It’s not that The Gurnard’s Head is particularly difficult to find. As their website helpfully tells you, head to the end of Cornwall and stop before you reach Newfoundland. It’s that my directions are notoriously implausible and we are driving out to lunch, in convoy.
The route to Zennor from Mousehole (a roundabout 10 miles, whether you take authority from satnav, the road signs or the crow …) cuts you cross-country from south to north coast and is one of the most magnificent routes across the far wild west you’re ever likely encounter. Today was exceptional. Barren landscape, lumpy with great boulders of granite and gorse bushes, winding open road running parallel to twinkling coastline, the odd tin mine rising out of the haze on approach. Breathtakingly resplendent. Simply so stunning that we very nearly overshot our destination.
‘The Gurnard’s Head’ is proudly written across the roof tiles which is helpful if you are planning on arriving by helicopter. However you travel, you can’t fail to miss the 17th century coaching inn perched on the barren cliff tops overlooking the Atlantic. Rugged, ‘Wuthering Heights of the South West’ sort of a setting. Today it is stunning. On a bleak day in January, wild seas whipping at the cliffs and rolling mists, the scenery is equally breathtaking. Whatever the weather, the warmth and hospitality floods from the Gurnard’s in abundance and this is largely down to the impeccable hosts, brothers and owners, Charles and Edmund Inkin.
Charles greets us warmly and with consummate professionalism especially impressive as we have arrived with a brace of wild two-year-old boys, and a baby asleep in a car seat: any discerning publican’s worst nightmare. Quickly to reassure both Charles and a number of other worried looking diners, I let everyone know we planned on eating in the garden. An inaudible but noted sigh of appreciation all round. Phew. The Gurnard’s is far too special to be spoiled by hoards of other people’s unruly children. I have been both a non-parent and on the other side of the bar for too many years to ever become blind to this crucial rule in parenting.
Ballymaloe Cookery School -trained Charles, hands us copies of today’s menu, an exciting and delectable selection of brilliantly remarkable offerings; locally sourced and bang-on season. Head Chef Bruce Rennie (and the man behind the two Michelin stars at his former haunts Wilshart’s in Edinburgh and Shank’s Belfast) has been with The Gurnard’s for just over a year. He devises impossibly hard to choose from (and just that little bit out of the ordinary) menus refreshingly without the pomp and ceremony that so often ensues. No ego, pure class act.
Between us we selected all but one of the starters, pork belly with cauliflower purée, smoked salmon with celeriac remoulade and capers, grilled figs with goat’s cheese and, my all-time retro-fave, chicken liver pâté. This was very much a ‘pic’ and ‘nic’ of each and everything; we were going to be in the garden after all. Starters came in around the six and a half mark and main courses all on the right side of a tenner.
Between the five of us (including Wilf at seven weeks) we limited our order to: Merguez sausages with puy lentils, fish stew and hake tagliatelle. Today could happily have turned into a long boozy drawn out lunch affair. We had all the key ingredients, bar the car keys and the kids, instead we opted for a cheeky half of Skinners (always at least three hand pulled local ales on tap). As for a watering hole, The Gurnard’s again excels.
The food arrived, all at once as we greedily requested. I immediately lost the chicken liver and the figs to Rafferty, my boy. Rufus, Raff’s newest best friend, tucks straight into the chunky hand-sliced smoked salmon, there is a small squabble over a gherkin. Sneaking a swipe at the pâté, it’s heaven. Boozy, creamy, smooth, chicken-livery-sublime and on the freshest soda bread, glorious. Also got a grab at the figs, a perfect pairing: teeny tiny fluffy clouds of goat’s cheese on the ripest of juiciest plump and pendulous beauties. The Merguez sausages, hot to trot but nicely not too forty-horsepower, worked brilliantly with the puy and herb dressing. Great hunks of hake with tender tagliatelle, and salsa verde, again a joy. To wash down our coffees we sampled all the homemade ice creams; walnut, red berry sorbet and a white chocolate creamy cup of frozen paradise. On the table manners front our troop would not be taking home gold this afternoon.
Charles gave us a sneaky peak at the Spring Supper Menu where the delights of crab tagliatelle with parsley and orange braised endive, or scallop risotto were positively waving at me; shouting (nay screaming) out from the mains – either the cornish duck with cauliflower purée or spring lamb with smoked garlic mash, kale and mushroom juice (both of these at £16.50). Offering also The Kitchen Garden Menu, for those less carnivorous or needing to up-the-stakes on their-five-a-day, how better to do so than with white asparagus, poached egg truffle vinaigrette and parmesan or gnocchi with samphire (sort of seaside wild asparagus) cherry tomatoes with olives and basil dressing (£15.50).
Simple message: set the satnav; crank up the chopper; pull on your rambling boots however you plan on getting there; get there and get there soon. Try and race those Michelin stars … in my opinion they are already en route.