Feast yourselves on some culinary Manx delights, writes ANDY DEAN
IT may seem strange to arrive as a tourist on the Isle of Man the day after the TT races have finished.
This year's motorcycle extravaganza attracted more than 45,000 people.
Click here for increduble Isle of Man deals
But as the leather-clad masses headed home, we rocked up with an entirely different purpose.
Our mission was to discover why the Isle of Man is being heralded as an emerging star of the world of food and drink.
Wasting no time after arriving at the airport, my girlfriend Vicky and I headed straight for The Sound Cafe.
The Sound is on the southernmost tip of the island and, with its 180º views of the small island known as the Calf of Man, there was no better place to start our culinary tour.
If we were unsure as to what the island's food was all about, we soon found out.
Caf© manager Bob arrived with a plateful of Isle of Man specialties, a generous mix of beautiful seafood including some Manx queenies.
Fished off the shores of the island, the queen scallop has become a Manx specialty. Often served inside its shell, the Sound's version was a stunning onion, bacon and queenie combination accompanied by curried crab and kipper pate. Eating our way through plates of these local specialities while gazing out to sea, we began to feel part of the landscape.
Next it was time to indulge our sweet tooth. At the Original Manx Fudge factory in Ballasalla, Peter Birch and his team gave us a demo of how they make their array of sweets with high-quality ingredients produced on the island.
With such a wide range of products it would take a week to sample them all, so we left with a bag of goodies to enjoy for the rest of our visit.
Our hotel, The Regency, was at the very top of the promenade in Douglas and provided excellent sea views. With an internetenabled PC in every room, it was the perfect base to organise our trip.
We were impressed by our spacious room but the real treat came with a visit to the hotel's Stephen Dedman A Restaurant.
It's foodie heaven for those who enjoy a proper fine dining experience and everything, from the service to the wine list, had a real touch of class.
I loved it, even though the meal did start with an espresso. Thankfully, it was an intriguing lobster espresso accompanied by a salmon fishcake!
On the opposite side to Douglas is Peel, a very different town. History buffs will love Peel Castle, which dates back to the 11th Century.
However, a visit there is not complete without a trip to the seafront for lunch at Harbour Lights.
It feels like a visit to your grandma's house. With mismatched crockery, tables packed closely together and a variety of art and ornaments decorating the walls, it is a unique experience.
The Manx rarebit with haddock was so good I was inspired to tweet a picture of it there and then.
The beauty of the Isle of Man's food is that it has character. In Peel, Paul Desmond and his family at Moore's Traditional Curers are resisting modern techniques to smoke kippers the way it was done years ago, which gives his produce a taste impossible to copy.
At the Apple Orphanage, started by partners Will and Charlotte, customers can have their own apples made into juice.
Bradda Glen, which looks a bit like a set from Home and Away, makes the most of some of the island's best views.
Looking out over the bay in Port Erin, the restaurant has a relaxed vibe during the day and becomes one of the most vibrant and contemporary places to dine at night. Meanwhile, Douglas' brightest dining star is 14 North - a contemporary restaurant with a menu that spoils you for choice.
The island's Queenie Festival, a two-day beachbased celebration of Manx food producers, takes place in early July.
But if you can't wait until then, the Isle of Man Food Festival is on Saturday and Sunday at Knockaloe Farm, Patrick, where celeb chef Ainsley Harriott will work his magic on Manx produce.
There, visitors can meet producers at the Farmers' Market, try their hand at scone making or just taste the goodies.
For fantastic Isle of Man offers, click here
FLY with Manx2.com from Blackpool, Gloucester, Leeds-Bradford, Newcastle, Oxford or Jersey on 19-seater aircraft from £19.95 one way. See manx2.com or call 0871 200 0440.
Two nights at The Regency in Douglas cost from £145 per room per night, including breakfast, based on two sharing. Call 01624 680680 or visit regency.im.
Car hire with Mylchreests Car Rental costs from £40.50 per day. See mylchreests.com or call 01624 623481.
For Stephen Dedman's A Restaurant at The Regency see regency.im.
For Sound Cafe and Visitor Centre click on dsleisureltd.com or call 01624 838123. For Harbour Lights Cafe in Peel see harbour-lights.net or call 01624 843543. For details about 14 North see 14north.im and for Bradda Glen Cafe visit braddaglen.com.
Food attractions: The Original Manx Fudge Factory - manxfudgefactory.com; Moore's Traditional Curers - manxkippers.com; Davison's Ice Cream - davisons.co.im; Apple Orphanage - appleorphanage.com.
For information on the Isle of Man Food and Drink Festival visit gov.im/daff/food_festival.com