Last week saw me sitting down to blinding sun and a ‘sunglassed’ lunching companion overlooking St Ives’ Porthminster beach. Memories of camping just outside the town with university friends, living on a shoestring but managing to indulge in spider crab, white wine and cream teas (not all together of course) came flooding back. Those days long gone and the friends having moved on, there was a sense of nostalgia in coming back to this artists’ retreat by the sea, awash with lucid sky light. It brought back my first visit to Barbara Hepworth’s house and garden, left as if she had just walked out moments earlier or my great faux pas of giving my bottom time out on a gold chair in the Tate and being shouted at to shift aforementioned bottom as the chair was actually part of an exhibit.
Bottoms firmly seated at a beachside table in the Porthminster Café on Monday, myself and my eating companion ‘J’ felt as if we could have been in the south of France as I reached for the sun cream. We were here to sample the Spring Feast menu, a great deal that has brought producers and chefs together in a collaboration to offer good-priced, good quality local food to consumers for a limited time only. £14 for two courses or £18 for three in selected venues across the county. This particular offer finishes on April 1, but the Porthminster Café has far too much to offer the discerning diner to be restricted to offers only.
There was a bit of a fish theme happening (must have been the weather) which meant gravadlax for me and salt and pepper squid for ‘J’, followed by hake with foraged green and bass with crab salad for our mains. The nuggets of golden squid were like savoury popcorn on a plate, springy, chewy, delicious and disappearing just as quickly (watch out for savoury/gourmet popcorn to become the ‘big new thing’ in the world of foodie fads). The bass and crab were an ambitious partnership between crustacean and fish merging to become one happy couple in the mouth, the freshness of the crab lifting the meatiness of the bass.
But the most exciting component for me were the foraged greens dotted around the hake: wild sorrel and pennywort. Just a few weeks earlier I had been out with Marcus from the Wild Food School in Lostwithiel and his encyclopedic knowledge had revealed the richness of the spring hedgerows to me and begged the question, why drive to the supermarket to buy chlorine-clad spinach when down the road or up the field are new nettles, the lemony tones of sorrel or the fleshy green buttons of pennywort? Having only recently converted to hedgerow fare, my eye has become attuned to spotting alexanders, wood sorrel or sea beet, even primroses are fair game but to be picked sparingly.
Alan at the Porthminster pointed out the gardener Davey, tending to the new season’s rhubarb over the road, as well as a selection of herbs and berry trees for the summer. With Fifteen Cornwall offering edible gardens as part of their fifth birthday celebrations, it seems that growing your own is even being adopted by restaurants, if only on a small scale. Raising consumer awareness of what is happening now in the countryside increases appreciation of the landscape, the seasons and the freshness of produce.
Dessert was a bling-fest of caramelised banana, banana sponge, cinnamon meringue, clotted cream and honeycomb with pistachio ice cream and a shortbread biscuit, looking like the contents of a jewellery box on a plate. First reaction: gasp at the beauty of it all, second reaction, no more gasping because my mouth was full and remained so until all of it had been consumed. I believe that the honeycomb and ice cream hadn’t been picked from the hedgerow but that didn’t stop me from having Enid Blyton hallucinations about the Faraway Tree, hoping that, as we wandered back to the car, we would find caramelised banana, honeycomb and pistachio ice cream growing from the hedges …
For more information on the restaurant, go to http://www.porthminstercafe.co.uk or phone 01736 795352 for table reservations