Thursday, 26 March 2009
Porthminster Beach Café, St. Ives
Even in chilly and blustery late March, St Ives is a popular place. While the sun was out, the shops and bars on the waterfront were seemingly never short of customers, and the chocolate-box narrow streets and whitewashed cottages behind teemed with day trippers and young families. Heaven knows how difficult it is to get a reservation in the Porthminster Beach Café in season, for even now, from the moment they open for lunch until late into the evening, it seems every table is taken. And beautiful though lunch in the daytime would have been, above the stunning aquamarine waters of Porthminster Bay, we had somehow, by sheer fluke, snagged a table for early evening on Tuesday.
From the outside, the building is a pretty 1930s beach house, one of quite a few along the same stretch of coastline. Inside, however, the décor is standard contemporary restaurant, spot-lighting, welcoming beach wood floors and comfortable furniture. The welcome from the staff, too, was superb - they'd even laid on a birthday card having learned from the hotel that it was one of our party's birthday. An easy thing to do, perhaps, but these little details make all the difference. We began with a local oyster each (they were from Fowey, just up the coast), dressed simply with lemon juice. Lovely - in fact they disappeared so quickly I didn't manage to get a photo taken in time, but here they are after we'd finished with them:
My starter was some local St Ives beef, served with a kind of coleslaw and a parmesan crisp. The beef was excellent - a great, deep flavour and seasoned very well, a perfect example of intelligent local sourcing. And I always think anything crispy goes well with beef - I'm a sucker for strong texture contrasts. The only slightly off note were a row of weird dried olives which tasted of cardboard and didn't really add much. But other than that, a great start.
Things continued to improve with the arrival of bream fillets (my second portion in two days) and razor clams. Quite aside from being a stunningly presented plate of food, each element of the dish was cooked to a very high standard. The bream was delicately filleted and cooked expertly, the vanilla froth matched the fish very well, and a row of shredded razor clam meat added another texture layer. Top stuff. Similar noises were made around the table, the organic salmon and langoustines being another highlight.
For dessert, I was served a pretty selection of five different sweets - a crème brûlée, a dab of homemade fig jam, a raspberry shortbread, a superb fruit sorbet and a playful shot of fruit jelly topped with popping candy. A riot of texture contrasts and displaying a range of cooking techniques, only the questionable seasonality of raspberries detracted from what was otherwise an entertaining and delicious way to end the meal.
So, as it turned out, Porthminster Beach Café is wildly popular for a very good reason - it's a damn fine restaurant. Not only does it have the advantage of probably the best location for any restaurant I've visited outside the Costa Brava, but the food is intelligent and superbly executed and considering they could probably charge double these prices and still have them queuing in the street, very reasonably priced indeed. Residents of St. Ives will no doubt be completely unsurprised by this glowing review, but for anyone who has yet to visit this devastatingly pretty part of the world, Porthminster Beach Café should be top of your list.