s technology of auto focus and exposure, a camera still needs to be pointed at its subject before a decent picture happens.
I and the other camera fanatics headed for the bow of the boat and started aiming at where the action was.
You would think that with over 100 dolphins in this pod that someone was going to strike lucky and get that once in a lifetime picture of the dolphin leaping out of the water whilst looking at the camera……….WRONG! The action happens so quickly that you have to anticipate where you think the creature is going to surface and then hit the shutter button. Whilst this is happening and you are looking through the tunnel which is your camera lens, there are cries of “over here” and “did you see that”. These critters are fast and boy do they know how to avoid a camera lens. Well I can say that I am now very good at taking pictures of dolphin tails as they disappear into the ocean.
After around 50 or so attempts (thank goodness it’s not a film camera) I just sat and watched the spectacle around me. A camera cannot always reflect or record a scene and many great photographers will say that you should also experience the moment so that is just what I did. Silver grey streaks darting through the water at high speeds with occasional bursts to pirouette at the surface like a ballerina!
The experience reinforces my massive respect for any photographer who captures that “once in a lifetime” shot; as they are very rarely due to luck. More likely, long hours of continued visits to the same place at the right time and then waiting and waiting.
I am not going to give up and will be back next time I hear there is a trip out. Practice makes perfect and also the trip itself is a memorable way to spend a few hours. One of my fellow passengers, visiting from the UK was heard to say “that’s the best fifteen quid I’ve spend for a long time”………I fully concur with that!
We have had a great deal to celebrate over the past few weeks: the weather is improving with spring on its way, Whales have been spotted with their calves off the island, The shops are filling with chocolate and Christmas decorations.
AND we have completed the first phase of the Food Safety awareness programme here on St Helena.
At the moment the Food safety legislation over here is not as stringent as that in the UK, however that is going to change in 2015 as the onset of the airport will bring international expectations and requirements.
Food safety has to be the foundation from which every food provider works from. When we serve food to people, whether they pay or not, we are entering into a contract with them. The agreement is that what we are providing is not only tasty but is safe to eat. This is the mantra we have been reciting to food premises over here.
For 6 months Susan White from Dorset has been over here working with food providers to ensure they have strong working practices and know legal requirements. 130 people have gone through a variety of food hygiene trainings from the elementary to the advanced. Already there are visible changes to establishments and businesses where they have examined their work flow and changed to safer practices.
These achievements were celebrated here in two events. The first was at Plantation House and was hosted by Governor Capes and his wife Tamara. This event was to congratulate the implementation of food safety standards within 23 individual businesses on St Helena. As this is currently a voluntary practice I am thrilled to see the commitment by so many
The second event was held in the garden at 2onmain where we held an afternoon tea party for all who took part and passed (100% pass rate) their food safety exams. Certificates were handed out and we congratulated 7 of the participants who actually achieved 100% marks in their exams. It was a great afternoon.
As this is work in progress we will continue to support training in this area where needed. It’s a sobering thought that the UK with its high standards in this area still reported 10million cases of food poisoning in 2013. That’s nearly 1 in 6 of the population!
The team at 2onmain have been busy over the past 8 weeks running a Junior Chefs Academy in conjunction with the Junior Schools on the island. Five students aged 10 and 11 came to the restaurant each week to work with the team here and learn more about what its like to work in hospitality.
We created a simple menu for the kids to learn to cook and serve. Once they had mastered this, we invited their parents in to lunch to see how the restaurant operated and to sample the dishes.
In the kitchen they were coached by Bevan, Kimberly, and Marissa (Students studying NVQ2 Diploma in professional cookery) who were able to demonstrate their skills and knowledge, with the junior Chefs).
The Junior Chefs had the opportunity to gain experience in the restaurant (setting tables folding napkins, polishing glasses, cutlery.
Taking food orders serving drinks and making banana smoothie & cafetiere coffee.) These sessions were run by Julia & Sabrina (front of house trainers)
All Junior Chefs had the chance of cooking different dishes:
St Helenian Tuna Fish cakes,
Pork & Apple Burgers,
Tuna & sweet corn pizza,
Sausage pizza &
Banana tarte tatin.
This project was organised in conjunction with the Traditional Industries campaign on the island which encourages youngsters to embrace local industry. The youngsters were given tasks to find out who farms and who fishes on the island and how things are processed in order to appear on the plate.
Feedback was fantastic from a number of sources, the school, parents and especially the kids who all want to return to 2onmain once they are old enough! We will certainly be running more of these mini projects.
One day in Cape Town is not enough to see and experience the city, however when it’s a transit on the way to St Helena, that’s what one has. The list of priorities includes last minute shopping for “necessary” items such as jumbo oats, coffee beans, dehumidifying sachets and toiletries.
That done focus tends to fix on the fact that this is the last chance to fulfil any gastronomic itches which haven’t been scratched in the time off island. “Where to go for our last meal in Cape Town?” is a question asked by many who live on St Helena.
There are two places on most foodie’s radars at the moment as is reflected by the length of time needed to book. Both are in the Woodstock area and are owned by the same team.
At the top of the list and almost impossible to get into is the Test Kitchen which I am hoping to visit next time through Cape Town. At the moment bookings are running at around 6 months ahead. The Pot Luck Club is a sort of younger sibling of the Test Kitchen and booking, whilst challenging is not impossible.
The dining concept is similar to many restaurants now with the focus on variety of taste experiences for the diner in the form of a grazing menu.
Diners are encouraged to choose an assortment of dishes to share which are delivered to the table in a slightly random way.
Luckily I was able to appreciate this style of dining in company to the extent that three of us almost managed to taste our way through the whole menu!.
Highlights included a yummy BBQ Broccoli Mops with Blue Cheese which had fabulous smokey undertones in the broccoli and creamy tang in the dip. Surprise of the evening was probably the Coal Fired Tongue with parmesan butter beans and gremolata which presented itself as a tasty combination of rich tender meat with a crust to give a bit of texture and the aromatics of garlic, lemon and parmesan.
My only criticism would be that the current menu lacks anything to offset the richness of some of the dishes, there is only one salad on the menu and that came well dressed with melba toast. Desserts are novel with popular flavours such as a take on Smores , the American cookie made from chocolate and marshmallow.
Prices were pretty reasonable although that is speaking from a £ perspective with the whole meal including two glasses of wine coming in at around £23. One to certainly aim for in the future.
I was lucky enough to be invited to the AA Hotel of the Year awards at the Grosvenor House Hotel in London.
As this coincided with my trip back to the UK to see family and friends I was delighted to accept.
These awards are some of the most prestigious national awards of their kind with winners categories covering many aspects of catering and hotel keeping. They are incredibly sought after- as I know from when I worked for the AA Hotel Inspection team.
The awards which followed gave recognition to many in the industry. Some of the most coveted awards are Hotel of the Year, Restaurant of the Year, and Chef’s Chef of the year which this year went to Cornish Chef Nathan Outlaw
The AA Lifetime Achievement award which recognises someone in the industry who has committed their lives to the pursuit of perfection within their discipline. This year’s Lifetime Achievement Award went to Ruth Rogers MBE of the River Café in west London.
Like many trades the UK Hospitality industry is incredibly small, or it seems so when one reaches a certain age and knows most people in a room of over 1000 people.
It was a fantastic evening and I was lucky enough to bump into many old colleagues and friends although I didn’t quite make it to the 5.30am finish which was when the evening allegedly ended!