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Photograph: James Ram

The 16 best restaurants in Cornwall

Cornwall is known as a foodie paradise and for good reason. These are the best restaurants in Cornwall

Edited by
John Bills
Written by
Time Out editors
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English tourism collections don’t come much more prestigious than this. The beaches of Cornwall might be the region’s most beloved attribute, but the vast array of restaurants aren’t far behind, with a collection of spots that manage to bridge the fabled gap between traditional recipes and culinary innovation.

Many of Britain’s finest chefs inevitably find their way to the bottom of the country, opening elite restaurants, boutique gastropubs and all the rest. It isn’t difficult to understand why. Practically every town has somewhere special to eat, so pack the appetite and eat your way from Launceston to the Isles of Scilly.

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When news broke that Stein had acquired the fine old village pub in St Merryn, it was hard not to envisage, with inescapable cynicism, a chic makeover, a gastrofied menu and prices pitched at global voyagers, not villagers. To his credit, Stein hasn’t taken that route. The menu is made up of simple British pub fare (real beef burger, ploughman’s, fresh tomato soup with tapenade, apple pie) prepared with care, and the decor is traditional and rustic, with old black-and-white photos on the wall and bottles of ketchup and malt vinegar sitting prosaically on each wooden table.

 

Despite the slick look – lots of white, blond woods and trendy (though actually very comfortable) white plastic chairs – prices are perfectly reasonable at this bar-restaurant, right on Gyllyngvase Beach. Menu options include gourmet burgers (in Baker Tom’s ciabatta) with chunky skin-on chips and posh fish and chips. But the wide wrap-around beachside terrace at the front, giving far-reaching views of the estuary, is the real draw (fleece blankets are provided on nippy nights). Gylly attracts a mix of well-heeled tourists and locals of all ages, while the serving staff are bright young things who have perfected the art of speedy service.

 

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Dinner at the Tresanton exudes effortless quality: everything from the cut-above waiting staff to the thick, starched napkins, smart decor, and elevated prices is a statement of gastronomic intent. The food delivers: choose from a daily-changing Modern European menu of fresh fish dishes, classic meat selections or imaginative vegetarian fare (pappardelle with wild mushrooms and truffle oil, for example), executed with flair and precision. Summer brings cocktails and dinner on the terrace, with views over the St Anthony lighthouse and Fal Estuary. For food and service of this quality in the area, the Tresanton has few peers. If your budget won’t stretch to dinner, call by for a light lunch or a cream tea on the terrace.

 

Dwelling House

This delectable little period tearoom is a must for cake aficionados, particularly those who swoon at the sight of three tiers of pastel-hued cupcakes. (Think dainty lavender sprigs on light purple icing, a sprinkling of mini marshmallows on a vanilla cream topping, or an artful swirl of chocolate.) Said cupcakes are served on their very own vintage cake stand and are ideally accompanied by a pot of loose leaf tea (25 varieties available). Less cute offerings include a superb walnut and coffee cake, sticky toffee pudding and light lunches (cold platters, soup, sandwiches). Forget about nervously clattering teacups and pretension: the staff are charming, the prices reasonable, and the menu rather sweetly concedes that, while fine leaf tea is a wonderful thing, they understand that sometimes only a strong teabag will do. There’s a small walled garden out the back, and Dwelling House is also a B&B, offering double rooms and breakfast for around £80.

 

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The impressive choice of fish varieties at Stein's blows your average fish and chip shop out of the water. The pebbled counters, shell-framed mirrors and clean interior create a comfortable beachy atmosphere – although it is all too easily packed out by the hordes of families clamouring to sample the Stein reputation. Ultimately, it is the food that matters, and the quality of the fish is impeccable. Expect generous portions of plump, juicy fillets encased in a perfect golden batter (or grilled if you prefer), served with steaming hot, crisp-shelled chips and a slice of fresh lemon – to eat in (inboxes) or take away. It is worth the wait.

 

Croust House

The excellent restaurant at Roskilly’s, converted from the old milking parlour, is all about homely, comforting fare (pasty and salad, jackets, baguettes, quiche and soup) at sensible prices. The atmosphere here is refreshingly low-key – you order from the counter and are welcome to hang out on the farm for the rest of the day. With ample bench seating in the large courtyard, a dedicated kids’ menu and farm activities on-site, families are in their element.

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Such is the beauty of this riverside country estate, we’d settle for any excuse to visit Trelowarren – so the fact that its chic, airy restaurant is also the best place to dine on the Lizard is a happy bonus. In the evening, prices dictate that New Yard, converted from the old carriage house, is somewhere for a Nice Meal Out rather than a casual bite, but thankfully it’s not a tense, cutlery-scraping kind of place – the warm, friendly service and deep country setting keep things relaxed. There are half a dozen outdoor tables in the pretty courtyard.

St Ives’ own gourmet burger company occupies a pint-sized space secreted down a pretty, narrow lane. Seating is on stools at communal tables, and elbow room is scarce, but once you’ve sunk your teeth into one of Blas’s chargrilled burgers, comfort seems a secondary consideration. In the absence of an available seat, grab a burger and walk a few yards to the seafront (keeping a watchful eye on the circling seagulls, renowned for their barefaced swoop-and-steal operations). Cornish meat is used in all the beefburgers, and Blas has a committed green agenda. All organic waste is composted, the furniture is made from reclaimed timber, and local produce is king. Service is exemplary. Note that opening times vary – and that sometimes (spring half-terms, for example) lunch is served out of season.

 

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With the desolate Penwith moorland on one side and the foaming sea on the other, this coastal inn – named after the rocky outcrop a few fields away, shaped like a gurnard’s head – boasts a splendidly isolated setting. Although the gastronomically astute menu, confident service and rustic chic decor place the Gurnard’s well out of the pub grub bracket, the atmosphere is buoyant and informal, the prices fair and the food fuss-free. This is hearty British comfort food of the highest order: pork belly with mash, cabbage, cider and thyme, or rabbit and partridge terrine. Also the owners of the celebrated Felin Fach Griffin in Wales, the Inkins are firm believers in ‘the simple things in life done well’. And so now are hundreds of hungry hikers, urban refugees and locals getting together for a family roast – so bookings are essential in high season. One of Cornwall’s best eats. There are also seven rooms available if you want to stay over.

 

Blue Anchor

With more than 600 years of beer-making behind it, the blue anchor is reputedly the country’s oldest continuously operating brewpub. More importantly, it’s still one of Cornwall’s finest boozers, with a thatched roof, time-smoothed wooden tables and flagstone floors. Settle into one of the many nooks with a pint of its famous Spingo ale; there are few other places in Cornwall where you can get your hands on this locally revered liquid gold. You might be permitted a peek at the brewhouse at the end of the passage if you ask nicely. No food is served, but you can bring in your own.

 

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The name understates its case: far from being your average beach-side caff, the Porthminster Café is a serious restaurant in the body of a laid-back beach house – albeit a very classy one. Australian chef Michael Smith’s sun-kissed menu sets the perfect tone for holiday dining, with the emphasis on Mediterranean flavours and fresh seafood, as well as posh fish and chips (with white balsamic vinegar, naturally). Friendly, slick service, fresh decor, and dreamy views over the white sands of Porthminster Beach make this the ideal perch from which to contemplate the light dancing in the bay with a glass of local bubbly (try the Polgoon Aval or Camel Valley Bacchus). Porthminster is not only one of St Ives’ best kitchens but is quickly making inroads into the upper echelons of Cornwall’s burgeoning restaurant scene. Booking recommended.

 

Kota is Maori for shellfish and, taking full advantage of its fishing village location, chef Jude Kereama – half Maori, quarter Chinese, quarter Malaysian – oversees a menu of super-fresh Cornish seafood crafted into Asian-accented cuisine. Monkfish green Thai curry is spicy and complex, and tempura Falmouth oyster appetisers with wasabi tartare (and a lettuce leaf for a spoon) are essential nibbling at £2 a pop. We’d be happy to declare this the best Asian food in Cornwall, but the distinct lack of competitors renders it a rather hollow statement; instead, we'll just say that Kota is quietly superb. This being an old mill, the decor is rustic and beamed, with big old wooden sideboards. Service is of rare efficiency, and prices are where they should be for food of this quality. You can also pop down the street to its excellent sister bar and kitchen, Kota Kai.

 

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An old, white-painted village pub that’s been brought up-to-date without being spoilt. An unfussy, spick-and-span interior is given warmth by a handsome fire; there’s a friendly atmosphere with no background music to hinder conversation. Real ales include Sharps’ Doom Bar and Skinner’s Betty Stogs, and there is a guest ale at weekends. Fresh, local ingredients are transformed into hearty dishes such as slow-roasted pork belly or wild mushroom and spinach risotto – excellent stuff and much anticipated after a walk or cycle. The setting, in a village on Restronguet Creek, is very pleasing, and a beer garden out back is a further plus.

 

Keeping Stein’s Seafood Restaurant well and truly on its toes, Paul Ainsworth’s No. 6 holds Padstow’s only Michelin star. Bedecked in a glamorous, contemporary style (nautical trimmings blessedly absent) with black and white checked floors, cool crockery and suited waiters, the restaurant is as well dressed as the food. Sweet chilli and spiced avocado accompany perfectly seared carpaccio of tuna, and Launceston lamb is made daringly complex courtesy of sweetbreads, liver and kidneys. Every dish is beautifully presented and bursting with innovative flavour. A sorbet palate cleanser, for example, comes with popping candy, and a dessert of caramelised banana is served with peanut butter ice cream. For a more casual, more affordable outpost of the Ainsworth empire, try his family-orientated Caffè Rojano.

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If surfer-chef Matt Corner were in the business of chasing stars, rosettes and accolades, we get the impression he has more than enough talent to catch them. As it is, he’s more interested in serving superb local fish and seafood without extraneous frills. You might find such clean-cut delights as line-caught sea bass with crab risotto and lime, watercress risotto with green-rinded Cornish goat’s cheese, or panna cotta with roasted pear. The interior decor is starkly chic – pine chairs, white tablecloths and white walls hung with local contemporary art. And then, of course, there’s the view: a soul-stirring panorama from high on the cliffs out into Whitsand Bay, across to Rame Head and out west as far as the Lizard on a clear day. Widescreen windows maximise the vista, and service is flawless. One of Cornwall’s rising stars.

 

This minute neighbourhood restaurant used to be a deli specialising in the finest French and Mediterranean imports, with delicious soups, paellas and stews to take away. But the cooking was so good, and the welcome so warm, that everyone wanted to eat in, and it morphed into a tapas bar and café. Saturday morning breakfasts (local sausages, foraged wild mushrooms, great coffee) have reached near-cult status, while the Cornish octopus, authentic bouillabaisse and paddle crab bisque have to be tasted to be believed (the seafood is delivered alive early evening). At the time of writing, Provedore had reinvented itself as a deli and takeaway only due to the coronavirus pandemic. But the plan is to resume table service when possible.

 

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