Cornwall LivingIssue #79
Fine dining in Falmouth
We visit award-winning restaurant, Rastella, and discover city-style dining on the Cornish coast.
Now, don’t get me wrong, Cornwall has some exceptional restaurants but the very nature of our seaside location means that while food is first class the ambience is often laid back. While heading to dinner straight from the beach in shorts and flip flops obviously has its appeal, sometimes something a little more chic is the order of the day. We’d heard many good things about Rastella, the restaurant at Merchants Manor in Falmouth, not least of which is its recently awarded and highly coveted third AA Rosette – one of only four restaurants in Cornwall to boast this accolade.
“It’s no doubt that Hylton’s attention to detail and superb skill in all areas are what won him the three AA Rosettes and he proves that his talent goes beyond the savoury”
Chef Patron, Hylton Espey, was born and raised in South Africa. It was Merchants Manor’s devotion to using the finest, fresh local ingredients, an ethos that matches Hylton’s own, along with a love of the sea that drew him to Falmouth and Rastella. It has proved to be a match made in heaven. On arrival you can’t fail to be bowled over by the grandeur of the building – the ivy-clad doorway heralds an opulent interior where sparkling chandeliers light up the traditional entrance hall.
We’re escorted to the bar where we are greeted with a delicious glass of Cornish vineyard Trevibben Mill’s Blanc De Blancs 2014. As we let the fine bubbles caress our mouths we get a chance to peruse the evening’s tasting menu – a showcase of Hylton’s finest dishes. The bar and dining room rival the very finest of London restaurants when it comes to style and ambience. The tables are adorned with crisp linen and the cutlery shimmers in the evening light as we are shown to our table.
Chef Hylton joins us to introduce our first course – Game Bird – pheasant, reared on the nearby Roseland, served with puffed heritage grains and a plum caramel. The richness of the fowl is cut through beautifully with the sweet, but slightly acidic plum caramel. It’s paired perfectly with a glass of Trevibben Mill Harlyn, an off-dry white that has flavours of watermelon and honey.
We learn that Hylton takes daily foraging trips along the coast to pick fresh sea vegetables for his outstanding dishes. The kitchen team works to the simple ethos of ‘what grows together, goes together’ and nowhere is that more apparent than in tonight’s main dish of the intriguingly named Trewithick Pastures. Hylton is on hand to explain that the lamb he’s about to serve comes from a farm nearby, where the lambs graze on fields overlooking the sea above Porthleven. This lamb combines perfectly with fresh, local crab and a foraged vegetable selection of rock samphire and sea aster. Even part of the lamb in the dish is roasted with hay from the very farm from whence it came. Everything is cooked to perfection and is served with Hylton’s signature B.O.F.G.A – a burnt onion fermented garlic aioli.
We are treated to a Black Ram Red, again from Trevibben Mill, to drink with our lamb. Hints of aromatic herbs, leather and vanilla, along with spicy top notes of clove and liquorice, are a fitting accompaniment. It’s no doubt that Hylton’s attention to detail and superb skill in all areas are what won him the three AA Rosettes and he proves that his talent goes beyond the savoury.
Dessert is perfectly formed and perfectly named for the time of year – Autumn. Perhaps best described as a ‘deconstructed pumpkin pie’ we are treated to a swathe of sweet and gently spiced pumpkin along with a chai sorbet and crisp ginger fairing crumbs, topped off with a gently sparkling desert wine courtesy of a Fontanafredda Asti. Light and delicious this ends a meal that has been very special in many ways.
Although part of the hotel, Rastella feels very much like a standalone restaurant, and has a chic and stylish identity of its own. The service throughout the meal was unobtrusive, yet impeccable and the wine choice a triumph. We resolve that this is a dining room we will return to for many a special occasion or celebratory dinner.
"It’s no doubt that Hylton’s attention to detail and superb skill in all areas are what won him the three AA Rosettes and he proves that his talent goes beyond the savoury"