Local and seasonal are two of the most over-used, abused, and misused adjectives in the world of food. Last Saturday however, Nick and Sioned Rudlin from Merchants’ Manor Hotel, Falmouth took the concept to dizzying new heights.
Chef Dale McIntosh and owner Nick created a six-course taster menu with Pete Lawrence from Canara Farm, Mylor Downs, basing it almost entirely around what was available in the fields and within a ten-mile radius from the hotel.
What guests got was the following, each introduced with an information card about ingredients, including taste notes and health benefits:
Canara Farm Fields
Courgette & Crustacean
Beetroot, beetroot, beetroot, beetroot
Peas, Pork & Lobster
Cryptic. And very of-the-moment menu minimalism.
Canara Farm Fields was a scorched log (to imitate a ploughed field) scattered with ‘soil’ and plant tops, lizard leaves, the increasingly popular borage flower and thin slices of heritage vegetables with garlic air and turnip puree; a mouth tickler setting the palate for what was to come.
Courgette & Crustacean was a tender slither of lemon sole on a baby courgette, the flower of which was stuffed with crab. The fish was matched with an oca leaf, a member of the sorrel family, to add zest. This dish shouted the very best of summer and life by the sea, heightened by an oyster emulsion and a chilled glass of Gavi.
Beetroot beetroot beetroot beetroot…
…was exactly that: a delicate rainbow-coloured plate of candy beetroot, yellow, red and white beetroot cubed and sliced around a slab of beetroot parfait. Even for beetroot fans (me) this was an extreme immersion into the blood red tuber, generally more popular with eastern Europeans, but it was also brave and purist in construction and taste, celebrating the impressive health benefits of an often neglected vegetable.
Peas, Pork & Lobster came next: a bed of raw, thinly-sliced purple mangetout with tiger beans, peashoots and haricot vert topped with a slab or two of lobster meat and a cube of Primrose Herd‘s excellent belly pork on the side. This was a magnificent dish that surfed and turfed with confidence, the crackling – a swirl of wafer-thin skin – was the glorious rebirth of a very well-behaved pork scratching. The beans and mangetout were so fine as to be almost sweet, therefore pairing ideally with both meats and offering a crunchy texture to offset the soft flesh.
If we thought the evening had peaked with lobster and pork, we were wrong – there was another surprise: vegetable ices or ‘lollipops’. Arriving at the table in old school ice pop cardboard sleeves with a foil top, we blindly picked a flavour and had to guess what it was.
My first was tomato, easy, the second, garlic which was my absolute favourite and the final purple ice was a tricky one: nose said basil but colour said no, however it was indeed Pete’s purple basil. The ices felt experimental and functional, moving us on from savoury to sweet and there was something intellectual about much of the food on the menu, as if guests were being challenged to re-think ingredients and flavour, a Dale McIntosh habit which I have become used to since the pink peppercorn macaron debate at a previous dinner!
We finished with Strawberry Patch, a slanting strawberry jelly in a glass with cream and granola, which felt clean and fresh on the palate. And the final flourish: a macaron and flowers. This ever-popular French delicacy was flavoured with nasturtium and hidden on a wooden plate covered with the entirely edible nasturtium plant, flowers, leaves and all. It was peppery, refreshing, unusual and rather beautiful.
To celebrate the importance of bees to everything on our plates, each guest received a packet of wild flower seeds. At the end of the meal, chef, sous-chef and Pete, the grower came out to chat to guests, bringing the field even closer to the table.
What the Merchants’ Manor team have done and are doing so well, is to take a previously worn concepts and transform them into something memorable and at times, exceptional, and I definitely look forward to more of the same from them.