Wednesday, 1 September 2010

Food For Thought and The Other Place, Fowey

Fowey, an achingly picturesque village on the south coast of Cornwall, is a fantastic little spot to spend a bank holiday weekend. Blessed with charming narrow streets, expansive harbour views and some lovely old pubs serving great local beers, it has a lot going for it, and you'd have to be incredibly unlucky to have a bad time here. The secret of a good holiday, I always think, is the management of expectations. Plan for cold, wind and rain, and if it does turn out like that, at least you have your waterproofs. If, as last weekend, you are baked in glorious sunshine for three days and come back to London so sunburned small children scream at the sight of you, all the better. Similarly with food, you should never go to anywhere, not even seaside Cornish towns famed for their seafood, expecting every restaurant to be brilliant. Expect the worst, and you're never disappointed, as the saying goes. Unfortunately, even our deliberately lowered expectations proved insufficiently realistic to cope with the full horror of Food For Thought, our first stop for dinner on Saturday evening.

I get the impression Food For Thought likes to think of itself as a high-end joint. Inside, the atmosphere is stifled and austere; elderly smartly-dressed couples loom over their tiny tables and the smart staff at least superficially seem to be busy and efficient. It was all so silent and oppressive we were relieved that the only table available was outside, beneath some red hot lamps that made us all look even more sunburned than we already were, and which cast an off-putting pinkish hue onto all the food. The menu read as well as you might hope for a seafood restaurant - half a local lobster, turbot fillet, lemon sole, all present and correct, as well as, on the "specials" menu, a seafood platter at a statement-making £50 for two. A swanky restaurant, literally right next to the sea, in a town famed for its seafood. It seems like the obvious choice, don't you agree?

A bit like the restaurant itself, superficially the seafood platter looked fine. A crab claw on top, half a grilled lobster, some razor clams peeking out from underneath. Although we had gone for the 'grilled' (ie. hot) seafood option (because it included lobster), I had wondered if I could have just the oysters cold - a famous local delicacy after all - and the waiter had reluctantly agreed. Had I known they were going to arrive not separately on ice but plonked slowly warming on top of the rest of the hot items, I may not have made this off-piste request. Alarmed at the prospect of eating a potentially fatal warm oyster, and still with an open mind about the restaurant's ability to cook and serve food, I made an executive decision to swallow one down immediately. It was disconcertingly warm, rather dry and not particularly tasty, and it was the reality check of having this rather unpleasant item slip down my throat that made me look again at the other items on the platter.

Crab claws were frozen. Not just previously frozen then thawed out, but literally served frozen, crystallised ice right through to the middle. Razor clams smelled odd and were overcooked to rubbery oblivion, with huge black waste sacs still attached. Lobster was similarly overdone, tough and chewy, and I'm sure had we got as far as the langoustine before sending the whole damn lot back they would have been pretty horrible too. Underneath all this was a bed of shrivelled-up mussels and the odd tiny, anaemic scallop, weirdly just scattered in amongst the wreckage. It was all completely awful, and in the case of the slowly-warming oysters, very very dangerous. Trying to get hold of the manager was a trial, too, as a good number of the members of staff seemed to speak no English, but on hearing the news he did at least seem apologetic. I was offered a fillet steak on the house to make amends, but twenty minutes later with no sign of said steak, we cut our losses, grabbed the bill and ran.

The next night, relieved at the very least at not having to spend the rest of the weekend in hospital, we played it a bit safer. The Other Place is also a seafood restaurant but one with no delusions of grandeur; my friends and I were served monkfish chunks on a skewer, a half dozen local oysters on ice with a shallot mignonette, a marvellously tasty Mediterranean stew, containing chunky white fish mixed with plump mussels, and I even had a decent burger. The only slightly duff note here was a local 'Kilhallon' steak which seemed remarkably poor quality considering it had a "name", but then in the context of the night before it was all a blessed relief. It all came to a very reasonable £34 a head and we even had plenty of wine.

You may have noticed how I spent a lot more time in this post talking about the bad restaurant than the good one. What can I say - bad food makes good copy. But the catharsis of sharing my experience of such a pretentious, overpriced and inept restaurant as Food For Thought is tempered only with the knowledge that, as with the Aberdeen Angus Steakhouses in London, anywhere superficially attractive in a spot with plenty of tourist footfall is inevitably going to survive way longer than it deserves to. And it is my duty as a food blogger, if you'll excuse my own swell of pretention for a second, to hammer these horrible places as much as possible until the message gets through. But then perhaps I am delusional as anyone in thinking that anything will change - Aberdeen Angus have been going since the 70s. I'm sure Food For Thought will survive too, at least until they kill someone.

Food For Thought 1/10
The Other Place 6/10

Lizzie of Hollowlegs will share her side of the Cornish story on her blog very soon. So watch that space.


Hollow Legs said...

I really can't believe we didn't drown in seas of our own sickness after those oysters. I ATE TWO!

Might be worth noting that the sourdough bread at The Other Place was most excellent. The fish stew was also gorgeous, especially with the rouille. Mmm.

The Grubworm said...

Such a shame - FFT used to be (and I am talking 20 years ago now) a decent restaurant - at that time one of the only decent ones in the area. Good reputation was squandered though and it has been in a steady decline for a long time now. Surprised it is still open, but that is seaside Cornwall for you.

Interesting hearing about The Other Place, will have to check it out next time I'm down. Nathan Outlaw at the hotel was good too, but I hear he's moved.

Gin and Crumpets said...

Lovely Fowey – I have fond memories of a minibreak there many, many, many years ago. I have a feeling that Food For Thought was the posh restaurant we went to on the Saturday night. I can't remember a thing about the food but I do remmeber being overawaed bu how amazingly sophostocatedf it all was. Innocent times.

Pics from The Other Place look tasty. Hats off to you for braving a second plate of oysters.

Anonymous said...

Maybe they should rename the restaurant to 'Food as an Afterthought'? I'll get my coat...

Paul Thompson said...

We had a few days in Fowey last year, I'm glad we gave FFT a miss it looked - far too expensive and stuffy. We did have a good meal at Nathan Outlaw's old place but the best by far was at Sams Bistro very fresh seafood and great value.

Northern Snippet said...

The thing with the oysters is unbelievable.Very brave of you to eat one.

Unknown said...

Can't believe a place on the coast would serve frozen seafood - how disappointing, Love that you have a tag called shit!

Jonathan said...

We went there last summer and had an OK lunch. Crab salad was decent but the whole experience wasn't convincing and the staff were cold. Sam's was much better. Great fun, fresh fish and definitely somewhere we'd return to. I've heard decent things about The Other Place as well.

Ben said...

"Love that you have a tag called shit!"

What she said :)

Anonymous said...

After two near death experiences, from seafood, I will avoid this place. The only white light I saw was reflected from a toilet bowl as I heaved for hours.
Hello M, who poisened me the first time.I lost a weeks wages and almost my job. I used your toothbrushes for a month to clean the toilet! revenge is sweet!