It’s not often that I sit down to a menu and want to try everything. Literally. The January menu at Oliver’s, Falmouth is one such example. Call it greed but I’d much rather lay the blame firmly with the owner and chef Ken Symons.
Straight out of Falmouth’s newest drinking concept: Beerwolf Books and a pre-dinner beer, it seemed appropriate for D to remark that, “It’s a very wordy menu that shows a lot of work.” With starter choices such as pheasant and black pudding scotch egg, hay-smoked mackerel with focaccia pudding and mains such as Primrose Herd pork belly with a cider reduction or a wild Cornish bass fillet, we were stuck, even more so as my usual default choice of anything offal-based was limited.
Wendy coaxed me into the mackerel and trio of fish and I allowed myself to be swayed by her obvious passion for the food her husband creates. D chose the scotch egg and venison, carnivore that he is. While waiting, we both considered an orange portion of wall, the only anomaly in an otherwise clean, coastal-inspired interior of white-washed walls, silver sea-related sculptures and cloth-free tables, creating an unfussy ambience and a French bistro appeal.
The hay-smoked mackerel came out stinking deliciously: Ken had used two types of hay with which to ‘smoke’ it in the oven – a green oat hay and a meadow hay – the result was bonfires and winter, log fires and summer barbecue. Clever. The focaccia pudding was sweet and D enjoyed it although I was a little more indifferent to its sweetness alongside the fish. His duck egg with pheasant and black pudding with pickled onion salad was a hearty winter take on a retro popular classic and we absolutely loved it.
It was a Wednesday evening in a wintry Cornish coastal town and the place was full with a real mix of clientele. A very very good sign that Ken and Wendy are doing something very very right. “We work together to help each other in the restaurant business in Falmouth,” Wendy explains, “we all offer something different – the Chinese, the Thai opposite, the pub at the top of the road, it’s busy pretty much all the time.”
My trio of fish included: a sizeable crab tortellino, a ‘fish sausage’, gurnard, wild herb mash, flower fritters and ribbons of courgette. It was a busy plate, more art gallery than bistro but the mash was incredible, the ‘sausage’ unusual but tasty, the tortellino good and the gurnard sweet, if a little over-cooked.
D bit into his vension and there was silence, followed by: “It’s beautiful, absolutely beautiful.” The loin fillet came with a roast vegetable crumble (a little 1970s although Ken freely admits that the restaurant started out with a “full-on 70s retro theme!”), a nugget of pear with blue cheese wrapped in Serrano ham and a rosemary and redcurrant reduction. Again, there was a lot going on and the veg felt a little too fussy but the dish packed a real punch of flavours that had us both emitting hmm-like groans until I reminded him we were in public.
Dessert time and we were transported to a happy sweet place where Mary Berry would be smiling in approval at the distinct lack of soggy bottoms. Wendy explained that Ken reworks and reworks a dish until he is absolutely happy with it and our respective choices of an Origin espresso tart with bitter satsuma sorbet and a silken caramel mousse demonstrated a definite commitment to a course often deemed an afterthought to the main event. There was very little sharing. Cheese and a “very good espresso” (D the coffee maker’s words, not mine) followed.
Ken describes his style of cooking as ‘eclectic’: “I could wake up tomorrow and go Asian, it’s whatever I feel like and what’s around.” He has a very loyal following of regulars, and explains the separate steak menu (sourced from Etherington’s): “A lot of my friends are builders and they just want to come in and eat a good steak with chips at one price. I started out doing that and I still do it, it’s all about giving people what they want.” Oliver’s has quite clearly been giving people exactly what they want since 2010.
For more information and reservations contact the team on 01326 218138 or at oliversfalmouth.com.