This article was taken from our archives. It first appeared in the May 1978 issue of The Bermudian. It appears here exactly as it did originally.
St David’s, it has often been said, is a most colourful area of Bermuda. And Dennis Lamb must surely be St. David’s most colourful character. I’d often suspected this, but I recently took some friends to his restaurant, Dennis’ Hideaway, to see for myself. The building is tucked away in a small bay and, though relatively new, has the aura of old times about it, as does the Lamb family which operates the business. Totally unconcerned with the trappings of modern life, these down-to-earth people will do all they can to please their guests. Their seafood is perhaps the best in Bermuda, but their character is their speciality.
We arrived at Dennis’ restaurant, a brightly painted pink, wooden structure, to be greeted by his son, a strong, young man in a Marlboro cap who introduced himself as “Sea Egg.” His real name is Graham, but he’s been known as “Sea Egg” ever since the day his hair was caught up in a rope-making machine which twisted it in to spikes. (Note added 2019: sea egg is slang for sea urchin). “And,” he said, “the name stuck.” His sister, Nelda Burchall led us to our table in a private room while “Sea Egg” put our wine into a freezer and invited us to help ourselves whenever we wanted some. The restaurant has no liquor license and Dennis himself is not a drinker, so guests bring their own.
Thirteen-year-old Billy, Nelda’s son, helped his mother wait on us. He brought in packages of utensils which, we were told, were ours for the evening. Nelda popped her head in to ask if we all wanted a taste of everything. Some of my friends were rather wary of conch stew and turtle steaks, but they all agreed to try them.
Billy entered the room carrying tiny bowls of steaming fish chowder. Delicious! When we finished we followed our instructions and licked our spoons clean, deposited them on the table, in front of us, and passed our bowls to Billy. His mother came in with a plate of conch fritters which earned everyone’s acclaim. These were followed by an array of old Bermuda seafood dishes, including mussel stew, conch stew, shark on toast, fried shrimp and shark steaks. Each course was tastier than the one it followed. Feeling rather full we were somewhat startled when Billy and Nelda struggled in with enormous platefuls of delicious fish and chips. They were just too good to resist! When we’d finally finished the food, “Sea Egg.” Nelda and her brood came in for a chat. “Sea Egg” (who swears he’ll never get married) is the only member of the family who owns a car, as he does most of the purchasing. For the rest of the family, Nelda says, a trip to Hamilton is a big event: “I go when I got the money.”
The Lambs enjoyed their first trip off the island two years ago. But, Nelda said, “there’s no place like Bermuda, and no better place to live than St. Davids.” We asked Nelda where her father – the star of the restaurant was, for we hadn’t seen him all the evening. Nelda laughed “Oh, he’s out there,” she said pointing through the window. Sure enough there he was – al three hundred pounds of him – leaning over the counter of a new take-out stand he’d just built next to the main restaurant. “Nobody else’ll go out there” declared Nelda, “so we make him do it. But he don’t mind.” When at last we reluctantly left, we stopped for a word with Dennis. He doesn’t sell fish at the take-out stand but he does offer “the best hamburgers in Bermuda.” His recipe? – “Just leave all the juices to the griddle. I don’t scrape ‘em up because then the hamburgers are dry and tasteless.” Dennis also sells sodas and ice creams there. But it’s his main restaurant of which he’s proud: “We try to have something a little different here.” And he certainly does.
I went back to have a further chat with 53-year-old Dennis Lamb a few days later and found him playing with his new black kitten, Black Sam. Dennis said the one of the joys of his life was sleeping with Black Sam. “She’s a sassable sigh she is,” he said fondly. He then gave me a tour of the house into which he and his family moved some 40 years ago. “When we moved in it was only 20 feet by 19 feet.” Since then, Dennis has added several rooms and two separate cottages alongside. “I done it all myself” he says proudly, explaining “my daddy wasn’t too well of a man.” The restaurant now takes up the entire main house, with three rooms for tables, and picnic tables outside. He showed me his fish chowder pot which sits on a special frame over his stove, and is heated by all four burners. “She’d weigh 800 pounds when she’s fill, I imagine,” says Dennis.
Dennis’ intrigue with cooking and fishing began at an early age. “I started cooking when I was 13,” he says, “I used to cook up on a geographical yacht from Woods Hole. She was called Culver. I used to go up there every Saturday, sometimes Friday evenings and holidays, for about a year. We used to go out two, maybe three hundred miles. They’d tow nets. I was in charge of all the cooking, and I used to have to cook the food and package it for the week. It was certainly a thrillable thing. We used to feed sometimes ‘round 22 people, you know, the doctors and their wives. I used to keep the ship clean too. I didn’t have to do it – I did it to keep occupied. It was quite an experience.
“One thing that sticks to my mind was one day when they were getting ready to go out to sea, I was down in the galley, and I heart a loud shot go off. I knew they (Americans on the Base) was shooting at us. The captain told me not to worry, but I did. So I jumped off and swam the hell home! See, every boat that went out of the harbour in them war-time days was supposed to signal or else it was shot at. Could have been the enemy, you know. Yes, I could swim like mercy in them days, when I was 13.
“We used to have a joyful time going out and in that boat. The scientists from the station (the Biological Station) would always know what was fouling up the nets. This particular night, that sticks to my remembrance, the net got all fouled up and the scientists said they were being fouled up by ocean squid or ocean octopus. Anyway this ocean octopus found its way to the surface, and part of it climbed onto the boat. Oh! She was tremendous. I wasn’t frightened but I was concerned – so I jumped the hell up the spar! They (the scientists) took and bursted the thing all to pieces.
When Dennis finished his stint on the Culver he worked a number of jobs. He farmed and fished with Geary Pitcher for six months, then cooked on the Air Force Base for five years. “I started at three pounds one shilling a week. I was the highest paid person in the camp. I was responsible for the kitchens, seeing to the dining room – and I was in charge of everybody.
When the war ended, Dennis said he went to work for Mr Dudley Spurling in St. George’s. “We used to do all his grass and build his walls. We used to go up there on a pedal pusher. After Mr Spurling, I went to work for Mrs Mary Lewis at Ragged Edge. She was an American lady: a very sweet lady she was. I used to do her gardening, maybe run a message or so, and buy the things she needed like her eggs and her butter in the store. I worked for her about three years. It was a joyful time.
“Then I went to the Base. Mrs Lewis, God Bless her, couldn’t give me more money. She gave me very wonderful recommendations though. At the base we used to do underground maintenance… we used to take care of their pipes and cables. It was a dangerous job.” Dennis says the Base was good for Bermuda during and after the war years. “The base hired a lot of Bermudians in them years, it save a lot of people.”
After 18 months at the Base, Dennis turned to fishing for a living. He says that the days you could live off of fishing are over – “There are not enough fish to be caught. We used to catch some beautiful fish,” he recalls. “I never fished no more than about 12 fishpots though. Some days we’d catch eight, maybe nine hundred pounds, some days none.”
Later, Dennis joined the Department of Public Works. He said he used to enjoy it. “I worked the swing bridge. One incident I’ll never forget was one time while I was working up to the bridge, I heard this speed boat coming ‘round but I never dreamed she would try to slip through the lowest part of the bridge – they was showing off, you know. Well, all of a sudden there was a loud crash, so I looked down and the boat was busted all to pieces on the rocks. One of the fellows couldn’t even swim! So I saved him by throwing a bucket and a line, being the only things I had. He hung on to the bucked and I guided him to shore.”
Dennis looks on moderns day life with a touch of regret. “Back in the old days everybody would do anything for anybody,” he says. “Today you feel like you’re nothing.” But perhaps most of all he regrets the introduction of the modern toilet. “My grandmother used to say it would be a sad day when they got rid of the outside toilets,” he says, “they used to be real comfortable.” It’s small wonder that Dennis yearns for the toilets of his grandmother’s era – his own is a bit of a disaster. They installed the toilet first, he says, and then the floor. The floor, unfortunately, came nearly to the brim. “Now you’re all squished up, with your legs way up, and it’s terrible. In them outside toilets it was real comfortable. You’re feets didn’t even touch the floor. I still got one of them old-time toilets, and I wouldn’t get rid of it for nothing. You got to live the natural way. You can’t beat the old time way.”
Like many old time St. David’s islanders, Dennis’ mother used all sorts of things for cures of common ailments. Her cure for earache, says Dennis, is unbeatable. “This doesn’t sound very nice,” he said, “but my mother used to warm up cockroach entrails and stick ‘em down the ear.” Dennis says he hasn’t had an earache since.
Dennis is very proud of the memory all St. David’s islanders have of his grandfather. A man who, as St. David’s lore has it, used to strangle sharks with his bare hands, and was known as “Red Benny.” Dennis explains: “Because he was a red man. He had red hair, a read house, red clothes and he had red furniture. He liked red. We all like red.” Continues Dennis: “Red Benny was part Irishman and part Indian. He used to work for the pilot service. You could never forget “Red Benny” – he was the salt of the earth, he was. He was an exception of a man. I take after him – he told it like it is and so do I.
“They went out one day in a gig to put a pilot on board a ship. They must have forgot their light,” Dennis explains. “So Red Benny suggested they set his hair on fire. He had a long crop of hair, he did, and so they set his hair on fire and they signalled the ship and the pilot got put on board!”
Grandson Dennis certainly doesn’t have a crop of flaming red hair. But one can’t help thinking that the present day Lambs – long haired or short – have an aura about them which is no less unique.
As I was leaving, Dennis told me how sad he is at the direction Bermuda is taking. “Back in the older times, people did anything for everyone. Now” he said regretfully, “nobody cares about nobody.” He added, “But the good Lord, He knows all.” For Dennis, above all else, it is important “to do your responsibilities to other people, and to do your vows and your commitments.” He added “You have to love everybody. I ain’t got no room in me for hate – and I’m a big man. I love everybody” he said and quickly added “But I ain’t lustful.”