Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Fine dining in Cornwall: The Victoria Inn, Perranuthnoe

We've been going to Perranuthnoe in Cornwall for the last four years, and before then we stayed in a different Cornish village nearby. We love that part of the world with its seemingly slow pace of life. The village itself is pretty small, and there is not much to do apart from spending all the time on the beach, but we enjoy the peace and quiet of this coastal village and the lack of tourists. The cottage where we usually stay is just a couple of minutes away from the award-winning pub, The Victoria Inn. They claim to be one of the oldest inns in Cornwall. Despite staying in the village several times, we haven't visited the pub for meals before, though my husband had drinks there a couple of times.

TheVictoria Inn, Perranuthnoe

As a foodie, I was very curious about meals there, especially that I heard of this pub's reputation as one of the finest eateries in the area.
This year, my Mum, who accompanied us on a trip, insisted that we should go out, while she would look after our kids. We booked the table a day before, and the choice was either having dinner at 6.16pm or after 9pm. I didn't want to eat that late, so we opted for an early meal.
Though we were told all the tables were booked, when we arrived after 6pm, most of the tables were empty, the table next to us remained empty all the time we were there, and there were a lot of unused tables in the room next door, as you can see from my photos. Maybe some people didn't turn up, but I doubt all of these tables were booked. I had a feeling they exaggerated their importance and availability when we were booking the table.

First impressions?
I was a tad disappointed with the interior, as it looks like any other pub, a mix of the Victorian and modern styles. For being one of the oldest inns, it doesn't have much of the vintage feel, like big heavy old beams or a fascinating fireplace (just comparing with some truly old pubs I visited in the past). It was as if the interior designer or the pub owner didn't know whether to go for the "old Cornish" kitsch look or modern art style with pictures of over-sized mushrooms and indifferent still life paintings.

We were seated in the bar room, not far from the entrance, and I wasn't all that happy with the locals coming in with very smelly dogs. I presume they just came in after a walk on the beach. They did eventually move to the courtyard, but the smell still lingered.
The table was pretty small, and crammed, and the soft bench I was sitting on was rather low, smelly and not very comfortable.
So, what about the food? Was it of an award-winning standard?

I loved the sound of Fried Newlyn butterfly sardines with spicy vegetable salsa and chilli, lime and coriander dressing. It was excellent. The dressing was zingy and had a good amount of heat. The sardines were fresh, flavourful, and all the elements of the starter worked beautifully together. Top marks for my starter.

My husband opted for Crispy basil and Old Winchester cheese arancini, roasted tomatoes, Trevelyan farm leaves and herb oil dressing. They looked pretty with big pieces of shaved parmesan, and though for me arancini are associated with Sicily, not Cornwall, my darling husband enjoyed them.

Roasted Cornish lemon sole with anchovies, cherry tomatoes, courgettes, potatoes and pesto sauce caught my eye on the menu, but my husband decided to order the same, so I have picked another dish. When our main courses arrived, he looked at my plate, then at his own, and sheepishly said that he would rather have the hake which I ordered. I was happy to swap.
The sole dish was assembled quite artfully. The fish itself was very tasty, but it was a very big portion. I would have been much happier with just one fillet, not the whole fish.
Now anchovies, love them or hate them. I do love anchovies, but if I were the chef, I would use the salted anchovies, and not the marinated variety. There were also too many of them. Just a few salted anchovies would have been perfect. As it is, I would grade it as 4- out of 5.

Roasted Newlyn hake, Primrose herd chorizo and chickpea stew with champ potato looked less pretty, but was delicious, according to my dear husband. I couldn't resist tasting the mashed potatoes and a tiny bit of hake, and it was very good. Nice flavours through and through.

Lemon pannacotta with summer berries, meringue, elderflower ice cream and shortbread biscuit arrived on a small ceramic tray. It was a creative combination of textures. Having sampled the ice cream, my husband said it was interesting which is his euphemism for "I don't like it". The pannacotta got more praise from him.

Vanilla creme brulee with Cornish strawberries, basil syrup, lemon ice cream and shortbread biscuit can be commended for the inventiveness and originality. I would still work on it though, there is something about it that doesn't quite perform as a whole. In separate bites, the flavours are good, but it was like eating two totally separate desserts, the same could be said about the pannacotta. I don't think a good pannacotta needs an ice cream or crushed meringues. Strawberries are lovely with ice cream, but then the creme brulee is redundant.
It was a bit like "Let's do it Masterchefy, and add as many different ingredients as possible", which sometimes works, sometimes doesn't quite work.

All in all, the pub menu is pretty impressive, if you are not a vegetarian. For vegetarians, I counted only one starter (and even that came with what looked like a shaved parmesan cheese) and one main course. They do say on the menu "If you're a vegetarian, ask for some alternative choices", but it would be nice to have a bigger choice on the menu without asking.

The staff were friendly and smiley, but not overly speedy. Though we had our starters and main course ready pretty soon, I think it was due to the fact that we were almost the first ones to dine there. With the dessert we had to wait quite a while, and I wished we didn't order any, as I was getting quite anxious, worrying how my Mum was coping with the kids.

I would be curious to try more dishes on the menu, we might even go again the next year, if my Mum comes with us to help looking after our sons for an evening.

My scores are:
Meals: a good 4
Ambiance: 3 (sorry)
Prices: we paid over £74 for the above with one glass of rose, a glass of Prosecco and a little tumbler of Sauternes. With the tip, it went way above £80.

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