Friday, 25 September 2020

The Tolcarne Inn, Newlyn

In an ideal world, you'd quite rightly expect the seafood served in a fishing village to be more notable than, say, that served further inland, or in a major capital city. Most fish and seafood (by no means all, but most) is at its best when as fresh as possible, and the closer you are to the source, the more rewarding your fish dinner is likely to be.

You'd hope, then, that a gastropub installed right in the busy fishing port of Newlyn in Cornwall, alongside fishmongers, fish warehouses and the Newlyn Fish Market itself, would have a significant head start over its more landlocked rivals. The Tolcarne Inn, a charming 18th century building sat right on the harbour, constructs its menus around the finest fish they can get their hands on that day, and this being Newlyn, that's some of the best fish in the country, if not in fact the world. Trout, sardines, gurnard, ray, hake, plaice, halibut and of course fresh oysters from Porthilly turn the business of choosing what to eat into a slightly distressing game of "what would I least hate to not try", it really is a menu out of a fish-lover's dreams.

Quite how blindingly good the seafood was that we were served at the Tolcarne though, came as a surprise even if you had pretty high expectations already, which we certainly did. Right off the bat, with the arrival of the Porthilly oysters, it was clear something very special indeed was going on. Lean and clean, expertly opened with not a trace of shell grit, and with the bodies of the oysters lying plump and proud in their shells, these were literally faultless, pretty much the best oysters I've had in a very long time.

From here on, every bit of seafood served by the Tolcarne was some kind of exaggeratedly perfect version of itself, as if all our lives we'd never really had the real deal and our eyes had finally been opened. Gurnard came as a thick slab of blinding white meat, topped with a dark, crisp skin, on a bed of puy lentils and scattered with fried Jerusalem artichokes. It was, it goes without saying, the best gurnard I've ever had the pleasure of eating, and therefore completely worth the price of entry even if - and this is a criticism that can be levelled at some other of the dishes at Tolcarne Inn - it could have done with an ingredient or two less accompanying it. With fish this good, you really don't need any distractions.

No such criticism could be levelled at the chalk stream trout tartare, which was unfussily presented alongside some samphire and pickles and absolutely sung with autumnnal joy. The pickled kohlrabi was particularly good.

Now I have nothing against crispy leeks, or cavolo nero, or summer truffle purée, and certainly not chicken wing, I just wonder if the best way of showcasing a world-class fillet of halibut is to hide it at the bottom of a bowl and pile all of the above on top. Individually, it was all very well done (apart from the purée whch was a bit grainy, but not troublingly so) - and needless to say the halibut was absolutely perfect - I just don't think this dish needed quite so much going on. There's a lot to be said for the Hawksmoor approach of serving fish like they serve steak - cooked well but presented starkly alone on a plate, and with accompaniments such as chips served separately. I suppose what I'm saying is I'd quite like the Tolcarne Inn halibut with chips.

Plaice, then, yet again the finest example any of us had ever tried, the flesh lifting off the bone in meaty, satisfying chunks and having a fantastic rich flavour, which didn't really need more than one (if any) of the accompanying potatoes, beetroot and half a pound of hazelnuts. That plaice, though, blimey.

Finally hake, another completely faultless example of its kind, which because it was place on top of its accompanying squash, beans, confit tomato and anchovy rather than underneath, came across as far less fussy. Also the preserved lemon dressing was genuinely lovely and not superfluous at all, and really brought out the best in the fish.

The bill, with a bottle of wine, came to £41pp, which is certainly towards the lower end of what you'd expect to pay for a whole plaice, a chunk of halibut, fresh oysters and the like anywhere in the country never mind London. And I've never had seafood as good as this in London, at any price. And if I sound like I'm picking up on a few faults above, then please bear in mind that this is all in the context of literally the best series of fresh fish and seafood I can remember eating in a long time.

Above all else, the Tolcarne Inn is blessed with world class ingredients and a kitchen that can cook them perfectly, and for this reason I can do nothing but recommend the place. My own desire to streamline the presentation and accompaniments a bit is nothing more than personal preference - there's every chance other happy customers would appreciate the effort gone into all the dishes and would regard a simple presentation as a bit of a swizz. Either way, who cares what I think anyway - we had a great time, service was lovely, and I now have a new benchmark to measure any future fish restaurant against. Not bad for an evening's work.


1 comment:

Its me again said...

These look like more juicier oysters, than the other ones in Chiswick, that I made a comment about? Could be I have foraged oysters last few times I have had them, lots of oyster juice :)