Sunday, 26 January 2014

Cornish Capers

Location: Cornwall, UK
MiniF1 had a fabulous time running around on the beach in Newquay

Last May, with MiniF2 due to make an appearance three months later, we headed off for a 'babymoon' to Cornwall, because there's nothing quite like a good waddle along the beach when you're several months preggers. With MiniF1 quickly approaching 'terrible twos' though, holidays were no longer the calm, relaxing break they once were - as any parent will know, a holiday with kids can be more like hard work than any day at the office. But what the hell, it'll be fine, right?

With friends in Penzance, we planed to stay somewhere nearby. Hours of searching through holiday cottage websites left me feeling somewhat disappointed, with most places too far north, in the middle on nowhere, or appallingly decorated (seriously...? that much chintz?!). We were relieved to find a little gem of a cottage, based almost bang on one hour from our friends and 15 minutes from the coast. Booked through Sykes Cottages, The Boat in Tregony is a three bedroom, double-fronted stone cottage, with separate dining room, a bathroom, a shower room, off-road parking and cute manicured gardens. Comfortable and traditional, with solid pine furniture and neutral tones throughout, The Boat came with stair gates provided (by prior arrangement), so all we needed to take for MiniF was a pop up bed - result.

Our accommodation for the week, The Boat. Booked via Sykes Cottages

One of the big ticket attractions in Cornwall, other than the beaches and the food, is of course The Eden Project. Which turned out to be one of the more, well... eventful days - consisting of projectile vomiting pretty much throughout, as one of our friends' children started coming down with some kind of bug. But, I must admit, even though I had my doubts about Eden (not being particularly excited by plants or greenhouses), it turned out to be pretty cool, minus the puking. The two main 'biomes' (which are basically big bubble-shaped greenhouses) are made up of a rainforest biome, all big plants and humidity, and a Mediterranean biome, with a lovely cafe, olive trees, terracotta planters and children's entertainer singing along with his guitar. The Mediterranean biome was my favourite, evoking feelings of being in a rural Greek village, basking in the sun, while the wind and drizzle outside became a distant thought. I could have happily stayed there all day!

A brief break from waddling through the rainforest biome

We had to leave in a bit of a hurry, as the poorly little girl we were with was literally chucking up all over the place. If we had more time though we would have checked out the large dining area, between the two biomes, which seemed to consist of row after row of long 'kitchen bars', where chefs were preparing all manor of treats right in front of eager looking diners. MrF did manage to grab me a swift pasty on the way back to the car though - well done MrF, you made a pregnant woman very happy! There is also a visitor centre if you have a little longer to linger than we did - worth checking out.


Before our trip to Cornwall, I'd researched online, as per usual, for the best places to eat in the area. Many of the more renowned places were a little further afield, quite pricey, or a bit too formal, and with MiniF1 in tow we didn't want any of those things. We ended up mostly dining at highly rated cafes, uncovering some utterly wonderful dishes (without a single pasty or cream tea in sight!).

Clockwise from left: Victoria Inn; Provençal Fish Soup; soup accompaniments Parmesan, Aioli and Croutons; Slow Braised Primrose Herd Pork and Peppercorn Faggots, with Champ Potato, Local Greens and Onion Gravy

Tucked away in the small village of Perranuthnoe, The Victoria Inn looks like any traditional village pub from the outside, the only hint you get about the quality within is the window display of various accolades. 'Chef Stew' trained with Raymond Blanc and Michael Cains, plus, as their website understandably boast, "has achieved recognition in all the major food guides every year since 1998"... pretty impressive qualifications! 

The traditional theme continues inside with dark wood, stone walls and a small cosy fireplace. An extensive menu lured us in with a fine selection of shellfish, pate and steak, but we were ultimately captured by the same dishes - Provençal Fish Soup for starters, then Slow Braised Primrose Herd Pork and Peppercorn Faggots for mains, served up with Champ Potato, Local Greens and Onion Gravy - how goo does that sound?!

The soup was gorgeous - just rich enough, topped off with croutons perfectly flavoured with garlic and herbs and accompanied by plenty of parmesan and aioli. The faggots were bloomin' marvellous; tender, meaty, flavoursome balls of delight. The vegetables complementing the dish were tenderly prepared and equally pleasing. Overall this was an excellent meal, it was just somewhat unfortunate that the intimate setting didn't quite fit with a troublesome toddler, so we made our exit swiftly after the mains. 

Clockwise from left: quiet corner of the cafe; stunning chicken Nasi Goreng; amazing sticky ribs with 'slaw and fries

In need of lunch en-route through Newquay one day, we stopped off at Little Kahuna after a good run around nearby Towan Beach. Small and simple, the cafe is far from OTT, with a small galley kitchen and the remaining space taken up by plain wooden tables and chairs.

The menu was my idea of heaven.... Mussels, Pad Thai, Sticky Ribs, Slow Cooked Beef, Halloumi, Seafood Linguine... they literally could not have designed a better menu for me. For MrF, who had been desperate for some "fragrant food" all week, there was also plenty to choose from. We both ordered in record time, me desperate to get my hands on Slow Roasted Sticky Ribs with Coleslaw & Fries, MrF salivating over the Chicken Nasi Goreng, accompanied by shallot, garlic, ginger, lemon grass and chilli.

MrF's Nasi Goreng was stunning - you could literally taste every single flavour, all of which were perfectly balanced. My Sticky Ribs were to die for! These were, by far, the best ribs I've tasted, even better than the ones I had in New York. Simmered for three hours to render down the fat, then marinated in homemade sauce before being slow roasted for a further three hours, these ribs were melt-in-the-mouth, fall-off-the-bone, sticky, sweet, perfection. The salad was fine, the fries and coleslaw tasty, but the best thing, other than the ribs, was the combination of fries, coleslaw and sticky rib sauce... umami heaven!

SeaDrift Kitchen Cafe, Porthleven
Clockwise from left: Outstanding Salmon, Crab & Tiger Prawn Risotto; inside the cafe; Crispy Duck Salad

After a couple of shocking night's sleep, thanks to MiniF, we were keen to ensure our little monster caught up on some Z's. Deciding to use the old 'get him to sleep in the car' trick, we drove all the way to Lizard Point, the most southerly part of the UK, then back again via the small fishing port of Porthleven, where I'd earmarked a little place to visit called SeaDrift Kitchen Cafe. With décor that's part nautical, part retro diner, SeaDrift feels fresh, warm and inviting. The staff were lovely too - each incredibly helpful and hospitable, very well suited to the venue.

Clearly a popular place for both locals and tourists, there was a steady stream of customers throughout our visit, but then, with the cafe currently featuring as number one on Tripadvisor for Porthleven, I expected the food to be good. What I hadn't expected however, was one of the worst cases of food envy. Drinks ordered and MiniF settled in a booster seat, we got to work on devouring the menus.... steaks, salads, brunch, plus lots and lots of fresh seafood. In a moment of stupidity, I ordered the Crispy Duck Salad, while MrF chose a Salmon, Crab and Tiger Prawn Risotto.

Now ordering the Duck Salad wasn't stupid because it was bad (it was actually very tasty), ordering the Duck Salad was stupid because we were right by the sea, and because it had no chance of living up to the seafood risotto! Cue one very green eyed monster. Whilst I was enjoying my dish though, I only had eyes for the Risotto, and thankfully MrF was happy enough to share. The taste was outstanding, reminiscent of Moules Marinière - creamy, garlicky, with the delicious taste of crab, salmon, and wine coming through, topped off with great big juice king prawns and shaved parmesan - flippin' amazing!

Bathing in the afterglow of great grub, we were happy to stay a little longer. MiniF had been tucking into a lovely children's portion of sausage, chips and fresh vegetables with a portion of ice cream to follow, so I decided to keep him company with a very majestic Mixed Berry Pavlova. When I think back, that phenomenal risotto will always be one of the stand out dishes of the trip! 

Sam's, Fowey
Clockwise from top left: Tempura Fried Red Mullet; Eden Mess; the interior; Sam's fries

Our holiday in Cornwall was coming to an end and for our final day we decided to drive up the coast, through St. Austell to Fowey (pronounced Foy). Arriving in Fowey is like going back in time, with narrow one-way streets, old buildings towering over and bunting strung above - we decided to stop for lunch at a local cafe dating back to the 80's.

On entering Sam's, you can't help but be smacked in the face by it's interior design - racing green banquette seats; pink candy stripe furnishings; exposed stone walls; wooden floors, bar and tables; Americana posters and memorabilia. The word garish does spring to mind. Checking out the menu, we found a decent selection of burgers and grills - the obligatory ham, cheese, veggie and chicken burgers, along with a few extra burgers and steak. If you're looking for something a bit fishier, they also offer cod, salmon or red mullet burgers. 

Our interest lay elsewhere though, we had our eyes firmly fixed on the specials... specifically on the Tempura Fried Red Mullet! So, Red Mullet ordered for each of us, plus a side of fries to share, we settled in with a couple of drinks. MiniF was beginning to stir from his nap at this point, so thankfully it wasn't too long before our impressive plates of food arrived. Consisting of a large mix of salad leaves, vegetables and herbs, the salad wasn't your boring 'out of a packet' variety. I'm not sure the black olives went particularly well with the Asian flavours, but the rest was fab - fresh leaves; crunchy red cabbage; cucumber; tomato; onion; chives; plus mangetout (which I wasn't quite feeling the love for). The mullet was definitely the highlight though - fresh fingers of fish, with a fragrant coriander and chilli rub and ever-so-light tempura batter... delicious, all mopped up with some well-matched sweet chilli sauce. 

Deciding we had just about enough room for dessert, we both opted for the towering Eden Mess, with berries, meringue, clotted cream and ice cream. Whilst also enjoyable, I found mine lacking in meringue. Based purely on that Tempura Red Mullet though, Sam's was a worthy finale as an end to our culinary adventure in Cornwall. 

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