Heading for stardom
IT'S HEARTENING that a whole generation of young chefs are being influenced by Cornwall's big players like Michelin starred Nathan Outlaw and Chris Eden.
One of these is 21-year-old Toby Dye at the Headland Hotel, Newquay.
The boy is working wonders at the hotel's Terrace restaurant – there is a youthful exuberance and daring in his dishes.
If he continues in this vein he will be giving those he so admires a run for their money.
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Now's a great time to visit what is probably Cornwall's most stately and dramatically-positioned hotel.
The Terrace has given the Headland a modern, relaxed eatery for those who may not fancy the grander restaurant, and with a new veranda and spa currently being built, the hotel will be able to take on those young pretenders who have popped up across Cornwall in recent years.
There is a lively new edge to the place without it losing its seaside grandeur – personified by assistant manager George Armstrong, son of directors/proprietors Mr and Mrs John Armstrong. A complete gentleman, George has a fantastic claim to fame. As many will know, the Headland was the setting for Nic Roeg's film version of Roald Dahl's The Witches. Indeed, that's one of the reasons it became the venue for my wedding reception 14 years ago; it made giving my mother-in-law a broomstick during my speech more excusable.
It was George's pram that Anjelica Huston pushed down the cliff in a memorable scene. That makes me feel old ....
His fellow youthful compatriot cooked up an adventurous storm.
How about this for a starter – seared Newlyn seabass, crispy duck confit, beetroot caviar and pea puree?
Terrace head chef Toby's the first to admit he purloined the idea from Nathan Outlaw's recent dish on the Great British Menu but he's given it his own tweak.
Pairing duck and fish is a recipe for disaster you may think – but Toby (and Nathan) know what they're doing.
A gorgeous combination given a cheeky smack by the puree. The "caviar" may be an unnecessary affectation, but the lad's trying new things. And at £7 very reasonable for such a quality dish.
The main course was equally good – pan-roasted duck breast, butternut textures (don't you just love that description, someone call Brasseye's Chris Morris), spinach, thyme and garlic jus and – what's this – cherry roly poly? Yes, a little bit of pudding with a main. Impetuous youth, eh?
But it works a dream – the sweetness and texture lift the duck, with the sauce adding to the flavour. A triumph and a steal at £14.
If these brave concoctions scare you, fear not, as the specials is where Toby gets experimental. The standard menu is more run of the mill with such items as moules marinière, slow roasted pork belly, a special Headland burger and incredibly tasty and gargantuan Thai fish cakes with wild garlic and saffron mayo. It beat The Nurse and added to my midlife midriff. Again, good value at £12.
It was at this juncture my favourite ever waiter presented himself. He asked that fateful question, would I like another glass of wine. It was a big decision for me: "Mmmmmmmmmmm."
"It sounded like you were taking off then, sir."
Brilliant, as was his reply, when I told him he'd made us laugh.
"Is that because I look like Matt Lucas, sir?" Give this man his own stand-up show.
As the fiery sun set over the surfers – there aren't many restaurants with such a dramatic view in Cornwall – I finished with lemon and lime posset with home-made ginger biscuits (£5). Perfect, thick and creamy.
There is a dream team at work here – Toby operates under overall head chef Jan Wilhelm while Sanjay Kumar, a well-known gastronomic name in the county, is senior sous chef in the main kitchen.
Hotels often have difficulty enticing non-residents – give the Headland's Terrace and talented Toby a go. You won't regret it.
For more details head to www.headlandhotel.co.uk/dining/the-terrace.php
Right, Toby Dye – working wonders at the Headland's Terrace restaurant with a youthful exuberance and daring.