You could be forgiven for thinking that Padstow is the foodie capital of Cornwall but you would be 1) narrow-minded and 2) missing out. Head just a few miles south and you reach the village of St Merryn where food presents itself three ways: Stein’s Cornish Arms (good quality simple pub food), the Farmers Arms (local pub) and Rafferty’s, which replaced the very popular Rosel & Co. and opened on 5 November for food.
In a very shallow non-foodie way, my first thought as we walked in was: ‘I want one of those wonky wooden tables.’ Ed, owner with wife Nicola and previous restaurant manager at the Seafood Restaurant as well as Hugh’s River Cottage Canteen & Deli in Plymouth, explained that they were old scaffold boards, lovingly sanded and oiled to give a convincing oak effect.
Tables aside, it was food we were interested in. Although D, as always, was distracted by the wine. His first comment was: “The wines are all foodie wines.” From him, a big compliment. We both hungrily (literally and metaphorically) lunged for the menu, sensing that we were about to eat some very special food. Head chef, Jamie Porter, brings some very fine local food credentials with him, most notably as Rick Stein’s sous chef.
Menu choices were limited. Perfect. Ramsay may have harped on a little too much about the menu that doubles up as an encyclopedia in Kitchen Nightmares but he is absolutely right. Not only does it show confidence from the chef about the quality of his food but just four choices each for starter, main and dessert meant that food envy and/or panic was massively reduced.
As always, I went meat heavy (a reviewing weakness) and had chicken liver parfait followed by the pork belly and cheek and D went for the wood pigeon and roasted Cornish hake. A far more balanced choice. The parfait was served with toasted brioche and a spiced apple chutney (of which there was no need) and proved sublime, a word I use with the utmost reserve when reviewing. It had all the gamey kick of offal with the lightness of a fine mousse; I could have eaten two and left a very happy woman.
D’s wood pigeon had been coated in leek ash and came with mushroom ketchup, pickled pumpkin and pine nuts. It was equally distressingly lovely and he was very reluctant to share. The leek ash may sound like a superfluous addition, like the trend for ‘crumbing’ around desserts, but was an integral part of the dish, grounding an already earthy dish still deeper. Stunning.
My pork belly and cheek were fine examples of pig: the cheek more so than the belly – it melted into a dark meaty cider sauce and while the belly was tasty, the rather delicate crackling lacked the normal homemade oomph of a potentially tooth-breaking layer of crisp skin fat. D’s hake was meltingly good (he thought a little too melting) and the combination of artichoke puree, broccoli and brown shrimps was trying its damnedest to bring it into the realms of ‘meaty.’
For dessert, we were particularly affected (both emotionally and physically) by a blackberry sorbet with basil and the affogato (translation: ‘drowned’) which not only had the usual vanilla ice cream and espresso but the added indulgence of a layer of chocolate mousse. Italians would have been weeping into their spaghetti with equal amounts of bliss and outrage. We were less impressed with the lemon tart (bit of a Mary Berry soggy bottom) but all was redeemed with the sheer quality and ripeness of the cheese board. We forked back mouthfuls of beautifully ripened Tunworth brie, Cashel Blue, Montgomery Cheddar and a Cornish brie, all at a perfect room temperature.
We left with our senses sated and our initial first impressions confirmed: this was very special food at very decent prices. Rafferty’s Cafe Wine Bar is open Monday to Sunday 11am – 11pm and for lunch Wednesday to Sunday, dinner Wednesday to Saturday. For more information and bookings go to raffertyscafewinebar.co.uk or phone 01841 521561.