Friday, 10 August 2012

Where to Eat in (and Around) Falmouth III: The Pandora Inn and the Courtyard Deli

Thanks to a photo taken by my sister-in-law during her recent visit to Cornwall, I now know what I look like when I go out to eat:

I used to be a normal person, and just eat my food, but now I stop and photograph it first. I'm also really obnoxious about leaning over and photographing everyone else's food, which is what I'm doing here to my husband.

But you know what? Someone needs to take on the task of reviewing every single restaurant in Cornwall, and I am willing to be that person. If my culinary experiments save someone else from a bad meal, or help them order the best thing they have ever eaten, then it's worth the social price I pay for being so annoying come mealtime. And thus I bring you the third installment of Where to Eat In (and Around) Falmouth.

First up is The Pandora Inn, which we recently visited with my sister-in-law and her daughter. The Inn is a gastropub, or a pub that serves classier-than-normal food. While that is certainly a nice feature of the establishment, it is perhaps even more noteworthy for its fantastic location:

It is right on the waterfront, with an outdoor eating area that extends onto a dock jutting out into the water. You can actually arrive there by boat if you like, but since we're not fancy enough to have one of those, we just drove; it's approximately 15 minutes away from Falmouth, depending on how fast you are willing to drive on Cornwall's windy narrow country roads.

The Inn dates back to the 13th century, as you might guess after getting a look at the thatched roof, flagstone floors, and low-beamed ceilings. It was damaged last year when a big fire broke out, but after a series of restorations the Pandora is now back in business.

We were able to get a nice table outside, but a powerful squall quickly drove us indoors. It didn't last very long, but by the time it was done the seats were all quite wet, and none of us was particularly interested in getting a damp bum. It's a shame we had to eat indoors, because it was very dark inside; it would have been quite cozy on a cool winter evening, but in the middle of summer it felt rather like a prison (also, the lighting made it difficult to photograph our food).

The Pandora Inn has won awards for its food, but I have to say that I was pretty disappointed in my meal. I ordered the "crab salad," which I envisioned as a big bowl of leafy greens with some lump crab meat on top. What I got was a tiny pile of greens, several slices of (admittedly very nice) sourdough bread, and crab meat in a shell:

I am not a fan of brown crab meat, and so I only ate the white stuff--of which there was not much. I really had wanted a salad and I was bummed to have gotten so few greens. I sometimes forget that the British idea of salad is quite different from the American one; there is often much less lettuce, and dressing is not guaranteed. It's really strange considering how obsessed Brits are with growing veggies in allotments; surely they would then be more excited about incorporating that produce into their meals?

Sasha was also a bit unimpressed with his meal. He had ordered a crab sandwich, but he reported that the crab flavor of the meat was overwhelmed by the mayonnaise used to bind it together. What the sandwich lacked in quality, though, it certainly made up for in quantity; although you can't exactly tell from this photograph, the ciabatta bun was massive and it was packed full of crab.

Luckily, our two companions fared better. Our niece, Linnani, ordered the appetizer portion of the steamed mussels and was given this massive bowl full of goodness. (How impressive is it that a 6-year-old has a taste for mussels? I didn't even try them for the first time until I was in my 20's. She has quite a mature palate!) According to Linnani, the mussels were "done the right way;" she wasted no time in eating every last one.

My sister-in-law's meal, roasted hake with crab crushed potato, pak choi, and red wine reduction, showed why the Inn is considered a gastropub. Combining mashed potatoes and crab is a fantastic idea, since those are two of the best foods ever. Despite how fancy it looks--and how delicious I am told it was--the dish only cost £16, which is pretty reasonable in these parts.

I hadn't been blown away by the savory portion of the menu, but I admit that the dessert selections looked pretty tasty. I opted to order only a mint tea, but my sweet tooth was satisfied vicariously thanks to Linnani and Liseli.

Linnani ordered a trio of Cornish cream ice creams (2 strawberries and a vanilla), which arrived on a bed of crushed digestives; they were topped with 2 chocolate straws and a slice of starfruit. Linnani wasn't much impressed by the starfruit (which is fair enough considering that the stuff is practically tasteless even in the best of times), but she demolished everything else on the plate.

Liseli went for a British classic: the banoffee pie. For those unfamiliar with the dish, it is described on the menu as "crumbly pastry, toffee and caramelised bananas topped with whipped vanilla cream and toasted almonds." I am not a big fan of banoffee pie--or, indeed, of desserts in general, as I have previously mentioned--but I would have loved to get an entire order of those caramelized bananas and toffee. The whole thing looked pretty rich and decadent and Liseli was pleased with her purchase.

All in all, I wasn't blown away by my first trip to the Pandora, but I think it is worth a second shot. Next time around, I will try to go on a sunny day so I can sit outside, and I will order something a bit more "upscale." Judging from what I saw on Linnani's and Liseli's plates, the Inn is definitely capable of some quality fare, and perhaps Sasha and I just failed to select things that played to the kitchen staff's strengths.


In order to have a proper British experience, Liseli worked hard during her visit to sample all the local "delicacies" that she can't get back in the US. She had Scotch eggs, pasties, cider, fish and chips, and, in a special nod to Cornish cuisine, cream tea. The last of these was obtained at a lovely little establishment in the center of Falmouth called the Courtyard Deli. I've seen signs for it before on the main drag, but I'd never before gone in; I now wish that I had started visiting ages ago, because it has all sorts of wonderful things on offer.

You reach the Deli by taking a little alleyway between two storefronts on the main thoroughfare through Falmouth's shopping district; you'd never know that it was there if a) you hadn't seen the street sign they set out each day, or b) someone hadn't told you. On this particular occasion, the restaurant was recommended by our friend Jodie--the same wise and helpful person who lent me the Lonely Planet guide for my Italy trip, and whom we were meeting for our afternoon indulgence.

The place is both literally and figuratively a little oasis in the middle of town. When you sit out in the courtyard, you have no sense of the hustle and bustle around you; you could just as easily be somewhere rural. The countryside feeling is enhanced by the big garden off to one side of the courtyard, as well as all the decorate floral plantings surrounding the eating area.

In addition to serving cream teas, the Courtyard Deli also has a selection of baked goods, cheeses, and meats, and in the evenings they do tapas. (Note: I will definitely be returning for some tapas, so watch this space for a follow-up post.)

(A tower of fresh bread)

(A plate of enormous fresh meringues)

(Some local produce was also on sale. Look at those cute little carrots!)

Brace yourselves, I am now going to admit something terrible: I don't really like clotted cream. This is a real shame, because I love the idea of having a Cornish cream tea--the tea, the scones, the jam. But the cream itself is just more than I can handle. It is incredibly thick and dense and rich, like a combination of butter and whipped cream--two things that I don't particularly adore, either, so it's no surprise that their love child would also not be to my taste. Also, how can any one person be expected to have a whole pot of tea, plus two scones, plus the stuff that goes on the scones? My stomach is just not up to that challenge.

Linnani and Liseli did the wise thing and split a single order between them. They tried eating the scones in both the Cornish way (jam first, cream on top) and the Devonian way (cream first, jam on top); I think they were undecided as to which was better. Like me, Linnani was not a big fan of the cream, and ultimately preferred her scones with jam only. Sadly, she was not too impressed by the tea, but I'm sure that's a taste she could acquire over time--it took me a while to appreciate that flavor, so I can sympathize.

I should note that her complaints had nothing to do with the quality of the food provided by the Deli. Sasha and I split a homemade shortbread cookie, while Jodie and her husband had a couple of the chocolate chunk biscottis, and all of the baked goods were delicious. The waitress was also very friendly and helpful, delivering our food in such a way as to keep it out of the roaming hands of mischievous Noah:

(That's a laugh-face, not a cry-face.)

The staff were also quite tolerant of Noah's interest in harvesting and consuming their nearby edible plants. Maybe they should add fresh fennel and mint to the menu so they can charge him next time.

The Deli was quite a nice little find and I am kicking myself for not visiting it earlier. I can see myself returning often, whenever I need a calming cup of tea and a relaxing atmosphere in which to consume it.

 (Semi-blue skies over Falmouth, as seen from the Courtyard Deli.)

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