A gourmet tour of South Cornwall

Night time
Fish Trio at the West Bay

It does not happen often that I spend a long holiday in the UK. And in fact, when I booked an 8 night trip in Cornwall, I was somehow filled with dread. Such a long time without changing currency, without paying overseas roaming charges, without flying but yet, still being on holiday? I did not need to worry. 

Despite the logistic nightmare of shipping part of the family there by train and getting there with my husband in a 50 year old mini, it all worked out. We reached St Ives on Easter Saturday, after spending Easter Friday in the popular sea side town of Bridport (Dorset). While the Mini took a well deserved rest, we enjoyed our first fishy dinner of the holiday, at the Bridport West Bay Inn. An incredibly extensive menu, which put me in a bit of  difficult situation (as it all seems to be fairly sustainable and locally sourced). I opted for the ‘Fish Trio‘ which sounded better than it tasted but was still a huge portion of a variety of fish: from a nicely cooked mackerel to a couple of frankly too big mussels, all flavoured in a creamy, fishy sauce. Shame in a way, as if fish is fresh and good, it does not need too much creamy stuff to taste good. 
From Dorset, the Mini nicely took us to Cornwall the next day. We stayed at the lovely Dean Court Hotel, managed by super friendly and helpful Tony. Our room had a view to die for, right over Porthminster bay and St Ives harbour.

Eastr Sunday
Easter Sunday

While we had booked a bunch of recommended restaurants for our dinners, for our lunchtime we ventured out and chose at random, and this proved possibly the more successful option. On Easter Sunday we absolutely loved the Boat Shed in Penzance. We sat in the sun and had great dishes, from Salmon and goat’s cheese fish cakes to grilled sardines to possibly the best mussels we were to enjoy the entire week (with coconut sauce, lemon grass and coriander). 
Another lunchtime winner was the Sand Sifter where burgers were good enough and my Prawns on toast were fantastically fresh and a massive portion, again enjoyed in the sun, overlooking Godrevy beach. 

Bloody Mary at the Garrack

In the evenings, we were sometimes disappointed. A last minute change of plans took us to the Garrack, where we enjoyed the best meal in the area (great mussels here too, overall fantastic starters and decent mains, in a smart if a little stiff surroundings); the next day we had a disappointing experience at the famous (and over booked) Porthminster Beach Cafe: pretentious menu, ‘tries too hard’ food (the White fish soup starter was a heavy, thick affair with chunky bits of white fish while the Risotto with crab and gin in my main was tasteless and overcooked) and noisy ambient. We could not wait to get out! Top marks for being sustainable and part of the Fish 2 Fork group (the only restaurant we visited that was actually openly sustainable). My family enjoyed dinner at Alba on their first night, while on our last dinner in St Ives we opted for the Ocean Grill over the Wave and we made a mistake – the Ocean Grill offered us the worst meal of the whole holiday, not that bad overall but bland, boring food, very noisy room and completely unsustainable (non free range chicken and non line caught sea bass saw me ordering a tasteless vegetarian curry!).

We then moved north towards the picturesque and quaint village of Padstow, where we had booked a self catering chalet. Before getting there, I was concerned about having made a mistake. As soon as we walked in, it was clear it had been the perfect choice. Strand House is right in the centre of the harbour, has lovely, spacious rooms and could not be more central. We absolutely loved our stay there. 

Old Ship Inn

Lunchtime here was slightly more challenging given the amount of tourists in such a small place, however even at the italian Pucelli we managed to have a decent lunch at least on the fresh, local dishes (grilled sardined, smoked mackerel). I would leave the ‘italian’ choices such as the lasagna alone. Lunch at the Ship Inn was the worst: my sea food plate was quite small and with crab past its sell by date while the Cornish pasty was out of a packet. 
Our best lunch here was on the opposite side, at Rock, at the Mariners’ Inn. I had fresh crab salad sandwich which was at least fresh, while dad’s mussels mariniere were plenty and very good. The fish and chips were humongous. Lunch in the sun with a cold beer and views over the Camel Estuary is a fantastic experience. 

Sweet corn soup
“I hate sweetcorn!”

Our Padstow dinners were more successful than St Ives’. Paul AInsworth at Number 6 was booked for my husband’s birthday and was really good. We all loved it. Great decor, professional but fun service, beautiful ceiling fans and an eclectic menu. “I hate sweetcorn!” I promptly declared to our waiter, but yet I ordered the Sweetcorn soup and crab tortellini which was divine. All other starters were just as good, particularly the fresh mackerel and ham starter Rob enjoyed – yes he DOES like some food some time! 

Bread and Butter
Number 6

The mains were slightly less perfect than the starters, but all nicely presented and well cooked. We even managed a dessert with many spoons, to celebrate Rob’s – a Pineapple tarte tatin which was rich and sweet to the right point, with a delicious coconut ice cream. Paul Ainsworth is one chef to watch and he is now representing the South West in the Great British Menu on BBC

Lunch at Hoops Inn
Ploughman at the Hoops Inn

On our last night we avoided disaster (parents had booked the attractive Foc’s’le without checking reviews) and ended up where we found a table, Pescadou. A surprise find, it’s a nice venue, with some sea side inspired décor (wooden planks, big terracotta shells), a good wine and spirit list, and actually good food. I loved my crab bisque, dark and rich but very flavoursome, and also really like my vegetarian main, a spicy lentil cake which was well cooked and crunchy, and came with a good selection of grilled vegetables. Other mains such as lamb chump and sirloin steak did not disappoint the rest of the family. They stayed an extra day and enjoyed a lunchtime meal at Rick Stein’s Cafe and a good evening meal at the Basement, which we sadly missed as we were on the Mini run. 

We did however enjoy two quick lunch stops, one at the Hawkins Arms in Zelah and one at the Hoops Inn near Bucks Mills (Devon). If you are ever around this side of the world, do call in as they are worth a try.

My first proper UK holiday has proved so successful I am now planning more explorations, with the Mini, in this beautiful country. 

Shame however that amongst so many restaurants serving fish and sea food, hardly ANY has sustainability in mind. Let’s hope for the future!

For more sustainable choices, here are some links:

Fish online – http://www.fishonline.org/
Fish 2 Fork: http://www.fish2fork.com/
Marine Conservation Society: http://www.mcsuk.org/
Hugh’s Fish Fight: http://www.fishfight.net/sign-up/
Good Fish Guide: http://www.goodfishguide.co.uk/

3 thoughts on “A gourmet tour of South Cornwall

  1. Cornwall, my first holiday with my current wife! Fifteen days starting from London, through Winchester, Bournemouth, Exeter, Torquay, Truro, Plymouth, Mousehole, St Ives, Penzance, Land’s End, St Michaels Mount… the sunniest August in England (only a couple of hours rining and while we was driving).

    What a pity not to yet know your sister Luciana and your blog (if existing at that time): we missed such delightfull meals like the above you’ve illustrated so greedily. Next time in Cornwall I won’t miss one 😉

    See you in UK!


    (sorry for my poor English)

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