Restaurant Review: Samphire at The Headland Hotel, Newquay in Cornwall
With an AA Rosette under its belt and preparing for inspection for another, the Samphire restaurant at The Headland Hotel is doing its best to keep up with its four star host.
Located in a stunning position at the end of Newquay’s famous Fistral Beach, the hotel offers a spa with top notch treatments, a host of facilities including a surf school and elegant reception rooms and bedrooms, making the most of its inspiring location.
I was there in the summer to sample the latest restaurant menu and was intrigued to see how it had changed since a previous visit nine months before. I started the evening with my guest, Nick, in the bar and sipped on a special cocktail on the terrace, looking out to the Atlantic. Named ‘Crown Jewels,’ the drink had been created to celebrate the Queen’s birthday and consisted of Chambord, Sapphire gin and Cointreau topped with Prosecco, pomegranates, lime peel, and pomegranate peel. It was expertly crafted by Arthur and had a gentle kick (or so I thought until about half an hour later!) and was fruity, fresh and flavoursome. The bar staff are worth a special mention – they are chatty, friendly and helpful and are not lacking in their efforts to ensure you are looked after.
We headed to the Samphire restaurant and were pleased to be seated next to a window so we could fully enjoy the view of the ocean, although the length of the large room is floor to ceiling window so don’t really miss out wherever you sit. The menu consists of a range of dishes – six starters and six mains with two vegetarian options on each – and includes octopus ballotine with red peppers and Nocellera olives (starter) and baked round courgette, tarka dal, spring onion pakoras and coriander salad (main).
For my starter I thought the gnudi, morels and sorrel sounded tasty and they were. Gnudi, the ricotta version of gnocchi, are less dense without the flour and, obviously, more cheesy. I happen to love cheese in just about every form so these little squidgy delights were well received. A little sprinkling of cheese on top along with little pieces of morels, sorrel and a buttery sauce completed the dish but I felt it was lacking something. Perhaps a bit of truffle or a crispy texture to complement the cheesiness would have worked here.
Nick opted for seared pigeon breast with beetroot, pear and caraway and was pleased with the presentation. The plate was full of colour and texture with a crispy, cheesy pastry parcel complementing the red meat and beetroot, which was roasted, pickled and puréed. The portion size was good and there was a classic flavour combination but Nick said it lacked the ‘wow’ factor.
For my main course I chose the beef shin daube, polenta, charred onion and tomato salsa. I was thrilled with my choice as it smelled divine, was packed with flavour and the beef fell apart, as hoped. The large crispy edged polenta chip was smooth inside and went well with the beef. The onion was tasty with a nice crunch and a rich gravy and asparagus spears accompanied this all. The cold salsa was nice but I don’t think it was needed here, unless it was warm, or had a smoked flavour. Overall it was a rich, tasty, sumptuous, textureful and flavoursome dish, with the delicate beef the winner for me.
Nick’s main course was a Moroccan spiced lamb rump, shank b’stilla, harissa mayonnaise and fregola. He said the dish as a whole was lightly spiced, in his opinion, which is good so that it can appeal to many. There were lots of different elements and flavours with a crispy, spiced minted b’stilla (Moroccan serving of meat in a thin pastry parcel) with delicate lamb inside, juicy rump, sweet purée, refreshing mayonnaise and crunchy green vegetables. He wasn’t keen on the fregola, but that is his personal preference and, overall, he said it was a well constructed dish.
I couldn’t resist the dark chocolate brownie and pistachio ice cream for dessert. I didn’t know chocolate could get that dark and luxurious! The thick, smooth brownie slab was lifted nicely by the colourful, flavoursome ice cream, which was rolled in a pistachio crumb, and a crunchy chocolate tuille. It was a delightful end to my meal.
Nick’s dessert of a classic sherry trifle looked like summer in a bowl. Exquisite layers of fruit, jelly custard and cream were topped with flaked almonds and raspberries to create a light and tasty finale that Nick enjoyed very much.
The restaurant retains the elegance and grandeur that the rest of the hotel has and makes use of its high, decorative ceiling with large lampshades and glistening chandeliers. The walls and pillars are painted an olive green and soothing, instrumental string music plays softly in the background. The hotel is sophisticated and well taken care of with contemporary décor merging with its classic century old heritage well.
We were kindly put up for the night and were ecstatic to have a corner suite. The view, of course, was incredible looking out to Fistral Beach from the lounge area and bathroom and back to the town and water from the bed side windows running along the width of the room. A huge dark wood four poster bed gave us a very comfortable night’s sleep and a double wardrobe with window front offered plenty of space to store our belongings and was framed with glass shelving holding pretty blue glassware. A dining table and chairs, two seater sofa and coffee table and desk and mirror completed the ornate dark wood furniture in the spacious room, while gold framed mirrors and refreshing light blue and cream décor reflected the coast and retained the glamour of the hotel. The bathroom was stunning with a stand alone bath resting under the window with that view, glorious heated flooring, a double shower with digital controls, a double sink and a large mirror in front of the sink unit.
Breakfast here is absolutely worth a mention, with a massive selection of food to choose from you could be there all morning. I dipped in and out of the hot and cold buffet with a sampling of hash browns, fried egg and beans and a crisp bread roll with Brie and Cornish Yarg, two mini chocolate tostades (yes, two), a coffee and apple and raspberry juice. Nick ordered off the specials menu and liked his smoked salmon and scrambled eggs and there was an array of other buffet items to try including fruits, cold meats, pastries and muffins.
In a nutshell
The Samphire restaurant is doing its best to match the luxury of the hotel, it is not quite there yet but it is trying. I have however, seen a major improvement in the food since the last time I visited and I have no doubt that it will continue to improve and gain recognition for this. The space itself and the view that is offered up is second to none. Both visits have provided Nick and myself with a happy, memorable stay – it’s a wonderful place.
Address: The Headland Hotel & Spa, Newquay, Cornwall TR7 1EW / +44 (0)1637 872211