Review Saturday 24th May 2008
This week: Jasper Gerard visits Porthminster Cafe, St Ives in Cornwall
Beach blonder than Sienna Miller, sea greener than Zac Goldsmith, weather sunnier than a dolphin's smile. All the scene lacks is Michael Winner to blubber out of the surf, chased by a paparazzo distraught not to have found Gwyneth Paltrow. Then, surely, we would believe we were in some swiish resort in the Caribbean. But this is not St Kitts, it's St Ives.
Artists have colonised the Cornish town so successfully that they apparently merit the collective description "school". I've long loved the misty grey of England, with its swirling ambiguities, but if you seek crisp clarity, this is your place. What an aspect: sky so light, so big, can it really be British? You don't so much look out to sea, as to infinity.
And the Porthminster Café is not near the beach, it is smack on it, like a rather grand sandcastle fresh out of the bucket. It is housed under the cliff at Porthminster Point in an elegant white building - faintly Art Deco, probably Thirties - with high ceilings and jaunty decor. You half-expect Hercule Poirot to mince past in spats.
Instead you might have to content yourself with Marco Pierre White playing with his kids as you laze on the terrace, helping yourself to another splash of chablis kept cool in children's buckets. I arrive depressed; I leave buoyed. Which is a rambling way of saying that as restaurants go, this is perfect.
Oh, and did I mention the food? That's not bad either. It's "Mediterranean and Asian seafood", but with an Australian chef and a wide-angled view of the world. This is a restaurant hemmed in by no geographical boundaries.
We bundle in with our boisterous - read badly behaved - children, who are greeted warmly and shown to a big old pine table. Having played with toy boats, the kids, who are growing way too blasé about eating out, power-order pasta.
We adults are soon tucking into Moroccan flat bread with a vibrant rainbow of dips: red onion, sweet potato and olive tapenade. Then a beautifully arranged chef's starter plate purrs into port, augmented by oysters with chorizo, onion and tomato sauce. It's a wonderful selection.
The pinkish pork balls covered in breadcrumbs are keenly fought over, as are the Cornish cured meats. Succulent duck dumplings with chilli sauce ooze coriander, while some aubergine mulch makes a decent support act. But the undeniable star is the awesome scallops with wasabi mayonnaise and a slither of smoked bacon. Juicier, this, than Angelina Jolie.
But the reason you have to visit - and no, I don't care if you live in John O'Groats - is to try one of the main courses: red mullet with coconut and toasted peanut with tiger prawns. Where to start? The plate is still emerging from the kitchen as the scent of coconut transports you to a deserted Caribbean cove. As for the peanut, rarely can an accompaniment have added such flavour. The pink flesh of the mullet is so softly delicious, I can't get started on the tiger prawns. But when I do, I'm in further raptures. They're as fleshy as sharks and fresh as mermaids. Just thinking about this dish makes me smile, ravenously.
Diana enjoys her mussels, but agrees that the red mullet must take all the curtain calls. Hey, this would top the bill at the London Palladium. I am dispatched under the table to put an end to some childly mischief. When I come up for air, I find the plate finished. It is sorely missed; I struggle to think of a dish I've enjoyed more all year.
Bored with their father whimpering in gastronomic ecstasy, Emilia and Freddie head for the beach. Sighs of relief from diners. We can keep an eye on the nippers through giant picture windows that are just long enough to see them charge into the sea, fully clothed.
We throw down the anchor as the afternoon floats merrily by, the tide going out on another bottle of dry white. A new bottle opens with a satisfying pop as Godrevy lighthouse winks in the distance, while we ponder nothing more vexing than pudding.
And so the culinary delights continue to bob by. Remember the name: raspberry poached tamarillo. Tamarillo is a South American fruit that can be acidic, but when it is poached, your mouth welcomes it with open jaws. It is ably assisted by clotted cream, pomegranate and crème brûlée. Diana is still scraping the bowl like some ravenous street urchin when the waitress collects the empty plates.
The job of food critic dictates that I throw in a couple of judicious criticisms. And there is an unspoken understanding that you should not award a restaurant 10/10. To do so would somehow suggest you were insufficiently worldly, as if really enthusing about anything is naive.
I don't care. The Porthminster Café is perfect at what it sets out to serve: lovely food on a lovely summer day by a truly lovely seaside.
I invite you to visit and tell me how it could be improved. You will find it quite the most satisfying day's work of your life.
Meanwhile, after gathering up our bedraggled children, we toddle home feeling desperately sorry for the poor folk forced to holiday on St Kitts.
· Porthminster Café, Portminster Beach, St Ives, Cornwall, 01736 795352; www.porthminstercafe.co.uk. Three-course lunch for two adults and two children, including wine, £126.90.
Jasper's verdict: 10/10
Thanks yet again to Jasper Gerard for another well written and readable back page special (Usually served hot on Saturday)
I drooled over his description and appreciation of the food on offer at this wonderful cafe and, as usual, realised that I will probably never visit it. He once again introduced the discerning reader's (not that I'm one of them — discerning that is) eyes to another must visit place. I am sure that most readers who follow his footsteps through the sand to the door of this eaterie will applaud his taste and thank him for the introduction.
One thing that faintly rattled me was his innocent dismissal of the antics of his brats. Playful - read destructive — antics of unbridled mini terrorists can destroy the peaceful ambience in any establishment, especially if they are indulged by the staff who, smiling through clenched teeth watch them wreaking havoc. He even admits that they inconvenienced other guests who — not being food critics — were obliged to pay, not only for the delightful food but the antics of his children.
I've almost given up eating out in England, not only for the extravagant prices, often for mediocre cooking but in the realisation that for a fraction of the prices here a good, often excellent meal can be found in almost any village in France. In France the culture seems to be different, people dine out with their children who seem to be relatively well behaved. On one occasion I saw a mother remove her troublesome offspring from the restaurant rather than let him/her destroy the atmosphere.
This may seem to be judgmental but isn't meant to be. Children should be cherished and I am certain his are. But the next time he is inconvenienced by a drunken, unbridled bore at one of these establishments, ask him to remember that he or she probably began the long walk to complete self indulgence on a pleasant afternoon at a peaceful cafe!
Cheers anyway for a wonderful column, it's my second read on a Saturday morning (after c'est la folie) and my wife's first. She deplores this mail.
Posted by Brian Bartels on May 25, 20089:37 AM
Dear Jasper, did your "slither" of bacon come from a snake? You are at least the 4th Telegraph food writer who doesn't know the difference between SLIVER & SLITHER which is what a snake does.
Posted by Thelma Huggett on May 24, 20086:01 PM
Loved your vibrant article. Just Mouthwatering..Can still taste the scallops !!! Could not agree more..10/10
Four of us young 60 yr old world Foodies were stunned yesterday when we experienced the same perfect Summer Day as you.Only one thing you didn't mention How to get there !!!!
The little Park and Ride Train is a gem. 10 min ride virtually drops you at the Front desk... Wow
Posted by Peter Hosken on May 24, 20085:05 PM
We have been holidaying in St Ives for many years. The Porthminster Cafe has always had an excellent reputation and the whole ambience is just perfect. The politeness and competence of the staff make for a truly successful visit. We'll be back in September and hope there are still vacancies after that wonderful review.
Posted by Mrs Moya Redfearn on May 24, 20082:37 PM
Let me say that your review was perfect for one of the best restaurants that I have eaten in . Your review summed up the perfection of a most wonderful place with great food - most courteous, efficient and kind staff - it is perfect 10/10 Tim Clarke
Posted by Tim Clarke on May 24, 20089:54 AM
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