Much ado at Merchants Manor, Falmouth
ANYONE who reads my food musings will know I'm a big fan of chef Dale McIntosh. Though it can be a frustrating affair, following him from one venue to another – Bustophers and The Riverbank in Truro, and The Norway Inn, Perranarworthal.
Surely, he's not that difficult to work with?
Now he's in a new venue, whose style and sense of decorum perfectly matches his imaginative and damn tasty cuisine. Long may he stay at the Merchants Manor, Falmouth.
A new name, perhaps, but you know it.
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Falmouth is renowned for its hotels but it's fair to say a few now have that faded seaside glamour about them.
One that was starting to look a bit tired, despite its grandiose exterior, was the Green Lawns.
After a six-figure first-stage transformation of the bar, lounge and restaurant area (the bedrooms and remainder of the hotel will follow), the hotel has new owners and a new name.
Sioned Parry-Rudlin and husband Nick Rudlin, who own and manage the Merchants Manor, have worked in senior positions in the US and in some of London's most famous hotels and restaurants.
They have insisted on a strong Cornish influence on the hotel's restoration, which has seen local craftsmen involved in every detail. Upholsters, flooring specialists, carpenters and decorators have restored the foyer, drawing room, library and brasserie.
The original oak floors have been exposed and heritage colours are used throughout. The result is a coolly minimal and stylish look, which brings the hotel into the 21st century without losing its period charm.
The name change is a nod to the building's mercantile past – Garras, the original Queen Anne-style house was completed in 1913 by the Carne family, whose links to Falmouth date back to the 1600s.
They formed the Carne Brewery and were one of the first bottlers to use screw tops, hence the grand abode's nickname locally, Screw Top Mansion. In 1958 it was purchased by two ladies from London who converted it to the Green Lawns Hotel.
I reviewed the Green Lawns' restaurant a couple of years ago and very good it was too, but now it's entered a whole new stratosphere thanks to McIntosh's presence as head chef.
His trusty sous chef is my near namesake Lee Trevena. All we needed was American golfer Lee Trevino to walk in ....
The dining room is a dark and sumptuous affair – not dark enough that you can't see your food, but dark enough for the young couple sat next to me to start getting frisky. Dessert was undoubtedly going to follow in their bedroom.
From the off, Dale demonstrated his prowess – a whiskey and oak-smoked mackerel pâté was delicious enough, but it was heightened by a horseradish ice cream. A dish that's sublime taste wipes any incredulous look off your face.
In a clever move, to ensure there is something for everyone's tastes and budget, the mains are divided into Country, Grill and Coast.
Country includes six-hour braised shank of lamb with minted mash, roasted root vegetables and rosemary jus (£15.50) and – my choice – butter-poached loin of moorland venison, with beetroot three ways, braised potato and julienne root vegetables (£19.25).
The ingenious use of beetroot offset the gaminess of the meat and was presented, as is Dale's way, with an artist's eye.
The Grill includes such dribble-inducing delights as bone in the wing rib steak (£19), côte de boeuf (£22), rack of pork (£16) and veal escalope (£18), all served with fries, watercress and grilled tomato.
Coast features classic beer-battered market fresh fish with fries, mushy peas, tartare sauce – being Dale this is a step above your normal fish'n'chips (£13) and grilled Cornish sole with shellfish butter, baby potatoes and watercress (£15).
As the couple next door got more unctuous, my dark chocolate melting fondant was oozing in a nicer way; with the added bonus of clotted cream ice cream. Perhaps a bit pricey for a dessert at £7, but there is also the more affordable vanilla panna cotta with shortbread at £5.
A gorgeous meal with Dale's signature little touches (how about a pork doughnut, with apple sauce in the middle?) in a new-look hotel which revels in attention to detail.
For more details see www.merchantsmanor.com; Twitter: @MerchantsManor and Facebook: www.facebook.com/MerchantsManor