Where, at this time of year, to journey for a gastronomic weekend amid beautiful scenery? Cornwall in autumn offers much to the visitor: the emmets (tourists) have disappeared, the climate is usually kind and the seafood is at its finest. There are few happier hunting grounds for the ichthyophile Gannet than Maenporth bay: fishing for mackerel around the headlands, catching a few shimmering specimens, then barbecuing them on the beach, bottle of Meursault to hand.
For a less industrious feast, Maenporth’s The Cove restaurant (first picture) offers the same splendid views but does all the work for you. It stays open all year and has a loyal clientele: unsurprisingly, since the food – whether a fish-and-chips lunch or a three-course dinner – is excellent.
Ambition in the kitchen is evident in a starter of scallops with pancetta, pea purée and a tangle of pea shoots – a classic, the pea velouté hidden in a crisp beignet, flooding the plate rather beautifully when broken. Spoonfuls of fresh local crab are arranged on the plate with watermelon, batons of cucumber and some sweet, almost raw prawns. For a main course, fillets of megrim sole and chunks of lobster are scattered with seaweed; both bathe luxuriously in a creamy thermidor sauce. Service is enthusiastic, the wine list is short but well compiled, and the view is unbeatable.
Not far away, The Ferryboat Inn (second picture), on the Helford River, also serves great seafood. It is the Cornish outpost of Wright Brothers, which has three London restaurants, all of which serve oysters from their own beds on the Helford. As does The Ferryboat, as well as Cornish mussels, crab rolls and – in my case – a whole grilled plaice with samphire and poached oysters. The terrace is a delight and on cooler nights there is an open fire inside.
Rivalling both for a great view is the smart terrace at Hotel Tresanton (third picture), overlooking the harbour at St Mawes. The restaurant serves terrific seafood, too: oysters from Porthilly, then main courses of brill with mussels, spinach and a richly golden saffron sauce; and hake scattered with brown shrimps and dressed with lemon butter. Both fillets of fish were unimpeachably fresh and flawlessly cooked. There is something very grown-up and serene about Hotel Tresanton.
Cornish fishermen’s dialect, I discovered, pulls few punches: their word for pollack is “agerever” – ugly and useless, which seems a tad harsh. Anyway, never mind the pollack: stick to brill, plaice, sole or hake... or, of course, your own line-caught mackerel. Proper ’ansome, as they say round these parts.