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Restaurant Review: Rastella at Merchants Manor, Falmouth in Cornwall

During a stay at Falmouth’s delightful Merchants Manor hotel and spa, my guest, Nick, and I enjoyed a wide selection of the food and drinks available. Our two night dedicated stay was very much enjoyed by us both, with a luxurious massage each and comfortable reception rooms in which to relax. We were treated to two dinners and breakfasts and a lunch and I have summarised below our highlights, of which there were plenty.

Head chef Hylton Espey joined earlier this year and was eager to discuss his menu and to showcase a dish or two for us. He can often be found foraging on the shores for ‘sea vegetables’ and brings his cooking style and experience gained from his native South Africa with him.

From foraged greens to Falmouth Bay lobster and full-flavoured Dexter beef, Rastella’s menus are rooted in the finest local ingredients

Each night before dinner we enjoyed a drink in the bar, a peruse of the menu and a chat with Hilton. The bar has similar décor to the restaurant – stylish, dark blue or grey walls, wood flooring and brightly coloured modern art sitting on the walls – and offers a relaxing environment.

In the restaurant, once seated, we were brought some chunky home-made sourdough bread with Cornish and chilli butters and enjoyed an appetiser of spider crab with foraged sea vegetables and seaweed ‘spaghetti’ which was salty and presented in the shell, making for a very eye-catching dish.

From our meal choices over both nights I would say we were both pleased with the variety of flavours and textures and the presentation of the dishes. I had the colourful duck pastrami with burnt orange, dates and hazelnut, which was full of smokey and fruity flavours and presented beautifully on the plate with colourful leaves, uplifting orange purée dots scattered with hazelnut crumb. My other starter was a line caught Cornish mackerel with confit chicken, grilled baby gem and wild garlic. The mixture of the earthy and fish flavours and crisp textures were a winner for me and the garlic completed the chicken and fish well.

The hotel’s fine dining restaurant, Rastella, offers a great selection of mouthwatering dishes

Nick opted for the Cornish crab with brown crab custard, samphire and grapefruit. Nick said the mixing of the dark and white crab meats in their differing formats worked well together and he appreciated the grapefruit on the dish even though he isn’t a fan of the fruit. He also opted for the ‘Falmouth Rockpool,’ which consisted of coastal shellfish, foraged seaweed and horseradish. He like horseradish and was pleased that there was plenty with this dish. He described it as a whole as fresh and light with tender cockles and clams, complemented nicely with the horseradish. He thinks the seaweed spaghetti is an ‘acquired taste’ but does add a salty flavour.

On the first night both nick and I opted for a steak, which are served with triple cooked chips, roast shallot , pickled mustard seed and watercress. I chose the fillet steak with a smoked cherry tomato sauce – both of which were divine. The beef was of excellent quality and my medium – well done piece was incredibly tender, needing no steak knife. Nick enjoyed his rib eye steak with a Bordelaise sauce, which he said was nice and reminded him of French onion soup. We both loved the crispy chips, which had a tasty truffle flavour on them and agreed that this was up there with the best steak and chips we’ve had. Everything on the plate added something, whether it be a differing texture or flavour, and we were really pleased. Wine choices during our visit showcased one wine in particular, which I couldn’t get enough of (slight exaggeration, I do have my limits!) a local red pinot noir – Black Ewe, Trevibban Mill, Padstow, 2014 – was delightful and paired very kindly with our steaks.

merchants manor restaurant
Rastella offers a relaxed and enjoyable dining experience

Although I really wanted the steak again, the next night I chose the Cornish catch, which was a lovely, chunky piece of brill and was served with ‘buerre noisette, roast cauliflower and pickle.’ This was a delicious plate of food with brill edging itself towards the top of my fish list. The cauliflower was either charred on one side or thinly sliced, offering great textures, while the creamy, tasty sauce, side of truffle fries and mangetout made up a delightful plate of food.

On the second evening Nick had the Primrose pork belly, St Ives cider braised, red cabbage marmalade, apple and parsnip. He described the pork as tender and juicy and said the salty meat and sweet marmalade were a great combination. There was plenty of colour on the plate and he really liked it but craved a bit of crackling.

All desserts fully satisfied our sweet and savoury cravings from a dark chocolate mouse with aero, orange and Cointreau ice cream to the cheeseboard to the plum and vanilla pavlova. The chocolate dish was rich and dense with fresh and fruity accompaniments, while the deconstructed pavlova was light, gentle and mallowy with sweet and chunky fruits, and the cheeses were local (including the delightful Yarg), plentiful and delicious.

Rastella 1
The restaurant offers simple but imaginatively presented dishes

Chatty, friendly staff make your evening run smoothly; they are knowledgable about the wines and food and were so helpful. The restaurant space offers a really comfortable atmosphere with most meals taking place in a conservatory area looking out over the tropical gardens and sunset.

Lunches and afternoon treats are also available from a juicy and flavoursome chicken and vegetable flatbread to a light and tasty mackerel salad to an afternoon tea with fizz. There is little reason to leave Merchants Manor with food this tasty being served. We both thoroughly enjoyed our time here and would happily recommend the food.

In a nutshell
Fresh, local produce is in abundance with a keen kitchen staff preparing and presenting it in simple, yet delicious ways.

Address: 1 Western Terrace, Falmouth TR11 4QJ / 01326 312734