Cornwall: once upon a lunchtime in the west

by Lucy.Hyslop

Move over stodgy pasties and greasy fish and chips! From Fifteen Cornwall to Rick Stein, Cornwall is now a foodie paradise

The late Chalky – Rick Stein’s legendary Jack Russell – had a reputation for calling for the local farmer’s dog before they would both scamper down the road to a pub near Padstow in the hope of a few tasty morsels. The cheeky duo would have been spoilt for choice in recent years, however, for Cornwall has been enjoying a seriously widespread culinary revolution. Forget the dodgy pasties or the greasy fish and chips of your bucket-and-spade childhood. Instead, think a cornucopia of quality chic produce that’s now expected by both the Michelin-style restaurants and the more relaxed locavore-central eateries.
The Stein effect
Undoubtedly, Rick Stein was one of the first to up the ante in the gourmet stakes here: sure, you can still buy a more pedestrian battered cod from his upmarket chippy (on South Quay) in the thriving harbour town, but the sultan of seafood also offers exotic selections such as sea bream, shucked oysters and locally caught squid. Walk around the quay, with its lobster pots, fudge shops and colourful trawlers, overlooking the Camel Estuary, and Rock (its smarter, Royal Family-magnet neighbour), and you’ll see why Padstow is often dubbed Padstein. His myriad outlets pepper a maze of narrow streets: from the renowned but unassuming Seafood Restaurant (in the deceptively named Riverside) that spawned his long-running TV series (order, without hesitation, his Goan lobster curry, £43.10; tasting menu, £63.40) to his café (Middle Street), bistro (New Street), deli (South Quay) and patisserie (Lanadwell Street).
The best way to really see this foodie revival in action is to check into his London-savvy St Edmunds House or St Petroc's Hotel, designed by his ex-wife, Jill, and enrol in his quayside Padstow Cookery School, where you’ll effortlessly pick up a few tricks before feasting on your creations (risotto nero, fillet of native John Dory, and tuna salad and guacamole, among other recipes). With no spot in Cornwall being more than 25 miles away from the sea, fish have definitely bagged a starring role here. Prices at the school start from £181.06 for a one-day course as a non-resident; or £760 for a two-day residential course.
Oliver's army
This celebrity fairy dust, however, doesn’t end in Padstow. A few miles further down the Atlantic coastline, at the expansive Watergate Bay, there’s the Jamie Oliver-inspired Fifteen Cornwall restaurant, with tasting menus at £48.95 per person. The achingly edgy, graffiti-decorated restaurant slots right in to what’s locally called ‘a ski resort by the beach’, with the surfing, wave-skiing, kitesurfing and other adrenaline activities of the Extreme Academy.
The zero-food-miles philosophy dominates the Fifteen menu, which features things like local borlotti beans, Russian kale, asparagus, Grampound duck, organic lamb and St Keverne cheese, along with line-caught seabass. Don’t miss the ricotta gnocchi and the Angus rib-eye. Things are just different down here – I swear Cornish sardines are a tad fatter and tastier than others I’ve eaten, and the ice cream, such as that from local producer Kelly's, far, far creamier (and naughtier). Much local food produce is showcased at the farmers’ markets held by the restaurant on March 28 and October 11.
New wave
Ingredients as traditional in Cornwall as the ubiquitous hedgerows still have a strong role in this new wave of cooking. Desserts and scones are still lashed with unctuous Cornish clotted cream (according to folkore, its richness is all down to the sea-mist-soaked pastures on which the local cows graze), and saffron (a major player in Cornish recipes ever since the Phoenicians traded it for tin) is still frequently sprinkled.
Nathan Outlaw, one of the county’s youngest and best chefs, serves a mean sea bass, for example, with mussels with saffron, peppers and olives. His eponymous restaurant at Marina Villa Hotel in Fowey, over on the calmer south coast and a fast favourite of the sailing set, now boasts one Michelin star and has been told to expect a second soon. Granted, it’s not cheap for Cornwall (around the £130 mark for two with wine), but Outlaw’s exquisite culinary chops – honed from the likes of Rick Stein and Gary Rhodes – are worth every penny.
The food is enough to make the art-deco Porthminster Café a destination in itself in the arty community of St Ives (the Tate has an unmissable gallery here). Add in its view over the palm-flanked beach and views out to the famous Godrevy lighthouse, however, and all senses are sated. Meals that can so easily turn out stodgy have a lightness of touch here: tempura oysters, beer-battered haddock, crab sandwiches.
Cornish places to eat and drink are now rated a staggeringly high 4.45 out of 5 by visitors. Perhaps Cornwall’s reinvention as a gourmand’s paradise has come fast and furious because of the abundance of London or ‘up country’ tourists expecting higher food standards; perhaps it's down to the dogged determination of talented local chefs like Stein to improve the food here. Whatever the reason, it looks like a reputation that’s sticking as tightly as the limpets on its craggy rocks.


Getting there
Air Southwest  has regular hour-long flights from London Gatwick to Newquay airport. Ryanair operates a service from London Stansted to Newquay.
First Great Western  runs regular trains from London Paddington to Cornwall.