A special guest post by Sharmila Bousa, gourmand and Cornwall aficionado!
When it comes to food it’s probably fair to say that we’d associate Cornwall with its famous crimped pasty, clotted cream ices dripping down a cone, waist busting cream teas and pilchards from Newlyn. All of this is indeed true, and wonderful (and not so wonderful) examples of the Cornish classics that can be found all round this beautiful peninsula county. However, in recent years a food renaissance has been quietly building in Cornwall with quality eateries opening up all over the Duchy.
Rick Stein & the Cornish foodie revolution
One of the names that inevitably comes to mind when talking about this change in the perception of Cornwall as a food destination is Rick Stein. Of course Rick Stein is not the be all and end all of this foodie revolution and there are many that would argue that there are plenty of local chefs who have been doing great things with local ingredients for years. But it’s fair to say it’s taken a couple of high profile TV chefs to shine the gourmand’s spotlight on Cornwall, giving other excellent chefs and eating establishments the exposure they deserve and driving standards up across the county.
Surrounded by sea on three sides it’s unsurprising that many of the best places to eat centre around fish and seafood but look around and there are some real gems that might just take you by surprise. We’ve had the pleasure of eating at a number of incredible Cornish restaurants and with a little help from our friend Lee Trewhela, Arts and Leisure Editor at the West Briton, Cornish Guardian and Cornishman, we’ve put together a smorgasbord of our ten favourite eating places in Cornwall.
The Ultimate Foodies Guide to Cornwall
Serving modern European and excelling in fish dishes, Restaurant Nathan Outlaw at the St Enodoc Hotel, Rock is the only 2 Michelin Star restaurant in Cornwall and deservedly so. Nathan Outlaw is one the UK’s top chefs and currently runs two restaurants at the St Enodoc Hotel, both of which offer simple and contemporary dishes centred around exquisite fish and seafood dishes. For the full, formal 2 Michelin starred experience then booking early at Restaurant Nathan Outlaw is a must. The set tasting menu changes frequently and is driven by locally caught seafood and beautiful Cornish produce. It’s also worth splashing out and taking the wine flight with the tasting menu as the sommelier Damon always marries the flavours perfectly and has a relaxed, engaging way of introducing the wines at table so that non wine buffs can understand his thinking behind the pairings. With a tasting menu at £75 and the wine flight at £65 for a 2 Michelin star experience it really is incredible value for money.
Another restaurant nearby that prides itself in creating unpretentious dishes using the best in local produce and serving up food that makes you smile is Paul Ainsworth at No 6 in Padstow. Alongside the great food is an admirable philosophy that fine dining should be available to everyone – they welcome children and do not have a dress code, which definitely gives it a friendly, relaxed feel. Set in a Georgian townhouse with contemporary décor this is a small restaurant that offers fantastic value for money. The bread here is a particular speciality as is the use of humble ingredients, such as ox cheek, lambs liver, and mackerel, with the kitchen employing modern cooking techniques that really unlock their great flavours and textures. Starters come in at around £10, mains £20 and desserts £8. The express lunch menu is excellent value for money with two courses for £13, three courses for £17 or three courses and wine flight at £35. Big things are expected of Paul, who has also taken over Rojano’s In The Square, a great Italian in the heart of Padstow.
The first thing to note about The Driftwood at Portscatho is its dramatic cliff-top location on the Roseland Peninsula, with breath taking views over Gerrans Bay… and then there’s the incredible food. Head Chef Chris Eden, who is a bonafide Cornishman, has rightly received a Michelin Star and is now the only other current restaurant in Cornwall to hold one alongside Nathan Outlaw. Chris is a quite brilliant chef who is passionate about locally-sourced food. All the wonderful fish and shellfish is sourced from Cornish waters and the meat is locally reared – the boeuf en daube is melt-in-the-mouth magnificence personified. Expect dishes such as steamed brill, sea beet, spaghetti and truffle sabayon or John Dory with leeks and Jerusalem artichoke purée followed by prune and Armagnac soufflé with Earl Grey ice cream. It’s great to see that without compromising on style and a relaxed atmosphere children get the same quality treatment and food as the adults and early suppers can be prepared for them.
Another modern British restaurant worth a mention is Barclay House at Looe where quiet wonders are being served up by head chef Benjamin Palmer who has just been awarded ‘Chef of the Year 2011’ by Cornwall Life magazine. Barclay House is set up on the hillside overlooking the fishing harbour and has also picked up a Taste of the West Gold Award and South West Restaurant of the Year 2010 for its simple, inspiring dishes created using local produce. Value for money here is exceptional with a six course taster menu offering Looe scallops, local venison loin and grilled lemon sole for only £35. Don’t be fooled by the simple menu; the taste and presentation elevates these humble sounding dishes to another level.
A newbie on the Cornish foodie scene is Austell’s at Carlyon Bay. The food is cleverly prepared and beautifully presented European bistro food and the atmosphere in the restaurant is relaxed and informal. The kitchen opens onto the restaurant so you can see the chefs at work which is always a treat. The food itself is creative and imaginative with some risk taking flavour combinations made from fresh local ingredients where ever possible. Quail consommé and dumplings with Scotch egg, celeriac remoulade and hazelnut mayonnaise; fillet of line caught mackerel warm potato salad, slow roasted tomatoes, and basil oil; dark chocolate crème brûlée with sour cherry compote, honeycomb and passion fruit sorbet to name but a few of the delectable delights on the menu. The home baked poppy seed bread is also really rather special and at £27.50 for 2 courses or £32.50 for 3 courses this new restaurant is on a par with some top restaurants but at a fraction of the cost.
One Cornish eatery that is practically impossible to get a table at is The Wheelhouse in Falmouth. Tucked down a tiny slip of an alleyway off Church Street (the main shopping drag) this modest, shellfish joint has been open since late 2009 and has racked up a plethora of rave reviews. The menu is wonderfully simple: mussels, scallops, crab or prawns, lobster and native oysters. Dishes are designed to share; mussels for two come in at £11 and six succulent scallops for £9. To prevent ruining your clothes you get a fetching little apron and a set of crackers with the inevitable mess-making whole crab. The fish is all Cornish, harbour fresh and served in clam like metal dishes with a side of skinny chips, salad and chive butter. The décor is really informal with stripped wood floors, junk shop furniture, candles and fairy lights. All in all a really delightful experience but you absolutely must book in advance, especially if you fancy one of their now famous paella nights which get booked up months in advance.
Porthminster Beach Café in St Ives is already a favourite with the national media and visiting arty types and it’s no surprise as its beach location is second to none with views across St Ives Bay to the Tate Modern. With such a glorious outlook, reasonable prices and informal atmosphere seafood has never tasted so good. Known for its Mediterranean and Asian seafood cuisine some of the produce used in the preparation of the dishes comes direct from the cafe’s garden and the nearby coastal path – look out for the wild mustard, penny wort, nettles, raspberries, wild sorrel and rock samphire to name a few. The café is also open daily for homemade patisserie and excellent coffee from the St Ives Small Batch Coffee Roasting Company.
Possibly the best dining pub in Cornwall, the Gurnard’s Head at Zennor is a firm favourite with us. The location is wonderful, set on a remote bend on the coastal road between Zennor and St Just it feels as though you are stepping into a Poldark novel, especially on a blowy autumn evening. The pub is warm and welcoming with a log fire and well stocked bar boasting some excellent ales, whiskeys, sherries and wines. To the other side of the entrance is the equally warm and comfortable dining area bathed in an atmospheric low light that lends itself to a relaxed and intimate dining experience. As you would expect most of the produce is locally sourced and the food is hearty, refined and packed full of flavour. The short, fresh and seasonal menu changes every day depending on what is brought to the back door or what the chefs feel is at its seasonal best. In Winter you might get Fish Soup with Rouille or in summer, a Ceviche of Sea Bass alongside foraged leaf salads. On colder days you can finish off your meal curled up on a sofa with a sherry or if the summer sun is high in the sky you can sit out in the large garden. With prices ranging from £6.50 for a starter and £12.50-£16.50 for a main The Gurnard’s Head is in our estimation the best value eatery in Cornwall.
It used to be that finding a good curry in Cornwall was an impossible feat… unless you knew about Yak and Yeti in Truro. Thanks to this fantastic restaurant it is possible to sample delicious, flavourful and authentic Nepalese dishes in Cornwall, served up in a friendly environment that’s fast getting a reputation as the best of its kind in the county. They also serve a range of recognisable and excellent Indian dishes but it is the Nepalese dishes that are clearly the star here. The Gurkhali Chicken marinated in a delicately spiced sauce of tomatoes, butter, fresh green chillis, fragrant spices and cooked in a tandoori oven is to die for, as is the chef’s Babari Lamb cooked in a green masala sauce of coriander, mint, green chillies, curry leaves and spices. Delicious and hot! The staff are incredibly friendly, attentive without being overbearing and are more than happy to explain the dishes. There’s a secluded garden which is great to eat in during the summer months.
Last but not least we must save a mention for the humble Cornish pasty. With so many oggy makers around the county it’s hard to pick out the best but Sarah’s Pasty Shop in Looe edges ahead. The Sarah in the shop’s name has now retired after more than 20 years but daughter Lucy Taylor has kept it in the family and continues to run the bakery. They turn out deliciously fattening oven-fresh pies and pasties, packed with good quality ingredients, deep flavour. They also do veggie pasties such as spiced chick-pea and lentil, gluten-free, lamb and a breakfast pasty stuffed with bacon, sausage, egg, bean and mushroom. But it’s the traditional pasties the give Sarah’s its high reputation. The pasties are made with juicy chunks of Cornish beef skirt, a bit of peppery swede, wrapped in a rich lardy pastry with a side crimp and come in small, medium and large. For the ultimate taste eat on the beach out of a paper bag, but mind the seagulls!
Once you’ve had your fill of delicious food there’s nothing better than retiring to bed in one of the delightful holiday lodges in Cornwall and dreaming about your next meal.
Note: this post is brought to you in partnership with Hoburne holiday lodges.