Monday, 26 July 2010


Polgoon is a newly established vineyard and orchard based just outside Penzance in south Cornwall. The owners, John and Kim Coulson, have developed a derelict farm into a flourishing business, producing award winning products.

Their wines are already highly regarded, but for me the stand out product is the Polgoon Aval - a sparkling champagne style cider made using the traditional French champagne method of a second fermentation in the bottle. The result this a crisp, elegant and very refined grown up tipple. Ironically it is everything that I am not, but I just love it! It is deliciously appley, yet dry and very refreshing. It makes a great English alternative to the more obvious Champagne and certainly stands up to its French counterpart in terms of taste and quality.

Only a couple of years in to the new venture when their grape crops failed due to the terrible weather, the Coulson's, not to be deterred, focused their efforts on producing other products. They created and perfected the Polgoon Aval using apples from the orchard and it soon became a big hit. Even better then that this great British drink arose from such adversity.

Aval is the Cornish word for Apple, so what more appropriate name for a Cornish drink made from Apples. They also make Aval Rosé with the addition of raspberries, very much like pink champagne, and a pear cider called Polgoon Peren (that's Cornish for pear).

We dropped by Plogoon for some cellar door sales but as it happened we managed to gate crash a tour of the vineyard. The Three Hungry Boys from the Channel 4 TV show were being shown around and we were lucky enough to be invited to join in. Clearly very passionate about what they are doing at Polgoon, the friendly and enthusiastic owners deserve to suceed.

It's difficult to find Polgoon Aval outside of the South West but most definitely worth tracking down. It is is being stocked by River Cottage and Rick Stein, amongst others, and a full list if stockists can be found on their website.

Polgoon Vineyard
Rosehill, Penzance, Cornwall, TR20 8TE

This post forms part of a series about our 2010 gastro camping trip in Cornwall.

Thursday, 22 July 2010

A Pasty Pilgrimage

Being in Cornwall you may wonder why we haven’t already indulged in a pasty or four by now. The reason is that we have been holding out for pasty perfection down on The Lizard, because once you have tasted one of Ann Muller’s famous pasties nothing else will do.

Ann’s Pasty Shop has been the place of our pasty pilgrimage for a number of years now and this year we had purposefully decided to choose a campsite within spitting distance so we could maximize our intake.

Ann is a passionate and loyal advocate of the humble pasty - you never talk of a "Cornish" pasty in Cornwall - and when William Grimes, New York Times food critic, cursed and likened them to a doorstop she burnt the American flag!

Once again we found Ann's little pasty shop, glowing like a bright yellow beacon in the quiet residential street. Rumour has it that at peak times up to 500 pasties a day are made and find their way out of the converted garage at the back of the house.

The traditional pasty contains just four ingredients: chopped beef (usually a cheap cut such as chuck or skirt), potatoes, onions, and swede (known in Cornwall as turnip). The vegetables are thinly sliced and the filling is always added to the pasty raw, never pre-cooked. The meat and vegetables are layered and seasoned with nothing more than salt and black pepper. The edges of the pastry are then taken up and sealed together with a series of twisting movements - the 'crimp'.

We ordered two medium pasties and hurried accross the road to the benches in the playing field to hungrily devour them. The pasties are so delicious I could cry. The pastry is golden and crispy on the outside, meltingly soft on the inside where the juices from the perfectly steamed meat and vegetables have soaked in. The chunks of beef are tender and the swede - sorry, turnip – adds a delicious sweetness. You can taste each element individually but what makes these pasties so good is the generous seasoning of freshly ground black pepper.

Ann’s pasties are without doubt the best in Cornwall and therefore, by definition, in the whole world.

Ann's Pasties
Sunny Corner, Beacon Terrace, The Lizard, TR12 7PB

This post forms part of a series about our 2010 gastro camping trip in Cornwall.

Sunday, 18 July 2010

Henry's Campsite and The Lizard

Full of good food and good times it was time to leave Padstow for The Lizard Peninsular. Next stop was Henry's Campsite and again it wasn't entirely a coincidence that our destination was the location of what we hoped would be some more great food experiences.

This is not strictly a food post, but I make no apologies for that. It is more a dedication to a very special part of the world and what is now my favourite campsite ever.

The Lizard Peninsular juts out at the very bottom of the South West of England. It is definitely not a place you drive through; it is rather a journey’s end, a destination. Designated as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, much of The Lizard is owned and managed by the National Trust. It is unique, unspoiled and stunningly beautiful; home to many of Britain’s rarest plants and wildlife, quaint harbours, fishing villages, rugged cliffs and beautiful coves.
Kynance Cove is one of the most picturesque with its brilliant turqouise water, white sand, headlands, caves and unexpected views.

Cadgwith Cove is an impossibly quaint village where you can buy fresh fish straight from the local fleet of fishing boats.

We stayed at Henry's Campsite for 4 blissful nights. It is idylic and magical - although I suspect it may be the case that you either "get" Henry's, or you don't. The fabulous weather probably helped, but we just got a feeling as soon as we arrived here that this is a very special place indeed.

The site is conveniently nestled right at the bottom of the peninsular in the Lizard Village (the southern most village in mainland Britain). It is literally within a minutes walk of the village green, shops and pubs, yet it is very tranquil and feels like a remote, secret hideaway. It is so quiet you can hear the waves crashing on the shore way below the cliffs and there is no light pollution so the night sky is bright with stars.

The main camping field is a quirky labyrinth of secluded pitches, laid out in separate bays and surrounded by amazing traditional Cornish stone walls and standing stones, most with panoramic sea views.

Henry's is more like a wild garden than a campsite. There is a profusion of colour: pretty native plants (grasses, flowers such as Campion & Foxgloves, trees and shrubs) grow amongst the stone walls and more unusual sub-tropical species give added interest. Flags, art and sculpture are everywhere and you can tell that a lot of hard work has gone into making this site what it is.

Although it is not a working farm, chickens have the run of the site and there are also pens of ducks and pigs.

Jo makes fresh scones every day and you can buy lovely hot coffee and even big jugs of cider.

The slightly ramshackle old farm buildings and higgledy-piggeldy unisex toilet facilities may not be to everyone's liking, but for me it all adds to the charm. If you like immaculate, shiny facilities you will be disappointed but they are generally kept clean and are more than adequate.

More to the point, the amenities are rendered largely irrelevant when faced with somewhere as amazing as this. More than anything Henry's is rich with a sense of place and somehow a certain integrity. Everything just feels right.

There are places you stumble upon every so often that stick in your memory and your consciousness. They are all too rare, but Henry's is definitely one of them. Places like this restore your faith in human nature, in life.

I left a piece of my heart at Henry's, but I know I'll be back for it soon.

You can keep the Maldives or the Caribbean, this is my slice of paradise. Just don't all rush down there because I want it to remain just the way it is.

Henry's Campsite
The Lizard, Helston, Cornwall, TR12 7NX

This post forms part of a series about our 2010 gastro camping trip in Cornwall.

Thursday, 15 July 2010

The Outlaw

Thursday morning dawned wet and windy but we were determined to venture out. We eventually decided to take a trip aboard the passenger ferry over the Camel estuary to Rock, motivated by the prospect of lunch at Nathan Outlaw's Seafood and Grill.

Outlaw runs two restaurants, both located in the St Enodoc Hotel in Rock. The Seafood and Grill provides a more casual dining experience, compared to his main fine dining restaurant - Restaurant Nathan Outlaw.

Originally a graduate of Rick Stein’s Seafood Restaurant, Outlaw has become more of a household name after two appearances on Great British Menu. His previous establishments have held Michelin stars but a recent re-location from Fowey means he doesn't currently hold any. It can only be a matter of time.

Overlooking the Camel estuary, the Seafood and Grill is the perfect place for a relaxing lunch. However as the mist descended and the rain came down there was no chance of drinks on the terrace, or of us making the most of the magnificent views through the glass frontage. Still, inside the restaurant is very pleasant; modern, light and airy. We were slightly bedraggled after a short walk from the ferry landing and maybe lowered the tone somewhat, but received a friendly welcome and were soon seated by the huge windows.

Outlaw’s menus are driven by locally caught fresh seafood and the best seasonal produce that is available. The menu at the Seafood and Grill is short but perfectly showcases his amazing ingredients.

My starter was hand dived scallops with broad beans and ham hock dressing. Perfectly cooked, the soft scallop contrasted beautifully with the crispy, salty flakes of ham hock and fresh young beans. It was a delightful combination and easily the best scallops I have eaten in a long time.

Dave chose the Cornish duck leg salad with hazelnuts and boiled duck egg. There is something delightful about a soft oozy duck egg; it looked and tasted amazing.

For main I had the whole grilled lemon sole with brown shrimps, sea purslane and new potatoes. The delicately flavoured fish was cooked to translucent perfection and the purslane gave a beautiful, natural salty back note. I guess its use wholly encapsulates what Nathan Outlaw is about.

From the specials board Dave opted for the Monkfish tail with peas, clams and samphire. He also had a side of very buttery new potatoes, commenting that The Outlaw isn't shy of the butter.

We were fairly full and so shared an Elderflower cream with English raspberries for desert. It was light and delicate with the elderflower providing an enchanting floral note.

Dave followed all of this with a coffee and petit fours.

Service was friendly & proficient without being at all overbearing.

At £83.88 it wasn’t one of the cheapest lunches we’ve ever had, but we felt that the food itself was more than reasonably priced. It was all the little “extras” that added up; a couple of drinks, the fact that a bottle of still water was charged at £3.50 and the 10% service charge which was automatically added to the bill. However I’d more than happily pay for it again. The straightforward style and perfectly executed dishes certainly impressed. The food was top class throughout; it was hard to find any fault at all with the dishes and his flavour combinations were exceptional without being over complicated.

I guess you get what you pay for and, unlike the sun, Outlaw’s class shone out.

Nathan Outlaw Seafood and Grill
St. Enodoc Hotel, Rock, Cornwall, PL27 6LA, UK

This post forms part of a series about our 2010 gastro camping trip in Cornwall.

Wednesday, 14 July 2010

The Cornish Arms, St. Merryn

Possibly the newest destination on the north Cornwall foodie map is Rick Stein's latest enterprise, this time a partnership with St. Austell Brewery with whom he has taken out a 15-year tenancy on The Cornish Arms in St. Merryn. Located just a couple of miles outside Padstow on a beautiful stretch of the north Cornwall coast, The Cornish Arms is a very quaint, picturesque pub and looks the perfect place to stop for a pub lunch, dinner or just an ale or two.

Apparently concern was expressed by the locals when Stein took over the pub last year, but rather than transform their village local into a modern and expensive gastro pub he seems to have succeeded in his aim of maintaining a community atmosphere and the feel of a traditional pub, which at the same time serves excellent pub food.

The inside it is spacious and welcoming. Bare chunky wooden tables dominate the main dining space and big glass doors at the bottom open onto a huge terrace with picnic tables. There are also a couple of smaller rooms and alcoves, one with a TV, and further tables and seating. There is also a lovely area to sit out at the front, overlooking the village church. At the time of our visit a massive marquee had been erected in the garden housing a big screen, bar and table football for the world cup.

As you would expect the bar offers the full range of 4 St. Austell Ales: Tribute, Tinners, HSD and Proper Job. We ordered a pint of Proper Job and managed to grab a seat at one of the few free tables. The ale was well kept and served with a slight head, a feature appreciated by us northerners.

The menu is relatively short and comprises of classic British pub grub, this is complimented by a blackboard menu with a handful of specials. Once you've found a seat and made your selection you order your food at the bar.

For starters I went with the mussels and was soon brought a big bowl for the empty shells, a spoon for the sauce and a bowl of hot water with lemon; a good start. When the mussels arrived each shell contained a sweet, meaty morsel and none remained closed. If I am honest there was a little too much diced onion but it was otherwise tasty and the mussels clearly very fresh and well cooked. The bread was delicious too, spread with soft Cornish butter it made a delicious vehicle for mopping up the remnants of the creamy sauce .

The crab Salad that Dave ordered arrived with a generous portion of picked white crab meat, a splodge of deep yellow, wobbly home made mayo and rustic foccacia bread; it certainly looked the part. The simplicity of the dish made the most of the fresh crab and it was delicious.

For my main course I chose ham, eggs and chips; a slice of ham covered the plate and the hot crispy chips were divine dipped into the perfect egg yolks. I felt obliged to have at least one of my five a day and also ordered a side dish of green salad, it would have benefited from a slick of dressing but the leaves were fresh.

Dave had the curry - Mumrez Khan’s lamb & spinach Kharahi curry. Described as "hot and spicy" on the menu it really had to live up to this assertion, and it did. It had a great depth of flavour and definitely packed a bit of a punch. The curry was served with fluffy rice and a couple of nice crisp poppadoms.

This is just the sort of food I want to eat over a couple of pints after a days walking; no nonsense, simple but excellent quality pub grub. It beats most other pubs I've eaten at hands down.

It seems that these days good food is an ever more important part of many a pub's success and here it works well. I really hope the locals appreciate this place as much as we did; if this was my local I wouldn't be able to keep away. We hear about pubs closing all the time, maybe if they took a steer from places like this more pubs would thrive as a viable and vital part of community life.

The Cornish Arms
Churchtown, St Merryn, Padstow, PL28 8ND

This post forms part of a series about our 2010 gastro camping trip in Cornwall.

Monday, 12 July 2010

A cream tea at Prideaux Place

Any self respecting visitor to Cornwall needs to sample at least one traditional cream tea. To this end, after pottering around and an admittedly less than strenuous walk along Padstow beach, we strolled to the top of town to Prideaux Place - a beautiful Elizabethan manor house which has been the home of the Prideaux-Brune family since the 16th century. Prideaux Place offers a peaceful haven just minutes from the bustle of Padstow, but more importantly serves cream teas out on the terrace.

We ordered one apiece and were warned that each cream tea was served with two large scones. That was lucky as we hadn't had any lunch and it was after 3pm.

Expectations duly heightened, we were not disappointed. Our cream teas arrived, complete with 2 large soft fresh scones - slightly warm - a pot of deliciously fruity local strawberry jam and a very generous portion of Rodda’s clotted cream. There was also a huge pot of tea per person.

Of course the question is, should the scone first be spread with strawberry jam and then topped with a spoonful of the clotted cream, or vice versa? I believe the difference may lie in whether it is a Devonian or Cornish cream tea but ultimately the choice comes down to personal taste and I am not sure that either method is better or more acceptable than the other. Besides, we all opted for the jam followed by cream method.

The challenge then is to perfectly judge the application of jam and cream, ensuring that equal amounts can be dolloped on to each scone. It wouldn't do to be left with scone and no adornments. The size of the scone, jam and cream made it tricky to eat but we persisted and piled on as much as was possible.

It was the perfect combination of quality and quantity and we declared it one of the best cream teas we've ever had!

Prideaux Place
Padstow, Cornwall, PL28 8RP

This post forms part of a series about our 2010 gastro camping trip in Cornwall.

Friday, 9 July 2010

Stein's Fish & chips

A holiday in Cornwall would not be complete without at least a couple of fish 'n' chip suppers. There is nothing better after a day out in the fresh sea air and few can rival those served up at Rick Stein's fish & chip shop in Padstow. Besides which, a holiday in "Padstein" would not be complete without a visit to at least one of Stein's many ventures! So upon arrival it was up with the tent and straight down to the harbour for tea.

Firstly let's get the issue of the queues out of the way. Padstow is busy and it is probable that at peak times you will have to queue at Stein's; accept this as a fact and tell yourself it will be worth it (I assure you it is).

You can choose to eat in the white-tiled restaurant, sat at the long wooden communal benches, or you can grab a takeaway to eat on the quay side. Watch out for the seagulls though; they’re bullies and will take off with the whole box given half a chance.

There is an amazing selection of spankingly fresh fish on offer - from the usual suspects such as cod, haddock and plaice to species more unfamiliar to the fish fryer such as mackerel, squid, skate, sea bream, monkfish and lemon sole. You can choose to have it grilled, fried or more traditionally battered and deep fried in beef dripping.

This time we went for battered Hake, as a more sustainable alternative to cod or haddock. Hake is a deep-sea fish from the cod family but with a more subtle flavour than that of its relative. It is quite a mild fish, with a white flaky texture. The batter was amazingly crunchy and the fish was good, although for some reason I found the texture a little "woolly".

On a second visit later in the week I went for the scampi and Dave had battered monkfish. Maybe my expectations were too high and I was slightly disappointed with what seemed to be standard, bought in breaded scampi. I wanted proper homemade battered scampi, made with big chunky langoustine tails but it wasn't to be. Don't get me wrong the scampi was okay, but nothing exceptional. The monkfish on the other hand was a revelation; the big meaty chunks of fish worked exceptionally well encased in crisp batter.

The fish is always served with some of the most gloriously hot and crispy chips I have ever eaten and they are presented together in a neat box with a wedge of lemon and spring of parsley. They are never soggy or overly greasy and taste divine, the flavour only dripping can bring. All the usual trimmings are available too - mushy peas, homemade tartar sauce, and even aioli and curry sauce. We opted for some pleasingly green mush peas and a portion of tartare sauce. The tartar sauce is rich and creamy. It is good - definitely beating anything that comes in a sachet - but could do with a little more piquancy to contrast with the fried food. It doesn't have that essential sharpness to cut through the richness and therefore I feel the point is somewhat lost.

We washed our meals down with a pint of Chalky's Bark, a beer created by the Sharp's brewery over the estuary in Rock in honour of Rick's late dog. At 4.5% and lightly flavoured with fresh ginger, it's very refreshing and makes a perfect accompaniment to fish and chips.

Stein’s fish and chip shop is definitely worth more than just a look-in, especially if you can't get in at his restaurant which is always booked up months in advance. As a northern lass I take my fish and chips seriously and in my opinion, despite the occasional minor gripe, they dish up an outstanding portion at Stein's.

Stein's Fish & chips
South Quay, Padstow, Cornwall

This post forms part of a series about our 2010 gastro camping trip in Cornwall.

Gastro Camp-a-rama; Cornwall, 2010

For me sampling the local cuisine is the highlight of any trip away, but the South West of England, in particular, presents exceptional opportunities for a gastronomic holiday experience. Tuck into fish ‘n’ chips, a proper pasty, enjoy a traditional clotted cream tea or local ice cream and sample the many ales, ciders and wines on offer. From the freshest seafood straight off the local day boats to the very best meat, cheese, fruit and veg - the South West has it all. It's also a celebrity chef heaven, if that's your bag (most famously Rick Stein, Jamie Oliver & Hugh Fearnly-Whittingstall have establishments here).
All this keeps us going back for more and this year was no exception; we have just returned from an amazing trip to Cornwall.

And what better way to sample the delights of a region than camping? Of course choice of campsite is key; as the saying goes, location is everything and you really can't get much better than Dennis Cove in Padstow.

Located right on the edge of town, just off the Camel Trial, it is within easy walking distance of the foodie wonders of Padstow (crucially thereby avoiding the parking pandemonium in Padstow itself). This site is an old favourite of ours - picturesque, well maintained & quiet. On this stretch of north Cornwall coast there are more great restaurants and gourmet destinations than you can hope to eat at in one visit, so once again we based ourselves here for 4 nights to make the most of the areas gastronomic delights.

This post is the first in a series about our 2010 gastro camping trip in Cornwall.

First stop Stein's fish & chips…