Restaurant Review: The Terrace Restaurant at Talland Bay Hotel, Looe in Cornwall
Nick Hawke, the Talland Bay Hotel’s head chef, learnt his trade from a Michelin-starred chef …. and his grandmother. Cooking alongside Grandma in her Cornish cottage kitchen, in the tiny hamlet of Hay St.Stephen, Nick learnt early on that good food could be foraged just beyond your doorstep. It’s a culinary journey that’s taken him through smoked prawn ketchup and, for a pre-dessert, macerated grapes with Prosecco foam.
Grandma, with a frugal waste not want not want approach, taught young Nick how to make jams, jellies, pea pasties and apple snow. Embryonic culinary skills that have developed over the years, helping The Terrace to win the title of South West Best Restaurant. Today, foodies travel from afar to the idyllic Talland Bay Hotel.
Even a preprandial Gin and Tonic epitomises the restaurant’s local sourcing. Jack Ashby-Wright, General Manager, worked with Steve Dustow of nearby Colwith Farm Distillery, to create Talland Bay Number I Gin. Appropriately, Colwith’s motto is “from plough to bottle.”
Ashby-Wright sawed a bough from one of the century old pine trees, in the two acres of sub-tropical gardens, to provide the merest hint of pine. Then he took handfuls of rose petals and mint, again from the gardens, before adding coriander, cinnamon and angelica to reflect the garden’s Mediterranean style. “It took five batches before I felt that we had it right,” said Ashby-Wright.
Most guests love that gin and you can buy a bottle to take home. If it is not to your taste there are still another 70 Gins behind the bar as well as Cornish Craft Beers. Relax in a lounge whose collection of art seems more eclectically curated than the Tate Modern. Enjoy lavishly thick-oiled landscapes, glittery New Age scenes and vast-vividly coloured abstracts.
Honoured with two AA Rosettes, The Terrace Restaurant must surely be pushing for a third. When the the amuse-bouche arrives – a mini-teacup of Cornish soup, smoothly velvety and crab bisquey – you understand why guests have travelled from as far as Japan for Hawke’s esoteric take on Cornish cuisine.
Located between the sea-swept fishing villages of Looe and Polperro, it is no surprise that Hawke appreciates working with boat fresh fish. Frequently tasting and testing, Hawke is a tough taskmaster – he has just changed the mussels supplier. In summer, eating al fresco on the restaurant terrace, the evocative sea breeze enhances the favours of seafood.
Of course turbot is a stand-out dish on the menu but the problem for every chef is what do you pair with roasted firm-white flesh from The Prince of Fish? A crispy croquette of flaky mild oxtail is Hawke’s creative surf-and-turf answer to that eternal problem – plus a sauce of chunky prawns to redresses the balance back towards surf. Even the recommended wine pairing of Gris d’Ardeche stands up to the Oxtail.
The rain-watered, sun-dried emerald Cornish landscape helps source superlative beef and lamb from the moorlands. Selected butchers wrap their meat in drying paper rather than moisture-trapping plastic to preserve the natural textures.
A pre-desert is an architectural miracle. A fragile jenga-like architectural creation of translucent slithers of apple and millimetre thin wavers of meringue combine to put a roof over the head of a delicate apple sorbet.
But do we have a doppelgänger on the menu? Is the starter of Beetroot and Apple, a Tarte Tatin, a wannabe dessert with an identity crisis? Dressed with a Cornish Nanny Blue Cheese Mousse is it merely the alter ego of the savoury dessert? That’s a crunchy wagon-wheel of Roasted Beetroot and Apple Chutney Crumble served with Cornish Nanny Mousse and Nut Granola. Role reassignment for beetroot? Subtle variations on a theme of apple? Chutney surreptitiously crossing the border to become a dessert? There’s an ambiguity to crumble which can either be mains or dessert? Orate these two echoing courses, a starter and a dessert, merely symmetry to bookend a meal?
Never has a dish asked so many questions about the meaning of pud.
A: Talland Bay Hotel, Porthallow, Cornwall PL13 2JB
T: 01503 272667
Dinner is £45 per person for a three-course menu including canapes, amuse-bouche and pre-dessert.
To stay at the hotel double rooms begin from around £160 per night (low season) including breakfast.