Musings (more like rambling thoughts) of a Cardiff based lawyer obsessed with food and wine
With Sterling on its arse at the time and the weather this year in the UK rather fine, Mrs. SF and I decided on an autumn break (end of Sept/start of Oct.) in Cornwall (as ever it has taken me a while to get this post together).
Whilst the likes of Rock, Padstow/Padstein and Port Isaac, with their superstar chefs (Rich Stein, Nathan Outlaw and Paul Ainsworth) attracts the “foodies”, I tend to venture further South to the village of Porthleven (mainland UK’s most Southerly working port and very dog friendly), which offers a number of decent culinary experiences including the very good Kota (run by Jude Keemara of Great British Menu fame).
It also makes for a very good base to range out from in order to discover the wilds of the Lizard and other delights of Southern Cornwall.
We usually include a trip to the pretty coastal village of Mousehole (some very nice galleries there – I like paintings of boats), with lunch on the way there or back (the Old Coastguard or the Gurnard’s Head being favourites – both offering fab food and a dog friendly environment) and one place we have tended to just pass through getting to or from Mousehole is Newlyn.
The size of the fish industry here and the associated infrastructure means it is not as picture postcard as places like Mousehole, but if you want to buy fish there are few places in the UK where you will get it cheaper or fresher.
I had heard tell of a pretty good pub in Newlyn, run by the well regarded Ben Tunnicliffe, offering top quality seafood in a proper pub setting (at not taking the p#ss prices). I love fish, but don’t eat as much of it as I should and this provided the perfect opportunity to taste it at its freshest.
This brought Mrs. SF and I to the Tolcarne Inn in Newlyn – a dog friendly, pub abutting the harbour wall and a stone’s throw away from Newlyn’s fish market. This all promised a “you can’t get fresher than that” fish feast.
Nice looking place, which has the feel of a proper pub, with people coming in for just a pint as well as people, like Mrs. SF and I, who were there for the food.
Cosy and they made a fuss of the dogs, which they love. Happy dogs usually means happy dog owners.
Whilst a nice place for just a drink, with a pleasant interior and a decent outside area, it is definitely geared up for eating fish with your drink.
Fish was definately on my mind, with only a solitary meat dish on the menu (dinner only). Frankly if you are in Newlyn you would be insane to not have fish, if you are eating out. Like going to Naples and not having pizza.
The menu as mentioned above is fish, fish and some more fish. Sensible bearing in mind the local produce on their doorstep.
The menu outside gives an indication of what is on offer, but inside a black board provides actual “on the day” details. As stuff runs out it is wiped from the board.
Whilst hugely tempted by the starter of mackerel (a massively underrated fish – Two Anchors at Sticky Fingers in Cardiff does a mean mackerel sarnie), I am a sucker for a good fish soup. A real crowd pleaser when done properly, a water mess when not.
There was no fear of the latter here, with a vibrant, thick, bowl of beautiful rich and flavour packed piping hot soup (£6.50) arriving at the table.
A fish soup is only ever as good as the base stock and this one was a doozey. In terms of the fish content, I would say (looking at the other items on the menu) pollock and hake were in the mix and possibly monkfish and mullet also. Heavy presence of crustaceans in the base stock.
It came with some nice croutons/crostini and a punchy, garlicy, rouille.
Lovely stuff and all a fish soup should be.
Mrs. SF went for the rather interesting monkfish cheeks (seen cod cheeks before, but not monkfish ones, but given the size of a monkfish’s head it makes perfect sense)
Very generous portion of beautifully crisp breaded cheeks that had a wonderfully meaty texture.
It came with a very pleasing guacamole, cooling but with a nice hit of chilli to it, a good chilli jam and a very nicely dressed side salad. Really good dish.
There is a lot of waste with monkfish, with a yield as against total weight (they have a very big head, with only the tail generally being eaten) of a mere 16%, so any use of the head flesh is a good thing and these cheeks were really tasty. We really should see more of these in restaurants and retail.
For mains I was torn between the hake (probably the favourite fish of the Spaniards, who are obsessed with seafood so know a thing or two as to what is good) and the sea trout (sewin here in Wales). The saffron cream sauce and the mussels sold the sea trout to me and I didn’t regret my decision.
The fish had a lovely flake to it and was cooked à point for me. It was a big piece of fish and had a really good flavour to it. Atop it was a perfectly crisp piece of fish skin and several plump juicy mussels.
The accompanying mash was silky smooth and buttery, with the leeks retained a just blanched, crunch.
The saffron infused cream sauce was cut with a touch of citrus and laced liberally with fresh herbs which offset its richness. So good I was told off by Mrs. SF when I started wiping the plate with my finger so as to mop up its last vestiges.
Mrs. SF decided to continue the breadcrumb theme and went for fish cakes as her main.
Lovely crispy (oil free) panko breadcrumb coating encased plentiful chunks of smoked (haddock) and unsmoked fish ( possibly sea trout and pollock looking at the menu) and a mustard seed infused mash.
This came with a seriously good tartare sauce, with a really nice tartness and crunch to it from liberal use of capers and cornichons. Perfect as against the smokeiness of the fish.
This all sat on some lightly (and I mean show them the pan rather than put them in it other than for the merest few seconds) cooked crisp runner beans. I am a bit funny when it comes to runner beans. If there is one bit of string the whole lot goes in the bin, but here they where thankfully entirely stringless. They were, however, just a touch too on the raw side of cooked for me. I like my veg cooked al dente, but these were barely cooked at all – al dentist perhaps. Mrs. SF disagreed with me (happens a lot) regarding the beans, which she thought were cooked just right.
On the booze front, I was driving and whilst in theory a small glass of wine might not put you over the limited it just isn’t worth the risk. In addition, if I have one small glass I only feel cheated when I can’t have another.
As such, despite a rather fine looking booze selection, with local beers ciders and spirits as well as wines, I was on the bitter shandy.
This was rather a shame as the wine list wasn’t half bad, with a nice selection of both whites
With the my sea trout I would (had I been able) have been tempted to go for a red rather than a white. Either one of the two pinot noir on the list or perhaps the fleurie would have worked with my sea trout I reckon.
With my soup and the fish cakes, I would have probably gone for a white in the form of the Talmard Macon (a nice crisp, unoaked, chardonnay) on the list (bit of a hefty mark up on it though).
Mrs. SF decided on a local cider from Polgoon Vineyard and Orchard, which is a stone’s throw away from Newlyn. On the way back from Newlyn to Porthleven after lunch we picked up a few bottles of wine and cider from there.
Very nice, crisp, dry, apply flavour to the Polgoon cider, without any chemical undertone. For the small sip of it I had, I thought it really refreshing and rather nice stuff.
My only issue with the list was the utter lack of sherries on it. I know I moan about this all the time (I am becoming, I fear, a bit of a sherry bore), but finos and manzanillas, in particular, are fantastic wines with seafood and any fish oriented place that doesn’t have these sherries on its list is seriously missing a trick.
I really enjoyed the fish at the Tolcarne Inn. If you are going to eat fish, somewhere next to a big trawler/day boat port is probably a good bet for super fresh fish.
We paid around £50 for two (two courses each), drinks and coffees. Whilst not cheap (good quality fish rarely is) for lunch I thought it fair value for money.
Would I go back? Absolutely the area is a regular holiday destination for Mrs. SF and I and we have added this place to our growing list of good places to eat (that are dog friendly) down that way.
If you are looking for a break next year then I can heartedly recommend tbe deep South of Cornwall
If you are there, this place is a treat for fish lovers
Address: 9 Tolcarne Terrace, Newlyn, Cornwall, TR18 5PS
Tel: 01736 363074
Website: click here