Food

The hotels trying to turn Cornwall into Kensington

29 November 2014

9:00 AM

29 November 2014

9:00 AM

Mousehole is a charming name; it is almost a charming place. It is a fishing village on Mount’s Bay, Cornwall, beyond the railway line, which stops at Penzance, in an improbable shed; I love that what begins at Paddington, the most grandiose and insane of London stations, ends in a shed. The Spanish invaded Mousehole in 1595 but Drake’s fleet came from Plymouth and chased them away; nothing so interesting has happened since; just fishing, tourism and decline. Now there are galleries and restaurants and what the Cornish call ‘incomers’ buying cottages, in which they place ornamental fishing nets after painting everything white. (For something more ‘authentic’, you can visit the Old Ship Inn on the harbour. If you are a female travelling without a male, they might ask if you are a lesbian; that is what they asked me.)

So the Old Coastguard is a paradigm; something old and interesting, made less so for Londoners who have spent five hours and 23 minutes on a train and want to see something familiar for their trouble. Too much of travel is like this today; the destination conforms to the place you left behind because, it is assumed, you will find that comforting. The exterior is dull and Victorian, with lawns winding to the sea; the interior is simply self-hating. I am not suggesting that all West Country inns should feature pirates cuddling parrots and shouting about treasure — they do that at Land’s End — and all hotels should dream of Manderley, but this is the inside of a developer’s head; pale walls, pale floors and crazy art, particularly seascapes. (I am not sure about Cornish art.) It is nearly surgical. The food, however, is marvellous: an autumn vegetable salad; slow-cooked lamb shoulder; native ice cream. It is far better than the food at its sister restaurant with rooms, the overpraised Gurnard’s Head in Zennor, an alarming buttermilk-coloured inn so remote that you tell yourself it is wonderful because you could not, initially, find it.


Around the bay, in Marazion, is the Godolphin Arms, another restaurant with rooms. This is, I think, the most beautifully situated restaurant in the British Isles. It is opposite St Michael’s Mount and from the dining room you can watch the causeway appear and disappear; you can, that is, watch people who own dogs get wet by mistake.

I imagine the Marriott Gateway on the Niagara Falls feels like this; walls of windows, and the usual pales and blond woods, stacked up as if into infinity. The effect is amazingly bland and disorientating. When the weather is good, the view is Disney Kingdom, with a truck that is also a boat delivering tourists to the National Trust mountain. (It is like James Bond’s Lotus Esprit that is also a shagmarine, but more practical). When it is bad, you are eating nowhere in the clouds. It is solitary confinement, and it is chilling.

The service is benign but almost nonexistent, which is fine for me; they give me a table for ten by the ludicrous window — I asked for it — then ignore me. The food, again, is marvellous, and it needs to be, for there are locals here, who are used to eating well, even in developers’ heads. (I don’t think there are any locals in Mousehole. I think they are extinct as a species, chased out by the housing crisis, which has followed us here, possibly by train.) We have a gorgeous ploughman’s and an excellent Caesar salad (so easy to screw up). All this is delightful in this land of witches, fish and tin, but why dress Cornwall up as Kensington? We have one of those already and that one is enough.

The Old Coastguard, The Parade, Mousehole, Cornwall, TR19 6PR; tel: 01736 731222. Godolphin Arms, West End, Marazion, Cornwall, TR17 0EN; tel: 01736 888510.

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Show comments
  • Al Bowlly

    How could anyone fail to “find” the Gurnard’s Head? It is on the main road from St. Just to St. Ives, as any fule no.

  • John Cook

    And……how can you not mention Ben’s Cornish Kitchen in Marazion? Best nosh in the area by miles!

  • wycombewanderer

    Why do you bother to leave Islington when you, like your fellow traveller Thornberry fucking hate everything outside of N1?

    • Liberty

      Unnecessarily rude, spiteful and puerile.

  • Jules Wright

    More sheltered metrosexual cobblers from Ms Gold. Stick to The Mariners in Rock love. If you think Cornwall is merely a Disney-esque reflection of London that stops and starts at StMM and Padstein, then, well … you’re both simply lazy and incurious. Lazily incurious. And incuriously lazy. Next!

    • Al Bowlly

      To be fair, I had a lovely roast dinner at The Mariners the other day and the food couldn’t have been better nor the staff more attentive. But, I wasn’t paying. To be quite honest, I would very much sooner have bought a pasty at the Rock Bakery and ate it sitting on the cliff at Pentire Point or at Cant Cove and thinking of my grand-parents, who loved this part of the World.

  • Richard Reeves

    Just don’t understand why Cornwall is so popular…. difficult to get to, it’s wet and expensive

    • And downtrodden and badly managed. You know the saying: ‘those that can’t do, teach’? (Not strictly true: my husband is a teacher and he had a career in finance before going into teaching, though he’s likely to say Enough at 10 years of this.) Anyway, it seems to me that Cornwall is where people go when they’re not making it anywhere else. Which goes a long way to explaining why it’s the poorest UK region (up against some pretty stiff competition, as we know) and is doing worse than backwaters of Eastern Europe in the affluence ratings. And this is with the enormous boost from tourism, without which it would be vastly worse. Truly, an embarrassment to the nation.

      • davebr

        ‘it seems to me that Cornwall is where people go when they’re not making it anywhere else’,logic not you’re top subject?

        • My meaning is obvious, surely.

    • davebr

      One reason is that many people who like Cornwall don’t like places that are hot and cheap.

    • Al Bowlly

      If Cornwall were not so popular more people would go there.

  • Roger Hudson

    Pathetic article, as for locals learn about the Solomon Brown 8 and hang your head in shame.
    When the best way into Cornwall was by train ( and the A30 went through a 20 foot gatehouse) it was a far nicer place.

  • Linda Aizlewood

    What a nasty article – I am from ‘up north’ and holiday in Mousehole – there are enough locals in the village to make it real. Fishing still goes on from the harbour – by locals – not incomers – Kings Arms in Paul just a walk away – might have given you a better understanding of the people and the area – did you try 2 Fore Street better restaurant without the Kensington gloss

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