In Newlyn, a fishing port on Cornwall’s wild western fringe, the cinema is the place to eat. No, not gourmet popcorn. In front of me in the Newlyn Filmhouse is a steaming bowl of Thai fish stew, aromatic and spicy and sprinkled with peanuts.
Suzie Sinclair and Alastair Till moved back to Cornwall from London eight years ago. What they missed most, Suzie tells me, was grabbing a bowl of noodles after the cinema. So they converted a 19th-century fish merchant’s warehouse, next to shellfish specialist W. Harvey & Sons, into a sumptuous cinema and café bar with an Asian-influenced menu and a vague Pirates of the Caribbean vibe (dark wood floors, columns wrapped in rope).
This may be the end of the road in geographical terms but visiting Far West Cornwall doesn’t mean having to navigate a culinary cul-de-sac. St Ives, for example, is well known as a ‘foodie hot spot’. The jumble of winding alleys that once knotted together a humble fishing village are now lined with chic shops, galleries and delis; The Allotment is perfect for picnics, and the Raw Chocolate Pie Company for villainous-tasting but virtuous snacks.
There are more Cornish pasty shops than you can shake a rolling pin at (my vote for the best in the region goes to Penzance’s Cornish Hen deli; while ice-cream wars are waged between Kelly’s vans and the classy Moomaid of Zennor parlour – its Shipwreck Extra Stormy flavour (salted caramel ice-cream with chunks of honeycomb and chocolate) is my overall winner.
You won’t want to miss the soft shell crab burger at the Rum and Crab Shack or the legendary Cornish beef burgers at Blas. Nor to overlook the fresh mackerel sold from an ice bucket and honesty box up a tiny alleyway away from the seafront.
But St Ives isn’t the only place worth steering an empty stomach to way out west. Follow the county’s coast from here, down narrow hedgerow- hemmed lanes and along sweeping clifftops, and at Sennen Cove, you’ll find local chef Ben Tunnicliffe running an eponymous surf shack- style restaurant on the beach, dishing up the catch of the day straight off the boats.
Continue further still, past the sandy cove at Porthcurno, the breath taking Minack Theatre carved into the cliff and tiny, teetering Mousehole (pronounced mow-zel). Because it’s at Newlyn, and neighbouring Penzance, where the food scene really snaps at St Ives’ heels.
First stop is Artist Residence, a coolly colourful 17-bedroom hotel in Penzance’s old quarter with a relaxed vibe (checked blankets, yellow Roberts radios, contemporary artworks) and a retro-chic restaurant and bar, The Cornish Barn. The menu includes meat and fish from its in-house smokehouse but I tuck into tapas-style dishes of deep-fried squid with chilli, lime and salt, and parsnip rösti with caramelised shallots and goat’s cheese. Dessert is rum-infused crème brûlée, hazelnut brittle and homemade banana ice cream.
On the other side of town, Bruce Rennie (formerly of the The Gurnard’s Head gastropub near St Ives) opened his own fish restaurant, The Shore, at the end of last year. Here I find space for lobster and spider crab, served shredded in a powerful bisque, followed by a delicate steamed sole on a squid ink linguine with a velvet crab sauce.
This autumn Rennie is teaming up with Susan Stuart who recently revamped the old Penzance Arts Club and turned it into a luxury b&b, Chapel House, to run gourmet foraging and cookery breaks. The six rooms all have sea views, painted white floors and vibrant modern artworks. The huge, stone-flagged kitchen diner in the basement is the scene of Susan’s regular weekend suppers, and lengthy brunches. I try the breakfast speciality: cod’s roe, smoked bacon, samphire and a poached egg. It’s a cheap, nutritious dish and it’s easy to see how it became a favourite with fishermen.
The swimming lanes are busy on a sunny day as I pass Penzance’s Art Deco lido which re-opened this summer after an overhaul (jubileepool.co.uk). I head out to Newlyn to watch trawlers unload their catch then make a beeline for Stevenson’s – a fishmonger with its own fleet of boats. Along with buckets of vermilion crab, its shelves are lined with the likes of dried dulse and kombu from the Cornish Seaweed Company.
Some of the pubs here still veer towards gritty, but Ben Tunnicliffe’s gastropub The Tolcarne Inn is the perfect pitstop. Just a pebble’s throw from the harbour, the all-fish menu majors in dishes such as fillet of mackerel with pomegranate and avocado salad – the fruit’s tartness cutting through the oily fish.
The owners of Penzance’s small but award- winning Polgoon vineyard, John and Kim Coulson, were Newlyn fish merchants until a winemaker inspired them to plant vines; they also produce artisan cider and apple juice, and run tours and tastings. As their daughter, Emma, pours me a 2014 bacchus single variety white, she tells me that their first wine won the UK’s best rosé back in 2006.
The art scene is another area where Penzance is stealing the limelight. St Ives might have the Tate and the Barbara Hepworth Museum and Sculpture Garden, but Penzance has long been an artistic hub, home to the Newlyn Art School and galleries such as The Exchange and Newlyn Art Gallery.
Then there’s the Tremenheere Sculpture Gardens. Its verdant grounds are full of art and are also home to The Kitchen, a café serving charcuterie boards and bowls of mussels steamed in Polgoon cider with garlic, parsley, lemon and cream.
My last port of call is Ben’s Cornish Kitchen in Marazion, run by Ben Prior and his brother, Toby. The dessert catches my attention. The sweet curry plate is an exotic assembly of curried rice pudding, cardamom ice cream, a poppadom, coconut purée, mango curd, ginger jelly, spiced caramel, coriander leaf. A sweet surprise, it’s worth going out on a limb for – like Far West Cornwall itself.
HOW TO DO IT
Double rooms at Artist Residence cost from £75 per night, room only and at Chapel House from £150, b&b.
More info: visitcornwall.com; lovepenzance.co.uk
Words by Lucy Gillmore
Photographs by Getty and Lucy Gillmore