porthminster beach cafe, st ives, cornwall

This piece of culinary art, my friends, is a morsel of almond-battered cod cheek with salted grapes, darjeeling tea gel and wild sorrel. I loved it so much that I ended up dreaming about it.

We are in the midst of Cornwall Spring Feast, a county-wide foodie shindig celebrating the joys of the local larder. The main shtuck is the one-price-fits-all special menus (£14 for two courses) in all participating restaurants – even the Outlaw’s Grill. But the county’s headlining chefs are also hosting a few special events – opportunities to perform culinary cartwheels outside the parameters of the daily menu.

When the opportunity arises to see young Australian chef Mick Smith of the Porthminster Beach Cafe perform culinary cartwheels, it’s one you seize.

The Porthminster is in everyone’s top five restaurants in Cornwall – I don’t think I’ve actually ever heard a bad word uttered about it, other than perhaps the desire to be able to afford it more often. The location doesn’t harm its case – it’s in a brilliant-white art deco house right on the champagne-coloured sands of Porthminster Beach, backed by strip of Cornish palms.

But this is much more than yet another complacent Cornish seafood restaurant with sea views peddling mediocre mussels drowned in coconut milk and sad-looking crab sandwiches. Instead, quietly rising star Michael Smith is making waves.

His food is fresh and young, highly detailed, and full of fusion – if you’ll pardon the F-word. ‘Fusion’ food in this country has come to be synonymous with weird-tasting combinations passed off as innovation but Porthminster is a reminder of how good it can be in the right hands.

We’re talking: sweet and sour rhubarb cone with parmesan ice-cream; blow-torched mackerel with sumac, cured ham and beetroot sorbet; and pork served with a small pile of rock salt that looked like pot pourri – flecked with, er, dried Cornish gorse and rose petals.

The seven-course tasting menu was matched with ‘biodynamic and natural‘ wines from independent wine merchant Ellis Wharton wines of Par and flutes of ever-classy Polgoon Sparkling Aval Cider, aka summer in a bottle.

Sigh…. if only every day could be a) that sunny, and b) come with a sprinkling of gorse-flavoured rock salt on the side!

Here’s a slideshow:

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