Sunday, 28 April 2013

Where to Eat in Cornwall: Tabb's

I recently purchased a copy of the 2013 Good Food Guide, which profiles all of the best places to eat in Britain. Since I added it to my library, I've been itching to put it to good use, and I finally had the opportunity to do so last week when we were entertaining some VIP scientists who are as interested in food and drink as they are in biology. I made us all reservations at Tabb's, a highly-rated in nearby Truro. Although Truro has a huge selection of restaurants, Sasha and I almost never go there, so it was fun to finally plan an outing to explore what the city has to offer.

We were all surprised to find Tabb's located right on the border of a residential neighborhood; if we hadn't set out deliberately looking for it, we probably never would have found it. The exterior is very low-key, belying what is in store for you inside the establishment. The only hint of the gourmet food in your future is a selection of stickers in the restaurant's window indicating that Tabb's has been recognized by both the Good Food Guide and the folks at Michelin.

The interior of the restaurant is not large, and on this particular evening it was filled with only two other sets of diners. I didn't get a very close look at them as our party was led to our table, but from what I could see, everyone was dressed up a bit more than we were. Luckily, though, the others finished their meals relatively soon after we arrived, leaving us as the only patrons in the establishment. As a result, we didn't have to feel too bad about being a hair on the casual side (not to mention, this also gave us the undivided attention of the hostess/waitress!).

Curls of butter--which we eagerly spread on the warm, freshly-baked bread brought out to us prior to the arrival of our amuse bouches.

As was the case when we ate out at Oliver's the night before, we were given mushroom soup amuse bouches to enjoy as we waited. These were slightly different than their predecessors in that they did not contain as much (or any) garlic, but did have both truffle oil and creme fraiche. The soup was delicious, though if pressed I might have to rule in favor of the Oliver's recipe simply because I love garlic so much.

My mushroom soup amuse bouche, served in a tiny teacup with an even tinier spoon.

The menu featured many starters that sounded quite delicious; I was tempted by the bisque that Sasha ordered but ultimately decided on pigeon breast with squid ink pasta and a poached egg. I had been intrigued by Sasha's pigeon appetizer during our recent trip to the Hix, and I've always wanted to try something containing sepia, so those novelties are what sold me on that particular dish. The egg was maybe not quite as done as I would have liked, but I'm a little sensitive about that. Everything else was very tasty, and the pigeon breast was really tender.

Smoked haddock bisque with a chili relish

Pigeon breast, squid ink noodles, poached egg, and sun-dried tomato dressing

Everyone else at the table ordered the scallops, which always tempt me, as well; it's hard to go wrong with these, especially if they are locally caught.

Pan-fried scallops and hog's pudding
The hog's pudding portion of the scallop appetizer instigated a long discussion on the origin of the word "pudding." Here in Britain, people use "pudding" as a synonym for "dessert." Americans, of course, associate the word with a particular type of dessert product (a creamy, mousse-y sort of thing). It turns out that the original meaning of the word (which dates back to the 13th century, in case you are interested) is "sausage," which is where "hog's pudding" comes from. In fact, Christmas puddings, which we know today as sweet, fruity holiday desserts, were first developed in the 14th century as a method of preserving meat--hence Christmas pudding in the traditional sausage-y sense, rather than the one we generally use today. The fruity bits were included as a preservative; over time, the sweet ingredients were increased and the meat was decreased, giving rise to the winter treat we know today. Although I've looked through dictionaries and the all-knowing Wikipedia, I have yet to figure out exactly how we made the transition from one meaning of "pudding" to the other, though I suspect the evolution of the word parallels the evolution of the holiday dish. Maybe a dessert-terminology expert will read this post and provide some enlightenment!

In any case, all this conjecture gave us plenty to talk about while we waited for our meals. Since I'd had venison the evening before, I decided to select the vegetarian option this time around: assorted baked vegetables in a light cream sauce, covered in a layer of herby bread crumbs. To my dismay, the dish contained peppers, which I normally detest; to my surprise, however, I didn't mind eating them in this context. For one thing, they were chopped up fairly small, but for another, I think my pepper tolerance is increasing with age. Maybe one day I'll wake up actually liking them!

Several people ordered the duo of venison, which, as you can see from the image above, was beautiful; half of the dish came in an adorable little copper pot that I wanted to steal and take home. The venison was accompanied by potatoes and some wonderful panko-breaded zucchini slices. My meal was not meant to be accompanied by any of the side dishes, but the zucchinis were so good that I couldn't help but eat a few on the sly.

After dinner, I ordered a pot of mint tea; I was interested in several of the desserts but was fairly full and didn't want to indulge two nights in a row.

My colleagues at the far end of the table ordered the Cornish cheese platter, which was too far away for me to photograph. In fact, I couldn't even see it very well from where I was sitting, but I could quite clearly hear everyone making satisfied sounds as they tried the Cornish blue, goat cheese, and cheddar.

On my end of the table, Sasha tucked in to the sticky toffee pudding with dark chocolate sorbet and caramel sauce. Oddly, he's not actually the biggest fan of sticky toffee pudding, but he just felt like giving this one a try. He seemed pretty satisfied with the result, and the dish certainly looked appetizing:

You might think that there could be no more surprises left after the dessert course, but Tabb's had one last trick up its sleeve. After drinking all that mint tea, I decided to make a quick restroom visit before the trip home. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that the toilet seat in the ladies' stall was sparkly! This piqued my curiosity about whether the men also had a sparkly seat, or perhaps had been given a more "manly" theme. So, on my way out of the facilities, I stuck my head in the adjacent stall and, lo and behold, I found that their seat contained barbed wire!

The women's (left) and men's (right) toilets at Tabb's
I don't expect everyone to get as excited about toilet seats as I do, but I think you'll agree that this was a fun and unexpected touch. I found it particularly amusing because everything in the front of the house seemed so proper and genteel, while the bathroom was a bit funky and whimsical. I like your style, Tabb's.

The only other thing to mention about our visit to the restaurant is that our hostess/waitress was fantastic--friendly, knowledgeable, and helpful. In the course (no pun intended!) of my culinary adventures, I have gone to a number of upscale restaurants where the waitstaff are really snooty and obnoxious, but our server was very relaxed and friendly, all while maintaining the sort of sophisticated elegance that you'd expect at a Michelin-recommended establishment. Kudos to the restaurant for being classy without being exclusive.

Tabb's Restaurant can be found at 85 Kenwyn Street, Truro, TR1 3BZ, UK. TripAdvisor ratings can be seen here.

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