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Wednesday, 2 November 2011

The Gurnards Head

The last day of October saw us en route to Zennor and the Gurnards Head Hotel. A sister to the Felin Fach Griffin this highly rated pub with rooms has long been a foodie destination and had been on my “to do list” for some time. An amazing £125 per couple deal for Dinner Bed and Breakfast made this a very manageable trip.

As we wound our way along the cliffs from St Ives a glowering sky and gusty wind made the sight of the pub even more welcome. Leaving our bags in the car we entered the bar and were welcomed with real warmth. “Why don’t you have a drink while we check that your room is ready?” so a pint of Skinners “Betty Stoggs” and a half of St Austell Brewery “Tribute” were pulled and the relevant room enquiries were made.

Leaving the beer we went to look at our room. A cosy room with a view towards the sea was ready and waiting and the Tea and Coffee tray had a cafetiere and some Fair Trade Coffee and tea from the UK’s only Tea plantation - Tregothnan (here in Cornwall) in both Classic and Earl Grey varieties.

Back in the bar we perused the lunch menu over our beers and decided that a light lunch was in order so Mains only. The Plaice appealed to Janet and was duly ordered whilst a Roast Beef with Bubble and Squeak, Savoy Cabbage and fried Duck egg got my attention.

Plaice is not usually my favourite fish, it is often cotton-wooly but Janet’s fillet was perfect, shining white and with real texture it sat on a bed of crushed potatoes with spinach and a Mussel veloute.

My rare beef – must have been a rib – had been warmed so the fat was golden and full of taste and the bubble and squeak – a mix of carrot, parsnip and potato had an undertone of horseradish which set the beef of well. Add to that an unctuous thick-yolked fried egg and tangy iron flavoured savoy cabbage and I was in food heaven.

Though a tempting range of desserts were on offer we resisted to maximise space for the dinner that would come later.

As the rain intensified and the newly changed clocks meant that dusk was around 4:30 we decided that a walk was not the brightest option and that tea and coffee in the bar next to the log fire was a perfect way to spend the rest of the afternoon before changing.

Back in the bar after a quick shower the beer order changed as I tried the Green Hop but JT stuck to the Tribute. Though there is a pleasant dining room we had been booked a table in the bar, next to the fire, and to be honest the bar is as good a place to eat as any!

Menus were heavily consulted and decisions painstakingly made about the three courses which would make up the Dinner element of the stay.
One of my pet bugbears is the Vegetarian Option on a menu. There are two reasons for this: Firstly though every menu “Must” have a vegetarian option have you ever seen a “Meat Option” in a vegetarian restaurant? And secondly there are loads of great vegetable recipes so why limit them to the “Vegetarian Option”?:

The Gurnards Head did not have a veggie option.

Instead they had the Kitchen Garden Menu with dishes such as Pumpkin Soup and Wild Mushrooms as a starter or Beetroot Risotto with Walnuts and Parmesan. Any of these dishes I would happily have consumed but the main menu was irresistible.

"I will try the Quail, Squid Ink Risotto and Quail Egg” said Mrs K “and then the Sole with Vermouth and New potatoes .” My own choices were the Salmon and Lobster Tortellini and the Gurnard with Smoked Haddock. Well, when you are on a headland named after a fish you really ought to try the object after which the place was named.

Iced Water and Soda Bread arrived and shortly thereafter the starters.

The leg and breast of the Quail came with a well poached egg and the risotto was a clever surprise. Instead of a fluid mound of black rice it had been moulded into a cylinder and deep fried Arancini style! A clever take on risotto which gave a pleasant crunch to the outside and a melting interior packed with flavour from what was a very good stock.

My bowl of two large Tortellini had a firm but yielding mousse of salmon and lobster wrapped in smooth and silky pasta with a foamy veloute of crab as a dressing. Epic!

Sadly the Sole was not available but Plaice was offered as an alternative and, having truly enjoyed lunch, Janet decided not to change her order. She was entirely justified in this decision as the fish was again cooked perfectly and with grapes and new potatoes ( a la Veronique) the dish was really very good.

My Gurnard came as a fillet sat on a bed of buttery mashed potato and some Smoked Haddock that had a deep smokiness which offset the gurnard and creamy sauce to perfection. Beautifully flavoured buttered leeks completed a well thought out and balanced dish.

Desserts took a while to determine but a Pear Mousse and a Fig and Almond Tart were the eventual winners from a shortlist of the entire menu.

The pear Mousse sat on a bed of Cinnamon Sponge with a topping of Calvados Jelly and a crispy Apple ring. Janet devoured this sparing only a minor tasting portion for me and accompanied it with an extremely alcoholic cocktail the precise contents of which were forgotten in a wave of appreciation.

My Tart had a thin crispy base with a delicate frangipane filling and a fresh fig on top. The second half of the fig was on the plate with a very good Honey and Lavender Ice Cream. Lavender can be hard to balance but here it was done well and the rich honey tones perfectly matched the tart.

A good coffee followed and we headed for bed as they say having had an “elegant sufficiency” and still taking about the meal.

Our room Room 1 has had some criticism on review sites but I think the reviewers were missing the point. This is a pub with rooms not a Luxury Hotel with food. The room was not small as some have complained but, on a blustery and rainy end of Autumn night, it was cosy, and the soft bed with ample duvet meant a really good night’s sleep for both.

When I woke in the morning a brilliant sunny day awaited and the local cows were making their way down the road for milking. Intriguing as this rural scene was Breakfast was waiting.

Freshly pressed Apple Juice accompanied the tea and coffee and I could not resist the home-made bread and the similarly in house Blackberry and Plum Jams. In the battle between Kippers and Full breakfast the meaty feast won out.

A fried egg, so fresh it came in three layers, fried mushrooms brilliant smoked bacon and Black Pudding and Hog’s Pudding made up the full breakfast. The Black Pudding was very similar to an Irish pudding, rich and herby/spicy with none of the large lumps of fat and obvious oat fillings that are so often present in UK puddings. Harvey’s of St Ives make the Black Pudding and also, to the Gurnards Head recipe, the Hog’s pudding. This again had a very Irish feel being like a White Pudding, a near sausage with a meaty substance and herby background.

As much bread as you can eat and a toaster for guests use and constant refills of coffee and tea mean that breakfast can be a long lingering affair and, given the quality of the food and the relaxed atmosphere of the Gurnards Head it is likely that you will want to.

A great stay in a great pub/hotel. We will return and since they have just taken over a small hotel in Mousehole our next trip is sorted. With places as good as the Gurnards Head and the Felin Fach Griffin the Old Coastguard must make up a trio of destination establishments.

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