Review: The Gurnard’s Head, Cornwall

It’s been a very long day. You’re navigating along a narrow winding lane with rough granite walls on either side, occasionally rounding a corner to find yourself driving through a farmyard, or face-to-face with an oncoming tractor. Grey clouds roll overhead, to your left is a high and windswept moorland, to your right there’s just a handful of moody cows and a long drop between you and the slaty Atlantic ocean. You’ve left the last town in England* behind you, and what the map says is about four miles seems to wind on forever. You’re in Cornwall, of course. And then ahead of you rises the friendly granite bulk of a pub in glorious isolation, with “Gurnards Head” written on the slate roof in huge white letters.

It’s hard to imagine a location more requiring of a friendly welcome, a cosy room and some good cooking. Luckily the Gurnard’s Head scores high on all three. I get the impression that most people choose to dine and stay the night. Very sensible too, as it stands in glorious isolation on the rugged coast of Penwith, the very last bit of Cornwall before you fall into the Atlantic. And why attempt a

perilous drive to the nearest town on a dark and stormy night when there’s perfectly brilliant food on offer at the pub?

As far as accommodation goes, the rooms here are going to divide opinion. I loved it; gorgeous Welsh blankets on the comfy bed, old unfussy sticks of furniture, a book shelf of random tomes and a window out onto the rough Cornish moorland. The in-room hot drinks include freshly ground coffee and tea that was actually grown in Cornwall. On the other hand, the shower was a piddly electric unit that dispensed scalding hot then freezing cold water in (mercifully predictable) twenty second bursts, the mechanism on the window blind was broken, there was no wardrobe to hang up clothes, no full-length mirror and no desk or table to sit at. So if you are the kind of person irritated by quirks and only happy with “all mod cons” then I suggest you check into the St Ives Holiday Inn. You’ve been warned!

Downstairs there’s a friendly bar, with friendly bar staff, and a boldly painted rustic dining room that makes the most of the massive

granite walls of the old pub. Proper local beers on tap, and an interesting and thoughtful selection of wines by the glass. The wines are excellent value, the more so once you sit down to eat. We ambled down for a drink at the bar before dinner, refreshed and ready for the trough.

My starter was a plate of rich, sticky pieces of braised calf’s tongue. Delicious, but knocked into touch by Maureen’s dish of oyster rissoles sitting in a bowl of grass green vichyssoise of alexanders. If you’re not a forager that might look a bit greek. I ‘splain. Alexanders are a wild plant vaguely like parsley, one of the first things to start growing on clifftops and almost forgotten as a food. I’m guessing they provided the strong green colour and flavour that complimented the warm, crunchy, salty rissole so well. I just love being given something

from the hedgerow that I’ve scarcely heard of, especially when it tastes good.

And so to main course, where I chose guineafowl and Maureen picked cod. She won again, this being probably the most perfectly cooked piece of cod I’ve encountered, no doubt benefiting from having been landed less than ten miles away. It was accompanied by fat, chewy pickled cockles and a balancing mixture of veg. My guineafowl was a superb supper dish, the bird carefully cooked to keep some pink and matched beautifully with creamy mousseline potatoes and enormous fat chunks of braised leek. I don’t mind saying, I am never going to cook leeks any other way ever again.

My dessert was a log of banana-y parfait with a dark chocolate sorbet and crystallised peanuts. The sorbet was great, the first example to convince me that the words “chocolate” and “sorbet” should ever be used so closely together on a menu. The parfait wasn’t my thing; parfait logs always look industrial, with little indentations from

the wrapping still visible like moulded concrete. Maureen, feeling full, went for a melon soup which was light but had a surprising depth of roast melon flavour and plenty of umami. As someone who has tried (and failed) to make melon soup taste good, I could really appreciate it.

Good stuff. We trundled back upstairs very well fed and watered, marvelling that such a neat gem of a dining room should be able to survive in such an out of the way place. Especially as their rate for Dinner, Bed & Breakfast is so damnably reasonable; their mid-week winter special D&B&B was £125 per couple, which feels like either the room or the meal were almost thrown in as a freebie. A stay at The Gurnard’s Head is a huge and welcome breath of fresh air.

We enjoyed ourselves so much that we stayed (and ate) another night. Scallops, crab, more great fish and kippers for breakfast!

* – in fact the tiny town of St Just is further west, only a mile or two from Land’s End, but you’ll allow me some poetic license

2 pings

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    […] I can report the rooms comfy and restful with top quality tea things; just like their sister pub, The Gurnard’s Head in Cornwall. As a place to stay while exploring the Welsh borders, I wouldn’t hesitate to […]

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    […] Cornish coast which boasts more and more top-notch dining, like a personal favourite of mind the Gurnard’s Head. Thence through the South Hams of Devon, with just about the greatest concentration of artisan […]

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