Summer in the UK is an oxymoron. I’m sorry Caroline Quentin but while the sun always shines on TV it doesn’t always shine in England’s poorest county. A premature burst of rays in May might delude us into flipfloppèd white-legged beach fantasies but the week of solid rain that follows is a sober reminder that we are subject to the whims of the weather and they can be as fickle as fortune herself.
So how do we best explain that dogged British insistence on eating outside whenever the sun flutters her lashes at us? Or our penchant for shivering under blankets in the open air, supping coffee on terraces at sub-zero temperatures or sucking on ice cream while the wind whips at our slapped red chops? Because Eating Outside is one of the greatest British expressions of optimism I know; it’s Manet’s Déjeuner Sur L’herbe with the added frisson of rain, wind, or if you’re lucky: both (well almost, give or take a few plastic cups, some clothes and less of those intense French stares).
That stiff upper lip grows even stiffer in summer in defiance of the Atlantic winds that bend trees and hide sand in cucumber sandwiches. And that is why the Hidden Hut’s feast tickets sell out pretty much within 24 hours, places at a Wildfire Banquet disappear into the ether and why a select few in the Twitter loop got themselves over to Chapel Porth last week for the very first Sam’s on the Road pop-up extravaganza.
Granted – it was in a barn owing to the, ah, forecast of inclement weather but the ironic end result was a sumptuous sunset which dressed the view in a blanket every bit as snug as the thermals under my raincoat. The food not only showcased the creativity and talent of the Sam’s crew who have restaurants in Fowey and Polkerris, but re-set the bar for pop-ups as secret venues that literally do ‘pop-up’ as jack-in-the-box originally intended.
The menu was, by aspiration and inspiration, optimistically summery; the atmosphere informal, fun and, with the addition of the Sam’s cocktail VW van manned by ‘Mojito Steve’, a little bit vintage and a little bit of surf. Jon Leighton Jones was the man behind the menu, working initially at Sam’s as a teenager, he has since dirtied his chef whites with the likes of Fergus Henderson and Gordon Ramsay before heading back for a season on the road in Cornwall.
Jon cites Fergus as his favourite chef to work for and who wouldn’t – the man who made stacks of marrow bones into gourmet food (essentially dog food, let’s face it) – deserves our utmost respect, although I was hoping for a bit more offal on the menu. That said, freshly barbecued and blowtorched mackerel with a thin slab of garlic, rosemary and coriander marinated lamb’s leg alongside the likes of chicory slaw, potato salad with bacon, grilled asparagus and spiced Moroccan couscous ticked many other boxes of pleasure. The only odd tasting ingredient was the local samphire which was a little twiggy.
Follow up? More of the same if you wanted which made tickets great value for money. Or some sunset gazing over the fields into the sea with a conciliatory nod to camping and cold weather: hot chocolate laced with rum.
Future venues include a National Trust property, a boat and somewhere secret on The Lizard. The next one takes place on Wednesday May 29 at The Fisherman’s Arms in Golant on the river Fowey. With spectacular views. Get there from 5pm. Check out the Sam’s website for more info or follow @samscornwall on Twitter and get a little piece of that optimistic summer bliss while you can.