Monday, 28 September 2020

The Gurnard's Head, Zennor

The Gurnard's Head, sat high above the rugged north Cornwall coast amidst towering abandoned tin mines and dramatic moorland, is nothing if not a welcome sight for weary hikers on the South West Coastal Path, as well anyone taking the somewhat less strenuous approach (I'm not apologising for this) of having a bit of a lie-in and driving up from Penzance just in time for lunch service. However you get there, though, it seems the days of being able to just rock up uninvited and order a steak & chips are long gone - the Gurnard's Head is one of the most popular gastropubs in Cornwall even off season, and with domestic tourism booming, snagging a table is a case of getting extremely lucky, or (our approach) booking many months in advance.

With social distancing, too, there are even fewer precious tables to choose from, and so we felt very privileged indeed to be settling into a cozy corner in this lovely old building while the weather outside, which had all morning threatened to do something awful, finally broke into a dark, sustained downpour. If it hadn't been bucketing down perhaps some of the people trying their luck with a walk-in could have braved a picnic table outside; as it was, I overheard more than one group of rain-soaked hopefuls being gently let down by the front of house. We watched them with some measure of sympathy as they squelched away, before tucking into some warm sodabread and salted butter.

It was very nice sodabread though, and so was this plate of tempura PSB and goat's curd, which had a nice greaseless fry, a good fluffy, citrussy curd and a very clever touch of smoked almonds which added crunch as well as a touch of the embers.

Warm grilled sardines, meticulously filleted so that they could be eaten without the usual subsequent 10 minutes of picking pin bones out of your teeth, came draped over sourdough bread and with a little last gasp of summer, a tomato and basil salad. And it was a very nice salad of course, but the star of the show were the sardines - superbly fresh and with a good firm flesh, with a gentle crisp skin from the grill, and seasoned perfectly. Cornwall really is the place to go for fish, it seems.

After the best part of two days enjoying the best fish in the country, though, a part of me just wanted to be deliberately contrary, so for a main I chose rump steak. And though the steak was nice - pink and tender and with a decent flavour - the star of this plate of food was the sauce, a thick, glossy reduction which clung to the folds of the sprigs of kale and made it all great fun to eat. Also good was a blue cheese mousse, which added a nice hit of salty dairy.

Oh and chips were fantastic - each of them crunchy outside and soft within, with loads of lovely crispy bits at the end to gobble up.

Given we'd taken it a bit easy on the savouries, we felt justified in ordering two desserts - firstly this excellent sticky toffee pudding topped with a huge mound of clotted cream, which obviously went down very well...

...and a chocolate creameaux with coffee and dulce de leche which I had a bit less of an interest in (I tend to avoid coffee) but seemed perfectly nice to me.

The bill came to £23pp, which seems astonishingly cheap on the face of it but bear in mind we'd ordered two starters as mains and weren't drinking, unless you count a glass of local cider brandy that I ordered on a whim before the desserts. They don't automatically add service on either, so you can add on a few quid for that, but even so this not an expensive place, and the extremely attentive staff earned every bit of the tip they didn't ask for. In these large, well-spaced dining rooms every table was taken and quite rightly so - this is a justifiably famous pub.

It's easy to forget, as we gobbled and chatted our way through a happy lunch at the Gurnard's Head, that this is still a deeply uncertain and frankly terrifying time for anyone attempting to make money out of the business of cooking food and selling it to people. Since our return to the real world, the government has introduced at 10pm curfew, a completely bizarre political gesture which won't save many people from getting Covid who wouldn't have got it anyway, but will definitely further cripple the finances of pubs, bars and restaurants who have just seen another 30% disappear from their bottom lines. So book early, and book often, and enjoy yourself, and let's all just try and get through the next few months without going completely mad, because that seems to be just about the only strategy that stands a chance of working at the moment. And you can do worse, if you're in the area, than with a meal at this windswept spot on the Cornish coast, somewhere expertly placed to help you forget about the rest of the world, at least just for a while.


1 comment:

Lizzie said...

we stayed at the gurnard's head last year (and I did a gruelling coastal walk heavily pregnant oooof) and we had such a lovely time. I'd love to go back if we can face the drive!