In a recent post, I shared our cooking class with chef Lee Groves, during a seafood holiday to Cornwall.

Lee has kindly given this interview for Kavey Eats, and shares his recipe for Ray Wings in a Pepper Butter Sauce, below.

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Can you give us a little potted bio of chef Lee Groves? How did you get into cooking? What path has your career taken? How did you get to where you are now? And I remember you telling me that your 2010 Masterchef experience was hugely important to you because it came at a time when you were reevaluating where you were at and where you wanted to be. Can you tell us more about the experience itself and how it shaped what came next?

I always wanted to be a chef, i remember telling a friend at infants school!

I never sat on my Gran’s knee podding peas, or fly fished with my Grandfather, no one else in my family is in the trade, just something I always wanted to do. After 2 years at college, my first job cooking(age 17) was in the local pub, at which I had been working on the bar. But, I knew scampi, gammon and frozen lasagne wasn’t me! Then I was lucky enough to land a job at The Walnut Tree, Abergavenny, under the highly acclaimed Franco Taruschio, one of the hardest things I have ever done, but it was my building block. Three years later, after stints at Gidleigh Park and Gary Rhodes, I returned to Wales. It didn’t last long and at the age of 23 I landed my first Head Chef job in a busy seaside pub just outside Exeter, (I say landed, blagged morelike!).

After a couple of years, a new restaurant was looking for a Head Chef, in the same area…my first proper role in high end fine dining. Even though the accolades came in very soon, the restaurant wasn’t making enough money. That took me to Oxford, where I gained lots of recognition within prestigious guides, it was here I won my first Chef of the Year competition, and then I got the bug. After many competitions, and winning, I knew for definite the sky was the limit.

A few years later, and more accolades later, I found myself out of work, temping here and there was o.k., I wasn’t sure if I actually wanted to continue cheffing and nearly left the industry, but I wanted to get my teeth into something. Then I watched Masterchef 2009, The Professionals, and thought to myself I can do that! So applied online, not knowing what to expect……Then the call came, I had been chosen for the last 36 to be filmed, (out of 10,000), and thought oh! here we go!

4 months later, after alot of blood, sweat, tears and overnight travelling, the fire was back! And I wanted to be better than ever.

Having found Scott & Julia on an advertising website, they were looking for a head chef in St. Ives, the rest as they say is history. After only being open for 18 months now we have won many accoldes and taken St. Ives by storm.

What is your cooking ethos and style?

My cooking ethos is use fresh, don’t accept rubbish ingredients, and half the battle is won. Alot of chefs mask the main ingredients with many sauces and flavours, yes be creative but have confidence in what you are using.

What’s your favourite comfort food or meal?

My favourite comfort food/meal, can vary, from a Fray Bentos pie, to a lovely roast dinner with all the trimmings, fish and chips or a good hot homemade curry.

And what would you cook for a special occasional meal, at home not in the restaurant?

At home I tend to experiment, but for a special meal, it would have to be game, in season, (can’t wait for my first Grouse next week, and the first Partridge in a couple of months time), or a piece of fresh Seabass.

I loved everything you showed us during our cookery classes. But as you know, I was particularly blown away by the ray wings in a pepper and brown butter sauce. Could you give me your recipe and any tips and tricks to achieve the best results?

There isn’t an exact recipe, it’s all about feeling and understanding the ingredients, flame control is very important too, as you don’t want that lovely buttery sauce to split.

So pan fry the freshest ray wing in hot olive oil, season, it should be golden brown, so about 4 minutes either side, add a spoonful of capers or soft mixed peppercorns, reduce the heat, add a good slug of balsamic vinegar, add 3 or 4 nuts of cold unsalted butter, and gently stir in and around the fish to form a glossy piquant dressing, the fish should still be slightly pink on the bone so it peels off into the lovely, meaty strands.

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Our visit to Cornwall was part of a week-long South West Tour courtesy of The Food Travel Company (and Riverford Organic Farms). They are a new company offering specialist trips for food (and drink) lovers, with group departures and customised itineraries available.

 

Back in June, Pete and I were invited to spend a few days in South West Cornwall on a “Seafood Safari” holiday organised by The Food Travel Company. Based in the lovely Coswyn Barn conversion at Lanyon Cottages, our small group enjoyed an early morning trip to Newlyn Harbour, a pootle around Cornwall and two fantastic seafood cookery classes taught by Lee Groves.

The classes each lasted over four hours, probably nearer to five and were held in the wonderful big kitchen in Coswyn Barn.

On the first day, Lee took us through several fish dishes, including lots of tips on how to choose and prep fish and ideas for cooking them. It was also as hands on as we wanted, and we took turns gutting, filleting, boning fish, shucking oysters and smelling and tasting everything offered.

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On the second day, Lee focused on seafood. First we enjoyed his Thai-inspired mussels, a suggestion from two lovely little girls in our group, then a punchy and hearty fish stew. After that, Lee created some enormous seafood platters, two served cold and two served hot. These were a feast of Fresh crab, lobster, scallops razor clams, squid, oysters and langoustines.

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One of the lobsters, a feisty chap even after 24 hours in the fridge, was the biggest lobster I’ve ever seen, Lee said it was likely to be 30-40 years old. The idea of a critter that could be as old as me was impressive, though didn’t make me enjoy eating it any less when it was served on the platter!

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All the seafood was Cornwall sourced and incredibly fresh and of the very best quality, with the exception of the mussels which were from Devon as Lee finds them more consistent in quality. Lee showed us the various tags that certified origin (and could be used to track it, should we wish).

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We made so many fabulous dishes; it was really inspirational, not to mention delicious!

  • Trout served with a simple dressing of halved cherry tomatoes in a vanilla vinaigrette
  • Monkfish with samphire and cherry tomatoes
  • Turbot with asparagus in a wine cream sauce
  • Mackerel three ways – grilled, lightly pickled and smoked
  • Hake with butter, cucumber and chives
  • Trout gravadlax
  • Ray wings in a pepper and brown butter sauce
  • Sashimi tastings of all the fish, and the scallops
  • Oysters
  • Thai mussels
  • Fish stew
  • Hot seafood platter with a herbed breadcrumb topping
  • Cold seafood platter on ice

See my next post for an interview with Lee Groves and his recipe for the Ray Wings.

 

Our visit to Cornwall was part of a week-long South West Tour courtesy of The Food Travel Company. They are a new company offering specialist trips for food (and drink) lovers, with group departures and customised itineraries available.

 

When this second outpost of popular Fowey bistro Sam’s describes itself as “on the beach”, it’s not kidding!

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from Sam’s image gallery

Located in the old RNLI lifeboat station on Polkerris beach, customers can enter from the back or up the ramp and steps from the sandy beach itself. Our table by the window gives us wonderful views. Only a few hardy souls are braving the cold and rain outside during our June visit.

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Inside is a large open space with wooden floors and walls and a soaring high ceiling strung with Scandi-style heart banners. The open kitchen and bar are on a platform level at the back. On the walls are a commemorative plaque for the RNLI, two specials boards and a few random pictures.

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The menu is surprisingly extensive. As well as starters are sections for moules, shellfish and fish, meat dishes, salads and pizzas. I’m usually put off by long menus, wondering how a small kitchen can offer so much variety and still keep everything fresh but this place has a great reputation so I put my worries aside.

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Hungrier than Pete, I decide to have a starter and a main. My soft shell crab (£7.25) is served over salad, with a sweet chilli drip. Served hot out of the fryer, this is a generous portion and that’s just as well as it’s delicious!

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At just £16.95 I cannot resist the Seafood Platter for 1. On ordering, I’m told that they are out of the palourde clams that usually come with the mussels, so it will be mussels mariniere only. Fine by me! Also on the plate are hot freshly grilled sardines and tiger prawns and chilled crab claws, smaller prawns and a slice of tasty focaccia. Fabulously fresh, I tear into all of it, happily.

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Not in the mood for seafood, Pete chooses instead the Hot Meat pizza £11.45 for the 10 inch medium). A decent base is topped with chorizo, salami, parma ham, jalapenos, red onions and pepper dews [sic]. It’s a combination he really enjoys, though as a seafood lover, I can’t help look at my dishes and feel a bit smug!

Pudding is out of the question, though choices such as Beach Lemon Meringue Mess (£5.50) and Cappuccino Coffee Chocolate Pot (£4.95) do tempt.

This is a great place to stop for a meal. If you’re visiting the Cornish South Coast, I recommend you make a visit.

 

Our visit to Sam’s On The Beach was part of a week-long South West Tour courtesy of The Food Travel Company. They are a new company offering specialist trips for food (and drink) lovers, with group departures and customised itineraries available.

Mar 092011
 

There can be few people who’ve not heard of Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen, the project he established back in 2002 to help disadvantaged young men and women to train as professional chefs.

I’d heard of it too, but didn’t know a great deal about it until I was invited to visit Fifteen Cornwall earlier this year. Then I started to do some research.

Launched in London, the progress of the 15 inaugural apprentices was televised in the series, Jamie’s Kitchen, and followed by many viewers. Jamie lead, cajoled and occasionally shouted at his apprentices, promising those who succeeded a job in his new Fifteen restaurant. Five of the original fifteen have since launched successful cooking careers.

The original Fifteen restaurant (in the City, near the Barbican) is run by the Jamie Oliver Foundation, a charity established to “raise awareness of the importance of nutritious food and cooking and their impact on the lives of everyone, especially children and other vulnerable groups.”

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The apprentice programme combines college learning with placements that provide real-life experience, including 12 months in the Fifteen kitchen. The trainees learn from experts who teach them to respect the produce and equipment they use. As they learn to make the dishes on the menu, they hone their skills, grow their confidence and take on more responsibility.

Given the success of the original Fifteen, the Jamie and the Foundation are keen to expand the brand into a global social enterprise to inspire and help young people all over the world.

With that in mind, Fifteen Amsterdam opened in December 2004 and Fifteen Cornwall launched in May 2006.

Fifteen Cornwall is owned by the Cornwall Foundation of Promise (CFoP), a charity set up specifically to run the Fifteen training programme, in much the same way as the Jamie Oliver Foundation runs Fifteen London.

Just to make it clear, if it’s not already, all of the profits made from the Fifteen restaurants are ploughed straight back into the respective charities. They are run wholly for the benefit of helping people who wouldn’t otherwise have the chance to forge careers in the restaurant industry.

It’s easy to dismiss them as vanity projects for Jamie Oliver, but I think this is a glib suggestion borne out of antipathy not to mention a lack of understanding of what Fifteen has achieved and continues to achieve.

“Having not been the brightest banana in the bunch myself, I realised that my biggest weapon in life was the determination, enthusiasm, hands-on and “actions speak louder than words” approach my father taught me, and I wanted to get this across to others, especially those interested in food.” ~ Jamie Oliver

So, on to our meal at Fifteen Cornwall…

I’ll be honest. Once I’d read more about Fifteen and understood what it was about, I wasn’t expecting a mind-blowing dining experience. I figured it would be decent, of course, but I jumped to the conclusion that the place was busy because it was a good cause and had Jamie Oliver’s name attached to to it.

I was happy to be wrong. We had very good meal indeed!

At lunch, Fifteen offers both an a la carte menu as well as a three course set price menu for £27. At the moment, a “Sicilian Season” special offer means that the lunch menu drops to £19.95 Mondays to Fridays until April 8th.

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In the evenings, only a 5 course tasting menu is available, priced at £58. Pete added the optional wine pairings at £44.

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I went for a homemade “cola”, an interesting drink with lots of herbal flavours, though not like any cola I’ve tried.

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The sommelier, Elly, was brilliant. Not only did she quickly pitch the information about her matches to the level of knowledge we had, she was hugely enthusiastic and clearly very keen to ensure that guests enjoyed the matches she proposed. Pete was really impressed with her choices and, in one case, she gave a small taster of an alternate match, and he could really taste how the two choices enhanced the flavours of the dish quite differently.

The waiting staff were very good too. Dressed in funky pink Asian-style dresses provided by a trendy fashion company, they were helpful in understanding the menu and attentive throughout our meal.

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To start: Mammole artichoke, pecorino and mint arancini

The little rice ball, served on an artichoke spoon, was piping hot, crunchy on then outside and with light, fluffy rice inside. Pete really enjoyed it but I just didn’t like the combination of pecorino cheese and mint at all.

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Insalata: 30 day aged Angus beef carpaccio, puntarelle alla Romana and new season Fontodi olive oil

Puntarelle, our waitress explained, is a chicory and anchovy salad. She also added that the salad was dressed with chilli, garlic, lemon and olive oil. The serving of carpaccio was very generous and Pete really enjoyed the different flavours of the beef, salad vegetables, anchovies and dressing.

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Insalata: Mozzarella di bufala, roasted Italian pear, Buttervilla’s funky leaves, toasted walnuts and aged balsamic

Mine was a classic salad elevated into something special by the quality of the ingredients; that mozzarella was meltingly milky, the pear and walnuts beautiful and the salad and very simple drizzling of oil and balsamic just right.

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Primi: Aged carnaroli risotto of Zucca Farm butternut squash, amaretti, Rosary goat’s cheese and sage

It shouldn’t be hard for an Italian restaurant to make a good risotto yet evidence has taught me that many fail. This risotto was excellent – richly flavoured and unctuous with perfectly cooked rice. The salty-sweet-savoury of butternut, amaretti, goat’s cheese and sage was superb.

The menu listed a Burgundy Chardonnay to match with the risotto but Elly suggested switching Pete to the New Zealand Pinot Noir she’d matched to my pasta in the menu. Having earlier ascertained that Pete favours reds, she explained that she’d initially chosen the same wine for both dishes but that would be boring on the menu so she’d gone with the Chardonnay for the rice, which also worked well with it during her tastings.

Pete was amazed that, with my duck pasta, the pinot noir was fruity and mellow and yet, with the sweet risotto, the acidity came through much more. It was a completely different wine with the two dishes!

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Primi: Cappelletti of slow cooked Grampound duck in a balsamic butter sauce with pecorino and good olive oil

I had watched some of the chefs making the cappelletti in the kitchen shortly after we arrived, so naturally, I wanted to try it.

This was a stand-out dish for me! The flavour and texture of the duck filling, the mouthfeel of the pasta, the mild bitterness of the leaves and the sheer genius of that simple balsamic butter sauce… I would never have thought such a simple dish could be so wonderful.

I seriously considered asking for another plate. I resisted only because we still had two courses to come.

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Secondi: Roast saddle of Bre Pen Farm lamb, pale aubergine caponata with chilli and mint dressing

Pete ordered this, but kindly shared a fair bit as it was a generous portion. This dish, more than any other, showcased the quality of the ingredients that Fifteen source (locally, as much as possible). I have seldom tasted lamb that tasted so much of itself; was so tender and delicious. The caponata beneath it was also excellent.

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Secondi: Crispy fillet of line caught sea bass, patate al forno, purple sprouting broccoli with mussels and clams in a herby tomato sauce

My fish dish was also very good. As I’d come to expect by this point, the fish was nicely cooked as was the PSB. The tomato, herbs, mussels and clams provided a simple, traditional accompaniment. This was a pleasure to eat.

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Formaggi: Exmoor blue, Danegeld and Cerney served with carta di musica and Fifteen’s fruity chutney

Good cheese. Tasty chutney. Thin, crunchy crispbread. What’s not to like?

The paired dessert wine, a Valpolicella from the Veneto, was an excellent match – sweet, musty, fruity.

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Dolci: Jack’s lovely Amedei chocolate, date and hazelnut pudding with mint ice cream and biscotti

The pudding was essentially a posh tiffin – rock solid, very cold and not especially lovely. The biscotti too was very hard and would have been better matched to coffee than the dessert. The best bit was the mint ice-cream (which tasted of the fresh herb rather than overpowering mint oil) and the sweet mint jelly drops decorating the plate. The chocolate pudding was the only off note of the meal for me but as I ordered a glass of Sauternes to have alongside it, I didn’t mind too much.

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The tasting menu includes tea or coffee. Ours was served with some moist, cakey bites which were so addictive we ate them before I even thought to take a picture!

Our meal was over, and it had been a good one. We look forward to returning again, and also to visiting Fifteen London, which is so much closer but we’ve not yet been.

Kavey Eats was invited to dine by Fifteen Cornwall. All drinks were paid on our own account.

Supporting Fifteen

Fifteen London invites you to donate money towards cooking books and stationery, chefs knives and whites, travel costs, living allowances and placements.

Fifteen Cornwall accepts donations via Justgiving or you can discuss donating money, goods or services by email.

 

The Scarlet Hotel‘s restaurant is in the very capable hands of Ben Tunnicliffe, formerly of The Abbey in Penzance, where he earned a Michelin star for his cooking.

Ben gives a frank, informative and sometimes amusing account of his cooking career on the hotel’s website. He also reveals his food philosophy which boils down to making people happy, by focusing on “flavour first and foremost, simplicity second and aesthetics last”, whilst sourcing locally and seasonally as far as possible. This isn’t just lip service – Ben is proud of the relationships he’s built with suppliers, some of whom he’s used for many years. And he won’t compromise on seasonality just to give guests what they might expect. No orange juice for breakfast in winter (when European oranges are not available) – instead a delicious local apple juice.

Having enjoyed a lovely meal in the restaurant on our first night, we very much enjoyed meeting Ben the next day to find out more.

(I should mention that several of the hotel staff were taking part in Movember, in case you’re wondering about that impressive ‘tache!)

The video interview done and dusted, we had some fascinating off the record chitchat (about the industry in general and some of those who work in it in particular) and a tour of the kitchen. And, gosh, Ben’s vast purpose-built kitchen would be an absolute dream for many chefs – it’s several times bigger than even the larger ones I’ve seen in London!

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The sign on the door of Ben’s office, within the kitchen, put a smile on our faces!

The restaurant space is, like all of the hotel, designed to look out to sea. On a winter evening, it’s far too dark to see the beautiful view, but I would be glued to the window during the summer, I’m sure.

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We ate in the hotel restaurant on 2 consecutive nights.

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Friday’s menu

Dinner is priced at £39.50 for 3 courses; the menu doesn’t give a price for 2 courses or just a main on it’s own.

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With each course a wine (available by the glass, 50 cl carafe or full bottle) is recommended. The full wine list is Europe-based (to reduce air miles) and The Scarlet aim to support smaller producers, including a number of organic and bio-dynamic wines.

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The bread basket were a thing of wonder. On the first night, our three breads were white, walnut treacle and cinnamon raisin. The next night the cinnamon raisin was replaced by a fennel and paprika bread. All fresh, beautifully textured and delicious.

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Pete’s spinach velouté with egg yolk ravioli was a welcome shock of colour. The consistency was excellent – not too thick, not too runny and slippery silky smooth. It had a punchy fresh vegetal flavour. And when Pete broke into the raviolo a perfect soft yolk spilled out and added it’s colour and flavour. The pasta wasn’t gossamer thin but thin enough and cooked al dente, which gave a nice bite against the the liquid soup, though it could have done with a few more seconds, ideally.

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My seared scallop, confit pork, hogs pudding, chorizo, caper and raisin was very enjoyable, overall. The scallop was lovely, seared to add a touch of char in flavour and texture, yet still sweet and just cooked within. The pork belly was absolutely spot on with plenty of fat cooked till meltingly soft with a lovely cap of crunchy chewy skin. The hogs pudding (which was presented as a slice of a larger sausage) didn’t do much at all for me; I found it very bland. I’d wondered whether the chorizo, raisins and capers would overwhelm the more delicate pork and scallop but instead, they enhanced and complimented. With the exception of that hogs pudding, I thought this a great appetiser; it made my mouth water for what was to follow.

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Both of us chose the loin and slow braised shoulder of Boccadon farm veal, wild mushrooms, sherry lentils, onions, raisins and thyme. The slow braised shoulder was very, very tender, though we both found the herb flavours too strong. The loin was fabulous – soft, pink and with wonderful flavour. For me, the star of the plate was the selection of wild mushrooms which included girolle (also known as golden chanterelle), black trumpet and cep (also known as porcini). And, oh my god, the rich, sticky, incredibly umami gravy with the merest hint of sweetness was the perfect finish. Usually not a fan of lentils, the sherry lentils went a long way to converting me. Even more surprising, a light cabbage pickle was light and refreshing – not overpowering, as I usually find pickled cabbage. The iron-rich purple sprouting broccoli was just the right vegetable to finish the dish.

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We had a hankering for cheese as well as dessert so ordered an extra course. We liked that our waitress immediately asked whether we’d prefer it before or after dessert, rather than simply imposing a preference on us, as many restaurants do.

The selection of cheeses changes every day. On this day, our three were Keen’s cheddar, Shropshire blue and Epoisses, which made me squeal in delight because I adore Epoisses and resulted in a lovely chat with our waitress who had not tried it before. I warned her it was a fairly strong one but encouraged her to try it for herself! The cheeses were served at room temperature and were beautifully ripe to just the right level. They were served with some honey-sweet grapes, a chutney that we felt was rather too weak against the robust flavours of these cheeses and crackers which again, for my taste, were not a great combination with the cheeses, but would have made nice snacks on their own.

Before desserts, I mentioned to the waitress that I had a sore throat. She immediately offered a hot drink to soothe it and when I asked for mint tea, she went to make it (with fresh mint) straight away. I really appreciated her clearly genuine concern and thoughtfulness.

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We didn’t love Pete’s dessert of poached quince, gingerbread mousse, white wine jellies. The quince was too mushy soft. The wine jellies had an odd grainy texture and not much flavour. But the gingerbread mousse served on a slice of gingerbread cake was absolutely delicious.

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My honeycomb parfait, banana compote, roasted pistachio brittle was also a mixed bag. Overall it was extremely sweet. Too sweet, even for a very very sweet-toothed person like me. The parfait was decent, with a good honeycomb flavour. The banana compote was essentially posh cubed bananas in custard; pleasantly school dinners. The pistachio brittle tasted delicious but was a bit thick and heavy, I think.

On Saturday, we again dined in the restaurant. First out was the bread (see above).

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Pete chose a trio of salmon preparations for his starter – mi-cuit, rillette & fishcake, apple & beetroot. The filleted piece of salmon was very lightly cooked, allowing the delicate salmon flavours to shine. The rillette was a nicely balanced soft, wet salmon pâté. The spherical fishcake was tasty. All worked well with the pureed apple and tiny beetroot cubes.

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I really enjoyed my potted crab, brown crab mayo & crispy egg too. The tower of crab meat is more generous that it looks in the photographs and was fresh and sweet. I loved the fresh, hot crunch of my crispy egg, with it’s perfectly soft, runny yolk. The brown crab meat mayo was a winner; deeply, deeply flavoured.

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Pete’s breast of Cornish duck, Jerusalem artichokes, pressed confit leg, sprout top choucroute, date & lemon was an intriguing choice – I wasn’t sure how the artichokes, choucroute, date and lemon would balance. The duck was cooked just right with crisped skin and pink flesh. The Jerusalem artichokes were nicely cooked and much more appealing than when I’ve encountered them before. The sprouts and bacon were very seasonal; I would not have picked them to go with duck but I liked them. The confit leg, pressed into shape and bread crumbed, was very good indeed, moist inside and picked up by the crunchy coating. We figured the sauce must be where the date and lemon were hiding, though they didn’t come through particularly strongly. All in all, a decent dish.

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Although it was perhaps a little similar to my choice the previous night, I could not resist fillet of beef, wild mushrooms, veal sweetbreads, rosti potato. The beef was really excellent. Soft yet firm and with great depth of flavour. The mushrooms and morsels of sweetbread were another savoury umami hit and perfect on a rain-lashed winter’s evening. Dark green cabbage gave us that iron-rich vegetable balance (in place of last night’s purple sprouting broccoli). The rosti was crunchy, oil-soaked naughtiness – perhaps a touch too much oil but oh so good. And the whole thing was pulled together once again by a rich, sticky, concentrated sauce that I had to stop myself licking off the plate.

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I adore banana desserts, especially when the banana has been cooked and caramelised so could not resist the banana upside down, vanilla ice cream, maple banana, lime compôte. The banana was very, very soft and the caramelisation had gone a little too far, giving too much of a burned sugar flavour for my tastes. I did like the combination of the tarte tatin style pastry with banana pieces in a maple sauce; they were very good. The ice-cream was so-so – not particularly rich, creamy or vanilla-tasting. I don’t recall the lime compôte at all and can’t spot it in any of my photographs; I wonder if it made it onto the plate?!

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Better overall was the lemon tart, satsuma sorbet, crème fraiche. The lemon custard was just set and had a lovely wobble and a good balance between tart and sweet. The pastry was excellent. The sweet sorbet was subtly flavoured, and worked very well. It’s sweetness was offset by the crème fraiche. Simple but very good.

Over all, we very much enjoyed our two dinners in the hotel’s restaurant. I think, for the price, it would have been nice to have one or two tiny tasters in between courses, as one often encounters in London restaurants at a similar price point. But given the quality of the ingredients and the cooking, the prices are certainly reasonable.

The restaurant is open to non-residents, so do book yourself a table if you are visiting the area. Better still, indulge in a night or two at the hotel to enjoy the full Scarlet experience.

 

If you see a faded sign by the side of the road that says
’15 miles to the love shack’, love shack, yeah, yeah
I’m headin’ down the Atlantic* highway
Lookin’ for the love getaway, heading for the love getaway
I got me a car, it’s as big as a whale
And we’re headin’ on down to the love shack
I got me a Chrysler, it seats about 20
So hurry up and bring your jukebox money
The love shack is a little old place
Where we can get together
Love shack, baby
(A love shack, baby)
Love shack, baby, love shack
Love shack, baby, love shack…

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Confessions of a Travelphile

I have a confession to make.

Food is not my first love.

I’m not about to get all soppy and talk about husband, family or friends – let’s take the fact I love them as a given. No, I’m talking about a hobby, an interest, a passion that I am even more obsessed about than food. I can see the petition to cast me out of the food blogger community taking form as I continue. But it’s true.

My heart belongs to another.

Don’t get me wrong, I really love food.
But I really, really love travel.

And what I really, really, really love is food and travel combined.

A fabulous trip – be it a UK “staycation”, a jaunt within Europe or a long haul adventure to an exotic destination – is a wonderful thing.

And it’s not just the trips themselves that I so adore, oh no! I love planning the trip, I love anticipating the trip, I love being on the trip and I love reminiscing about the trip when it’s all over.

In fact, I take (frankly ridiculous) pleasure from researching and planning and arranging trips.

From narrowing down where to go and crafting an itinerary to investigating every hotel and guest house before making my choice to researching the best places to eat… the more I have to do, the happier I am!

I once spent the better part of 18 months planning a single trip. Yes, the trip was 9 weeks long but the time I took to put it together would be considered disproportionate by most people I know. I spent hours and hours deciding and tweaking the itinerary; then hours and hours investigating accommodation in each of the 20 places we visited and even more hours contacting all those on my shortlist to negotiate low-season discounts and then making reservations and sorting out overseas payments. I read up about culture, history, politics, attractions and, of course, food. I arranged to meet up with online friends from that country. And my packing list was a thing of epic beauty.

When it comes to travel I am obsessive, detail-orientated and fussy.

So inviting me to review a hotel and restaurant is a risky prospect.

I’ve travelled extensively, ever since I was a child and I have stayed in some truly breath-taking hotels as well as some shithole dives and a whole range in between.

I know what I like. I know what I don’t like. And I’m very hard to please.


The Scarlet’s Promise

When I read the descriptions on the Scarlet Hotel’s website, I really didn’t know whether to believe them. I’ve certainly come across similar claims before and been hugely disappointed.

Created by three sisters who dreamt of a hotel that would remind them, and others, why they cherish their husbands and friends, The Scarlet promises a luxurious, eco-friendly, relaxed, adult-only environment that reflects nature by blurring the boundaries between indoors and out. Guests are invited to make themselves at home in cosy, private areas and light, airy public spaces. They are urged to enjoy the delicious food, the Ayurvedic inspired spa and a visionary interior adorned with quirky Cornish art and, in doing so, to recharge their batteries and find time for themselves and for each other.

You can see why we figured we were on our way to a Love Shack for what we hoped would be an indulgent, relaxing and romantic weekend!

The good news is that the Scarlet delivers on everything it promises and more.

How? Read on…

The Space

It had rained most of the long, long journey but we arrived, singing, at our destination in the village of Mawgan Porth, situated on Cornwall’s beautiful Atlantic coast, just a few miles from brasher (and far less charming) Newquay.

Purpose built to be modern and environmentally friendly, as well as to make best use of it’s stunning cliff top location, The Scarlet is a striking edifice of sweeping curves and geometrically straight lines, of warm natural woods, sleek metal and clean, white walls. It’s 37 rooms are cleverly scattered on different levels and these are further clustered in what feel like small, private wings.

The whole hotel “looks” down towards the beautiful beach below (by look, I mean that all windows face in that direction) and it’s a quick, if steep, walk down the cliff onto the sands.

There are lots of large expanses of glass that bring the outside in as well as smaller windows that frame the pretty views.

I find the interior design as appealing as the architecture. Colours, choice of furnishings and finishing touches are bold and quirky. The many, many pieces of local art that can be found all around the hotel are fascinating; I particularly like the glass and cord hanging sculpture in the lobby, the giant clay man in the restaurant entrance, a ceramic plate in one of the corridors and a papier-mâché leaping man covered in mathematical equations. It’s one of the little pleasures of exploring the hotel to stumble upon and stop and gaze at such varied artwork.

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There are a number of lovely shared areas in which to relax including the bar, various lounges and a fabulous library with books, games and a pool table. And in the summer, you can enjoy the terrace and garden areas too.

Bedrooms

Bedrooms are also well designed, though simpler and less quirky than the public spaces. All have views out to the sea and all are spacious, even the smallest “Just Right” category. Our room was a “Generous” with a touch more space again. The double bed faced out towards the balcony and the beautiful view. From the balcony we could see the attractive lower levels of the hotel and one of the internal courtyards, as well as the beach below. Inside, we had a small desk (with free internet included) and a couple of small chairs and coffee table. Behind the headboard was an open plan bathroom space with sink and bathtub and attractive, environmentally-friendly toiletries. And by the door to our room was the entrance to the spacious wet room bathroom with toilet and monsoon shower. Even the storage was well thought out, with generously sized deep drawers and a wardrobe.

Design-wise, I particularly liked the wooden tree motif out in the corridor and its cut out surround, glued over a pretty piece of wallpaper onto the bedroom wall. And the wooden-framed mirror, secured to the wall but giving the appearance of a free-standing object of art propped against it. The white felt bedside lamps were lovely too.

Oh and I must mention the lighting system, which we really appreciated. Panels by the door and both bedsides offer a range of pre-programmed lighting schemes ranging from all lights on through options focusing on the main bedroom area to others giving light in the bathroom to all lights off. They are easy to understand and select and I was particularly appreciative of a night mode which kept one small nightlight on in the bathroom so I could find my way during the night.

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During our stay, I asked to look at one of the “Just Right” rooms and found it just as charming. Located on the coastal garden level, I loved it’s outlook onto the grass and across the beach. The main difference was that the shower and toilet were within the open plan bathroom, with only a frosted glass pane and door for privacy.

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Dining at The Scarlet

The Scarlet’s restaurant is in the very capable hands of Ben Tunnicliffe, formerly of The Abbey in Penzance, where he earned a Michelin star for his cooking.

Ben gives a frank, informative and sometimes amusing account of his cooking career on the hotel’s website. He also reveals his food philosophy which boils down to making people happy, by focusing on “flavour first and foremost, simplicity second and aesthetics last”, whilst sourcing locally and seasonally as far as possible. This isn’t just lip service – Ben is proud of the relationships he’s built with suppliers, some of whom he’s used for many years. And he won’t compromise on seasonality just to give guests what they might expect. No orange juice for breakfast in winter (when European oranges are not available) – instead a delicious local apple juice.

We ate in the restaurant on both evenings of our stay.

I’ll soon be posting a full review of our two meals in the restaurant as well as a video interview with Ben.

In the meantime, a short summary:

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The restaurant space is, like all of the hotel, designed to look out to sea. On a winter evening, it’s far too dark to see the beautiful view, but I would be glued to the window during the summer, I’m sure.

Aesthetically, with the exception of that view (which we were certainly able to enjoy during breakfast), the dining room doesn’t excite me as much as the rest of the hotel’s spaces and the bedrooms. I like the funky felt lamp shades but they are the only design aspect that stood out.

The quality of the ingredients is very evident and most of the dishes we had were great. A few didn’t work quite as well, for us, though most we liked a lot.

We were also very well looked after by Chloe and Johnny.

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Starting with a selection of interesting and delicious home made breads, our two meals included spinach velouté with egg yolk ravioli; seared scallop, confit pork, hogs pudding, chorizo, caper and raisin; salmon – mi-cuit, rillette & fishcake, apple & beetroot; potted crab, brown crab mayo & crispy egg; loin and slow braised shoulder of Boccadon farm veal, wild mushrooms, sherry lentils, onions, raisins and thyme; breast of Cornish duck, Jerusalem artichokes, pressed confit leg, sprout top choucroute, date & lemon; a fantastic cheese selection; honeycomb parfait, banana compote, roasted pistachio brittle; lemon tart, satsuma sorbet, crème fraiche…

Over all, we very much enjoyed our dinners in the hotel’s restaurant. I think, for the price, it would have been nice to have one or two tiny tasters in between the three courses, as one often encounters in London restaurants at a similar price point. But given the quality of the ingredients and the cooking, the prices are certainly reasonable.

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We also took breakfast in the dining room both mornings. The views, even in the rain, were mesmerising.

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The Scarlet breakfast is an indulgent affair and the choices on offer change every day. Always, one starts with freshly ground coffee or Tregothnan Estate tea and, at this time of year, fresh Cornish apple juice. With this comes toast and home-made jam. The next course offers choices such as a croissant or pain au chocolat, home made granola or muesli, other cereals, fresh fruit or beauties such as dried fruit compote poached in an Earl Grey and lemon syrup or lemon & thyme poached pear in crème fraiche. I don’t know how many guests manage to eat all this but the third course is one of a selection of hot dishes such as grilled kippers, a full cooked breakfast and variations of eggs Benedict (I loved my eggs, spinach and Hollandaise over a large Portobello mushroom instead of muffin).

The Spa

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image from The Scarlet’s website

Manned by a friendly and professional team, the spa includes a bright and welcoming swimming pool and steam room, a (chemical-free) outdoor pool (filtered by reeds and designed to look very much like a clear, natural pool), a relaxation room and various treatment rooms.

Most of the treatments are built into what the Scarlet refer to as “journeys”, of which there are ten different ones. All take you through an individual consultation with an Ayurvedic therapist, a bathing ritual, a meditation and relaxation session and then one of a range of different massages. You can finish off by chilling out in one of the hanging cocoons in the relaxation room.

Whilst these journeys sound heavenly, they require 3-4 hours and are priced at £175, so would take up a good chunk of your day. Unfortunately, as the spa is also open to non-residents, you have very little chance of taking one of the long journeys unless you have booked in advance of your visit.

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Also on offer are a few shorter treatments that are referred to as “beyond journeys”. Very popular amongst these are the two beautiful red hot tubs, perched outside with views down to the beach. Wood-fired, they can be hired out in 30 minute slots or combined with a detox seaweed bath, which lasts 45 minutes.

We had a hot tub reserved for the evening we arrived but torrential rains and howling winds put paid to that. The spa staff kindly organised for us to switch to a rasul experience instead. The treatment is inspired by rhassoul, a mineral-rich clay found in Morocco’s Atlas mountains, which is said to be beneficial to the skin, hair and scalp. Its name in turn derives from an Arabic phrase meaning “to become washed”. Although The Scarlet suggests the treatment can be enjoyed by partners or friends, we thought it a little intimate to share with any but the closest of mates!

In a specially designed room, you first scrub your partner with a skin-tingling exfoliant before sluicing it off with showers at both sides of the room. Next comes the mud, which you slather liberally over each other before sitting and enjoying hot steam, which is turned on automatically after a pre-programmed time interval. After another interval has passed, a huge central monsoon shower activates and you wash off the mud as best you can. The space includes a small dressing area where you can store robes and towels and dry and dress after the treatment.

On paper this would not have been a treatment I would naturally have gravitated towards but it was fantastic and we both really enjoyed it. How energising and fun to engage actively with each other to apply and wash off the two goos, rather than be quietly attended by a stranger. The exfoliant and mud products were very lovely, so much so that we bought ourselves a large pot of each to bring home. (If only we had the space for our own rasul room at home too!)

My only criticism of the spa facilities would be how cold it was in the huge relaxation room. Whilst 2 or 3 tiny felt blankets were left for guest use, the room was really rather cold – far too cold for any proper relaxation.

Activities at The Scarlet

Our weekend visit didn’t coincide with any of the special activities on offer (though daily yoga sessions were available), but if you time your visit better, you can book surf lessons, kayaking, deep sea fishing, horse riding, tree climbing or attend an sustainability and eco course, a jewellery workshop or an arts and natural crafts workshop. I believe cookery courses are also available on occasion.

Out and About in the Area

In the immediate vicinity is the beach and some beautiful cliff top walks. The hotel even has a friendly dog, Jasper, that guests can take for a walk!

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Further afield you might like to visit sites of natural beauty such as Carnewas & Bedruthan Steps and Watergate Bay, popular towns such as Paidstow and gardeners’ delights, The Lost Gardens of Heligan and The Eden Project, both near St Austell.

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Extra Touches

I’ve already mentioned how much I appreciate the inclusion of internet fees in the room rate.We didn’t use it much at all, but it was nice being able to dive onto the net to check out a couple of tourist sites without having to pay an extra £10 or more for the priviledge.

Another of the (many) touches I like is The Scarlet’s policy on coffee and tea facilities. Instead of providing them in each room (with a fridge for milk and the excessive packaging used for individual tea bags, coffee and sugar), they invite guests to simply ask for tea and coffee on the house, twice a day. Some guests choose to have their freshly made filter coffee and tea delivered to their rooms. We preferred to take ours in the bar, where friendly bar manager, Pete, quickly learned our order and preferences by heart.

Oh, and if it isn’t perhaps obvious yet, The Scarlet is an adults only hotel. I like kids, I genuinely do. But just a handful of parents who don’t understand that not everyone wants their peace and quiet shattered by their unruly offspring can really take the romance and relaxation out of a break like this.

Last, but certainly not least, I want to mention again the staff. Not only were they well-trained and good at their jobs, they were also, every single one that we met, friendly, helpful, warm and genuinely committed to ensuring all guests were having the best possible experience.

The Bottom Line

Just Right rooms are available from £190 per night (including breakfast) in low season up to £245 in mid season and £285 during peak times. Indulgent rooms range from £320 to £415 per night.

Getting There

We drove from London (stopping a night in Cheltenham to visit family on the way down and Bristol to visit friends on the way back). It’s a long drive!

If you’re short of time, you can fly direct in an hour from London Gatwick to Newquay airport which is just a 5 minute drive from The Scarlet.

Alternatively, Newquay is readily accessible by train, coach and bus and travelling by foot, bike, rail or coach will earn you a discount on your stay as a reward for reducing CO2 emissions.

The hotel have also installed an electric car charging facility on site, which is free to residents.

When Can I Go Back?

As you can tell, we absolutely loved our stay at The Scarlet. I genuinely felt uplifted, energised and relaxed by our visit and cannot wait to return again. And again. And again!

I mentioned above how much I love to travel and have done since I was a child. Of the many thousands of hotels I’ve stayed in, The Scarlet really does stand out. The three sisters have not only succeeded but surpassed themselves in achieving all their aims for this very special place.

*We did realise on getting home that the Love Shack lyrics mention the Atlanta Highway rather than the Atlantic, but the song is now indelibly linked, in our hearts, with the Scarlet, so I decided to stick with it!

Kavey & Pete stayed as guests of The Scarlet.

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