Looking for Penzance restaurants? Here are our favourite restaurants in the Cornish town. Or take our foodie road trip through West Cornwall here…
Although Penzance lacks the cachet of neighbouring St Ives and Padstow, it has a rootsy, sea-blown charm that feels gutsier than many of Cornwall’s harbour towns. Its streets and shopping arcades are ramshackle and bohemian, and the place is bathed in that same soft, wispy light that has inspired artists for centuries. Drawn by its no-fuss atmosphere and supportive community, artisans have moved in, seeking an affordable, unpretentious place to develop their products.
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. Find space for lobster and spider crab, served shredded in a powerful bisque, followed by delicate steamed sole on squid ink linguine with a velvet crab sauce.
Polgoon is a vineyard and orchard just outside Penzance that offers tours and wine tastings on a 24-acre estate. Owners Kim and John Coulson battle against the Cornish climate to produce up to 30,000 bottles of wines a year, as well as a range of ciders and juices. Sit under the dappled shade of the site’s vine-wrapped courtyard café and sip chilled bacchus and eat a chunky wedge of crab sandwich.
Inheriting the land with a house, the family at first struggled to know what to do with it. They opted for a vineyard, hand-planted 3,000 vines, paid their children 5p for each snail they collected and, four years later, picked their first harvest. The result is on sale in the vineyard’s shop, along with local crisps and ciders, seaweeds and salts, teas and chocolates, ice creams, honey, beer, relishes and preserves.
Penzance Farmer’s Market
For fresh produce, Penzance Farmers’ Market is the place. Held every Friday in St John’s Hall, its gingham-covered tables are laden with fruit and vegetables, just-baked breads, cakes, Cornish cheeses and Wild Smoked’s products.
This coral-pink organic rose gin is produced by local Hannah Lamiroy, one of a new breed of artisan gin makers leading a revolution to “clean up” alcohol. Hannah spent two years perfecting the recipe over her kitchen sink, and now makes it in batches in copper stills in a small distillery in Penzance.
The mother of two keeps her formula top secret, but does tell us that it contains fresh petals from three varieties of David Austin old English roses – grown at a certified organic edible flower farm in Devon – six organic botanicals and organic neutral grain spirit. By happy accident, Tinkture rose gin changes colour when poured, turning from amber-gold to delicate blush pink at its peak. “See, magic!” she exclaims as she shows us.
A Pocketful of Stones distillery
At Pocketful of Stones distillery just outside of Penzance, Shaun Bebington, a larger-than-life South African publican, produces his own additive-free drinks, including a cider brandy, whisky, absinthe, a summer cup and gin. To one side, standing sentry like shiny Buddhas, are two huge copper stills. To the other are rows of vintage wine barrels and grain-filled hessian sacks, and shelves lined with chemistry bottles containing apricot kernels, amaretto, kelp, beech leaf and cassia bark. It’s like stepping into an all-natural episode of Breaking Bad.
Taste the Morveren absinthe, made with Cornish seaweed and wormwood picked from sea cliffs at nearby Zennor. “It is hallucinogenic – but only in very large quantities”, Shaun assures. At 66% proof, it’s eye-stingingly strong, too strong for more than a sip, so fortunately neither pose a risk.
Penzance art scene
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.
Where to stay in Penzance
Artist Residence hotel
A coolly colourful 17-bedroom hotel in Penzance’s old quarter, this hotel has 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 and tapas-style dishes of deep-fried squid with chilli, lime and salt, and parsnip rösti with caramelised shallots and goat’s cheese. Dessert includes rum-infused crème brûlée, hazelnut brittle and homemade banana ice cream.
Chapel House is a graceful, light-filled Georgian home in Penzance’s Old Quarter, where white walls are hung with landscape paintings by students at nearby Newlyn School of Art and where antique furniture sits alongside stylish Nordic pieces. 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 owner Susan’s regular weekend suppers, and lengthy brunches. Susan champions local producers, rarely straying far from Penzance to buy ingredients. 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.
Words and photographs by Lucy Gillmore and Suzy Bennett