St Michael’s Mount sits squat and grey in the top half of our window, superimposed against the skyline, and I wait for dragons and knights, pilgrims and a giant to complete the picture, galloping across the causeway… but actually D and I are just waiting for our drinks. Cornish winery Knightor’s Madeleine Angevine 2011 to be precise and it was everything I had been promised and more: elderflower, summer, elegance, lunches on the lawn, hammock in the trees, please stop me.
With the wine came a cup of lobster bisque and curry oil, livery orange with chunks of succulent lobster waiting in the bottom. Not wanting either food or wine to end any time soon, I read the menu more carefully. Reading a menu puts you inside the head of your chef and Ben’s head was a very happy place to be; the menu was full of love for food and flavour combinations without fuss. Our next was just this: home cured beef fillet bresaola with wasabi ice cream, crispy bone marrow and micro salad.
I panicked slightly at the ice cream but was won over, D was blown away but thought the bresaola too salty, I have to say it was tender beyond any other I have eaten. Ben later explained that a whole fillet of beef had been wasted in the process to perfect the salting and curing, a small price for perfection. We went for a glass of Garnacha, or Grenache, contradictorily light deep and dry enough to complement the savoury sweet of the dish.
Rabbit tortellini with a smoked rabbit consommé followed the beef. Anything that uses up a fluffy animal of which we have far too many pleases me. The rabbit was tender, not big on taste which is to be expected (and puts many off making use of a free supply of healthy meat) and the consommé a little salty by way of compensation but the pasta spot on and the whole combination enjoyable.
Main course was a megrim sole fillet stuffed with crawfish mousse, with a fish finger, roasted asparagus and courgette, a tomato salsa, more chunks of crawfish and a glass of Chardonnay Sauvignon. Crawfish is apparently very ugly but as the neglected love-child of lobster and crab it certainly does a very convincing job masquerading as one of our most popular and expensive crustaceans. The chargrilled veg added a smoky depth that lifted the tender fish into extraordinary and the crawfish mousse was a luxurious addition to the whole, excellent, dish.
Dessert was two-tiered: first the signature and very popular sweet curry plate which Ben described as having had 18 different incarnations previous to this one. The plate comprised mango curd, spicy rice, coconut puree, spiced caramel, ginger jelly, cardamom ice cream, cardamom and poppadom. We loved it. Decided it was genius and scraped every last spicy sweet morsel from the slab of slate.
The chaser was duck egg custard tart with rhubard and ginger mezze and rhubarb sorbet. The tart was shockingly buttercup yellow and the mezze, well it was practically an extra dessert within a dessert – one ginger and one rhubarb macaroon, perfectly light and crispy on the outside, slightly chewy in the middle – tucked among the globes of rhubarb sorbet and a chunk of ginger jelly. It was a bricolage to summer and an altar to colour and shape combinations and yes, a religious experience. A very decent coffee later, we chatted to Ben about how he got to where he is.
He came down from Suffolk about seven years ago and has had the restaurant for about four (the upstairs only opened a few weeks ago). Not only is he a perfectionist (written all over the complexity of his dishes and the amount of time spent practising the ‘perfect’ dish) but he is rather unique for a chef in that he has had some serious front of house experience. Eight years of it means that he knows his wines: “I like a lot of quirky wines, Turkish, Hungarian; most of my cooking is inspired by wines, but for most chefs it’s the other way round, food then wine.” Hence the very impressive wine list, large choice of wine by the glass, bottles priced at mid-range and a wine recommendation with each course.
Other than being savvy and multi-talented, you’d want Ben to sit down at your table and eat with you, such is his passion, enthusiasm and down-to-earth presence. His next project is to start a lobster festival in Marazion, he even has a couple of his own pots. I make a silent promise to myself to come back for lunchtime lobster and chips and be under the spell of St Michael’s Mount and Ben’s cooking once more.