Sunday, 2 December 2012

Where to Eat in Cornwall: The Driftwood Hotel

As part of our effort to eat our way around Cornwall, Sasha and I recently visited the restaurant at the Driftwood Hotel, located near Portscatho--which, in turn, is located near Truro. The head chef, Chris Eden, is the first Cornishman to receive a Michelin star. Unfortunately, we arrived after sunset and so were unable to see much of the hotel itself, or to take in the views of, and from, the Roseland Peninsula. Thanks to TripAdvisor, though, I have a general idea of what the Driftwood looks like:

As the crow flies, the hotel is probably only 6-7 miles from our apartment in Falmouth. That measurement, however, does not take the estuary into account; in reality, we had to drive a good deal more than that. On the way to the hotel, we took advantage of the King Harry Ferry, which allowed us to make the entire trip in just over 30 minutes. By the time we left the restaurant around 10 PM, though, the ferry was no longer running, and we had to take the more circuitous, 50-minute route through Truro. Nothing is easy in Cornwall, but I suppose that is part of its charm.

My visit to the hotel started off with a literal bang after I skidded across the slick wooden floors in my rain-dampened high heels. Luckily, I was able to catch myself on a nearby door frame, though I believe I also managed to dislodge some wall decorations in the process. Although that was not one of my most graceful entrances, I was feeling pretty happy about avoiding a tumble to the floor. The two nearby hotel staff, however, seemed pretty horrified on my behalf; they stood by awkwardly, desperately averting their eyes. They eventually decided that it would be best to store me in the lounge, where there was nobody else in front of whom I could embarrass myself further.

I was famished, so we made our way into the restaurant as soon as Sasha returned from parking the car. I started off with a Driftwood Punch (a mixture of orange, cranberry, and lime juices), and we were soon brought a basket of breads to nibble on while awaiting our starters:

The wait staff were very friendly and attentive, but I found it hard to settle in because they were a little too attentive. The Driftwood is one of those places where they put your napkin in your lap for you, and are constantly hovering nearby in order to fill up your water glass each time you take a sip. There must be some people who enjoy this kind of pampering, but I am not one of them. I understand that this sort of thing is often expected as part of a Michelin-star package; however, all I really care about is the quality of the food and the general atmosphere. It's not easy to get a conversation started when a waiter is dropping by every 2 minutes to offer to wipe our mouth and cut your food into bite-sized pieces and chew it up for you. [Okay, I may be exaggerating here.]

To their credit, though, the food was delicious. We started off with an amuse bouche involving a fish "cake" (in reality, it was more of a ball) and a squid ink crisp. Sasha and I were curious about what formed the substance of the crisp, since it obviously couldn't be made solely of squid ink. It had virtually no taste, though it was a little salty. I've never eaten squid ink before because I have always found the concept a bit distasteful, but this version went down fine. It didn't hurt that the fish cake was fantastic.

When our waiter approached with our amuse bouches, I could see a look of fear on Sasha's face. We had both ordered the scallop starter, and I knew that Sasha was trying to figure out what on earth had happened to turn his sauteed scallops into something breaded and fried. Luckily, the actual starter was all that he had been hoping for, though it did involve slices of apple--a mingling of sweet and savory that breaks one of Sasha's fundamental rules of cuisine. The offending bits of fruit were easy to remove, though, allowing Sasha to restore order by imposing culinary segregation.

When our starters were served, the waiters came out with the plate plus a little pitcher of celeriac consomme that they poured into the bottom of the dish. This was quite tasty, but I have to admit that I was privately rolling my eyes at the showmanship. Again, I understand that these are the little touches that distinguish Michelin-starred establishments from "regular" restaurants, but why? Who decided that fine dining experiences need to involve these last-minute table-side additions and flourishes? Why is it better to pour out the consomme in front of me, rather than doing it in the kitchen? These things always make me want to laugh, and the urge is only compounded by the fact that everyone else is taking it so seriously.

For our main course, Sasha and I deviated quite substantially. He ordered a beef dish, whereas I chose the vegetarian option.

More specifically, Sasha got the "sirloin of ruby red beef, featherblade croustillant, girolles, hisppi cabbage, and red wine jus." Luckily for me, he found the croustillant to be a little on the sweet side (I'm thinking the beef was prepared with molasses or honey?), so I ate the bulk of it for him. It made a nice accompaniment to my dish, "roasted iron bark pumpkin and chanterelles, pine nut cream, purple sprouting broccoli, and chestnut":

I really love squash, but Sasha is not such a fan because it is often a bit sweet and has (in Sasha's opinion) an unpleasant texture. As far as I'm concerned, the only drawback is that it takes forever to prepare. Having it in a restaurant is the perfect compromise, since I don't have to inflict the squash on Sasha's palate, and also can avoid spending 2 hours roasting it.

Because I had spent all day eating as lightly as possible, I actually had some room left over for dessert. In preparation for the final course, our waiter brought us fresh utensils:

I have had many fine dining experiences, but this was the first time I had been brought two spoons for dessert. I was trying to think why this might be necessary when the answer was delivered in front of me:

This was our "pre-dessert" (yes, apparently there is such a thing)--vanilla custard with crumble and a milk crisp. It was very tasty, though surprisingly unsweet for something associated with dessert. It was also incredibly rich and creamy, and was therefore substantial enough to be a stand-alone dish. Sasha and I spent a long time discussing how the little egg cups might have been created, since it's not easy to work with eggshell without causing it to shatter. At one point we even contemplated the use of lasers, though I'm guessing that's a culinary utensil that even Heston Blumenthal doesn't frequently employ.

Although Sasha and I ordered different desserts, we both went for variations on a fruity theme. I had spiced pineapple carpaccio, toasted coconut meringue, and lemongrass and lime sorbet.

It was delicate and delicious, though ultimately more than I could cram into my overly full stomach. Again, Sasha and I wondered how the dish had been prepared. Had they tenderized the pineapple, as you do with a meat carpaccio? Had the fruit been marinated in something, such as syrup or fruit juice? I'm intrigued because I wouldn't mind recreating something like it at home.

Sasha ordered the Tregothnan lemon verbena sorbet and macadamia nut brittle. I didn't get a taste because I was too busy trying to demolish my own plate of sweets; Sasha reported that it was intense but good. 

We also ordered some Taylor's 10-year-old tawny port. I have discovered that port is pretty much the only alcohol that I can abide, so every now and then I indulge in a glass after a good meal. It makes me feel very mature to order a port, and I love the fact that it is described as "tawny." Since I so rarely imbibe alcohol, I made sure to get some photographic proof of the event:

At the end of the evening, we were pleasantly surprised by the bill. It was amazingly economical considering both the caliber of the food (and service), and how much we had consumed. I had been expecting something on the scale of our check at Nathan Outlaw's, but this was more on the order of what we paid at Rick Stein's; it was certainly a bargain for a Michelin-star experience.

I'd very much like to revisit the Driftwood Hotel at a time when it is possible to take in the gorgeous sea views. They don't appear to serve lunch, though it is possible to order hampers from the kitchen and take them for a picnic on the beach. That option may only be available to guests, so perhaps one day we will return for a weekend getaway!


  1. Oh thank you very much Caitlin, now I am absolutely starving. It all looks fantastically lovely, though I have to agree that being fussed around by sycophants all the time is most aggravating... Now where was I.... Butler! get me some Tawny Port now! you inattentive b*****d you.... can't get the staff... ahem... back to the real world. Regards Simon

  2. PS... what time is your clock set on this blog as it appears that I posted at 6:24AM which I can assure you could never happen with my allergy to dawn like behaviour!