Forage & Feast At Porthminster This Spring

As those who frequent the coastal path and beach near to Porthminster Beach Café will know, not a day goes by without a foraging excursion by our merry band of chefs. Periodically they can be found scampering perilously over slippery rocks or disappearing into a prickly hedgerow in pursuit of edibles, occasionally alarming passers-by and certainly winning some perturbed looks.

cafe for web

Despite the occasional scratch, sting and the odd broken ankle (!), it’s a rewarding task. The immediate area yields some great finds; leaves, flowers and herbs which enhance dishes with their vibrant, fresh flavours and contribute to the Cafe’s push for sustainability and task of nurturing it’s stunning surroundings.

 

Fat Hen 1This spring, you can learn more about what the chefs look for, where they find it and how they use it during two very special Forage & Feast days. In collaboration with ecologist and forager Caroline Davey of The Fat Hen, these courses will highlight the diversity of wild food available along the coast in springtime. Cookery demonstrations will show how Executive Chef Michael Smith uses this bounty in adventurous and innovative ways, and guests will enjoy a feast of fresh flavours in celebration of their day’s efforts.

Forage and Feast – 11th and 25th March from 10am. £50pp including coffee and pastries, a two hour forage and a three course lunch. To book, click here.

More Info:

Participants will meet at the Café for coffee, before beginning their foray along the beach and coastal path. Botanical expert Caroline will guide the group through the secrets of harvesting delicious wild food full of flavour, whilst keen forager Michael will explain what his chefs look out for on their daily ventures as they gather plants, herbs and seaweed from their immediate environment.

Fat Hen 2

“This will be a great time of year to really get to grips with what the coast path and the beach have to offer for the wild food enthusiast” says Caroline, who will be looking out for things like Alexanders, Navelwort, Sorrel and Japanese Knotweed. “This day course is perfect for anyone keen to discover the amazing produce growing all around them, and how to use even just a small touch of foraged ingredients to transform the way they cook at home.” The courses have been timed for low-tide, so seaweed can be gathered and its uses explained.

Once back at the Beach Café, Michael will cook up a feast. Using the foraged ingredients to create a three course meal, participants will have the opportunity to see him in action, and learn about the techniques which bring those fresh flavours together. This late lunch will be served to the group in the Café, overlooking the beach.

Mick1

“We forage daily around Porthminster Beach at all times of year,” explained Michael. “That knowledge of the local environment has transformed the way we cook and this, along with our policy of using sustainable fish, reflects our interaction with the stunning setting of St Ives Bay. The Feast and Forage courses will be giving some of our secrets away, about where to find fantastic wild ingredients and how we use them in our kitchen.”

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Foraging for Seaweed

Ever wondered about the practicalities of foraging for this widely available ingredient? Our chefs went on an epic excursion to learn more, kept in check (more or less!) by the capable hand of local forager Rory MacPhee. One of the youngest stars of the kitchen, Lucy Holland, is our latest guest blogger to give the inside story.

“This December the chefs from Porthminster Beach Cafe joined local forager Rory in discovery of edible seaweeds on and around the beach at Mawnan Smith, near Falmouth on the South Coast of Cornwall. Bright and early, we all meet in the restaurant sporting our best wellies ready for the days adventure!

Our foraging spot on Cornwall's south coast

Our foraging spot on Cornwall’s south coast

The Cafe has a great reputation for sustainability and it’s something which is ingrained in us in the kitchen right from the start. We love to use produce from just beyond our doorstep to create new and exciting dishes.

Mick learns more about foraging at the seashore

Mick learns more about foraging at the seashore

We were keen to learn more about foraging such a common plant as seaweed, which amoungst other things could provide us with a natural seasoning for some of our dishes.

Using seaweed to naturally enhance flavour

Using seaweed to naturally enhance flavour

On our day with Rory, he explained all the different seaweeds and their beneficial factors, whilst introducing us to new ways we could use each variety in the kitchen. A firm favourite of ours for example is Dulse Seaweed, as we use this to create our own Cornish take on the Japanese dish Dashi. Also now appearing on the menu will be a sour dough bread containing Carrageenan, which was inspired by our foraging trip.

More of the days bounty

More of the days bounty

Some of the other seaweed discussed among us include Bladderwrack which is used in many medicines, Kelp which also appears in our Cornish Dashi, and the serrated Pepper Dulse, which has an intense flavour to it (this was popular with the chefs to have a nibble on!)

We all learnt a lot from Rory and after the days expedition were all itching to get back to the kitchen and try out some new creations!”

Seaweed Foraging 6

Porthminster Chefs let loose!

Rory MacPhee heads up the Falassa Project, which is undertaking coastal research between Fowey and the Lizard on Cornwall’s south coast in collaboration with the Seaweed Health Foundation. The aims are to protect the resources found at our coastal fringes, and to argue the case for the sustainable use of marine algae for nutrition, therapy, agri-food and energy.

“Seaweeds offer a spectacular addition to our diet and lifestyle. You can eat them; you can bathe in them; you can make ointments; you can turn them into cloth and bio-fuel, and you can fertilise your garden.”

The project generates funding through courses and the sale of foraged products and also things like seaweed spa kits. To find out more visit www.falassa.co.uk

Seaweed Foraging 5

Fifteen Farmers Market, Autumn 2012

Porthminster’s Executive Chef Michael Smith teamed up with friend Ryan Venning of The Herring for an inspiring demo at this year’s Fifteen Farmer’s Market.

The pair served up a treat for an audience of food lovers, creating a traditional Japanese Dashi Broth entirely from Cornish ingredients. “We’re having a bit of fun and going for a ‘rock pool’ effect as the end result,” explained Ryan, who prepared wonton’s coloured with squid ink to create a pebble-dash effect. These were stuffed with corriander, lime, chilli and ginger.

Ryan lets Michael do the talking!

Michael explained that many ingredients similar to those used to create a Dashi Broth in Japan could be found within the immediate surroundings of the beach café. For example sugar kelp from the shore line is now picked, boiled and dried and replaces Japanese kombu in the dish. Mackerel from St Ives bay is dried and used instead of bonito flakes.

Adapting local ingredients saves thousands of airmiles

Michael and Ryan added native oysters from Porthilly, local Lobster, mussels and clams, as well as some sea lettuce and foraged samphire to the broth. For a similar recipe and more details on how this Cornish Dashi was created, see our earlier recipe post.

Finishing touches

The audience were keen to have a try!

Thanks to Matthew Stevens and Son, who provided the local seafood for this dish. Ryan Venning is head chef at The Herring, located at Bedruthan Steps Hotel, Mawgan Porth.

Autumn at Porthminster

The autumn months may be a little quieter as the hustle and bustle of summer in Cornwall subsides, but it’s also the time of year which gives the chefs in our kitchen new impetus. Fresh ideas inspired by the changing season are dreamed up and refined, whilst signature dishes are slowly perfected. Below our Executive Chef Michael Smith tells us more about what’s on the menu this autumn. 

Executive Chef Michael Smith is busy reworking menus

“Autumn is a great time for us chefs and we’re doing some exciting things at Porthminster this year. Firstly we have refined the menu a little to focus and perfect our signature dishes – those that really reflect our style and ethos. For example our fish and chips are now served with hand-cut chips, triple cooked in duck fat. Porthminster Fish & Chips has won many awards in the past, but we now think they’re better than ever! Seafood Linguine is back, heaped with Cornish crab, mussels, squid and prawns and of course our Monkfish curry is as good as ever.

Delicious red mullet is on the menu once again, landed by day boats at Cadgwith Cove on The Lizard Peninsula. Earlier in the year Monty Hall’s series The Fisherman’s Apprentice highlighted the importance of eating local, sustainably caught seasonal fish; an ethos which benefits global fish stocks, local fisherman and the consumer. This has long been at the heart of what we do here and it’s fantastic to see sustainable fishing high on the agenda. Our red mullet is poached in coconut milk and served with white crab, compressed cucumber and celery salad, with jasmine rice and lime.

Other favourites you’ll still find on the menu include Salt & Spice Squid, Sticky Pork Belly and our Dashi Broth. The latter is made entirely with ingredients from our immediate surroundings, including foraged kelp and mackerel caught just out in the bay.

There are some new, richer dishes to try as the cold nights draw in. Our Cornish White Fish Soup is hearty and warming and our mussels are now served with the earthier flavours of Cornish cider, wild sorrel, nettles and tomato. We’re also pretty happy with our take on that English classic, the apple crumble! It’s served with lemon and chamomile ice cream, and of course a scoop of clotted cream in a nod to tradition.

Availability of local fish depends on weather conditions

Refining the menu in this way also means we can concentrate more on daily specials which make the most of the freshest fish of the day. Being a little quieter means we can be ultra adaptable – if a local boat hauls a fantastic catch it can go straight on the menu that evening. However sometimes as the weather gets rough at this time of year the boats can’t get out, that just means we serve more red meat and game as specials: we don’t have to compromise on quality. I’m excited about getting some fantastic partridge, pheasant and venison in shortly.

It’s a stunning time of year to be in St Ives. We’ve been having bright, blustery days recently and the town and beach look at their best in many ways. I’m really envious of people visiting St Ives when it’s like this!”

Coming soon – eat out for less with the early diners menu, plus the exciting new Porthminster Tasting Menu will be available in early November. Watch this space!

View from the Garden

In the first of our blogs focusing on Porthminster Beach Cafe’s garden, we meet the man responsible for its upkeep and find out what it’s like to garden in this unique location.

Davey plays a crucial role in what we do at Porthminster Beach Cafe, and yet he is rarely seen by guests. It is the more green-fingered diners who find their attention caught by his work in the compact, terraced garden nestled behind the cafe, the source of fresh herbs, fruits, flowers and vegetables used every day. This slope was waste ground until a few years ago, when it was transformed with stunning results, principally by Jim and Julie Horn, who’s son was one of the original apprentices in the kitchen. Jim and Julie have since moved onto pastures new, and Davey has taken over the task of nurturing the project.

“It’s a great location in many ways” says Davey, who spends many hours in this green enclave, perched above the beach, with the hustle and bustle of the cafe going on below. However it’s also far from ideal from a horticultural point of view. “The slope is north-facing and there are several large trees at the back which limit sun exposure,” explains Davey. “To an extent I can combat this by planting the most sun-loving plants at the front, where they’ll get the most light. We just have to be careful that these plants don’t grow too high and themselves create shade.” Mint and chives do a little better in shadier spots so they go at the back. A stream runs down the edge of the plot and is the source of watercress for the kitchen.

Chefs enjoy the garden before a busy service

Towards the front of the slope, thyme, oregano and rosemary take over. “In recent years we’ve moved to more Mediterranean herbs because the soil is sandy and full of rocks. It drains very quickly” says Davey. This can be helped by heavily composting (the garden is organic, and kitchen waste is used to nourish the soil). “We need intensive measures for the courgettes – it’s been the worst year!” Usually Courgette Flowers are a sought-after favourite in the cafe (stuffed with sun-dried tomatoes, goat’s cheese and pine nuts for example) but this year they’ve been in like gold dust due to the poor weather.

Elsewhere in the garden Davey grows horseradish, wild rocket, jerusalem artichokes, lemon balm and verbena. Colourful chard emerges in springtime and in the winter garlic and shallots from the garden supply the cafe. Fruits include raspberries (red and golden), blackcurrants (the chefs also use the leaves) and wild strawberries. Mustard, thyme and chives flowers, as well as borage, are colourful garnishes for an array of dishes, and Davey plans to introduce more edible flowers next year – nasturtiums and hollyhock for example.

“We’re always changing and trying to find new ways to get the most out of this unique site,” says Davey. “It’s rewarding to see the chefs come up here before service to gather herbs, fruits, flowers and use them straight away.”

If you’re visiting the cafe you’re welcome to take a closer look at our garden and you might be lucky enough to spot a chef or two gathering ingredients for your meal!

Herbs and flowers picked fresh daily

By popular demand – recipe from The Times 16/08/12

One of our latest creations – a dashi broth made from Cornish ingredients and served with line-caught mackerel – featured in The Times last week. For those who missed it, here’s the recipe, and some words on our exec chef Michael Smith:

“Chefs tend to be a peripatetic bunch, but Australian-born Michael Smith has stayed put for more than a decade. “It’s such a fantastic location. We have to pinch ourselves everyday when we look out the back door of the kitchen at this amazing vista of St Ives bay,” says Smith, who has won acclaim for putting an Asian and Mediterranean twist on Cornish ingredients.”

Line-caught mackerel with Cornish dashi broth

serves 4

INGREDIENTS

25g sun-dried sugar kelp or dried kombu seaweed

50g dried flaked mackerel (this is semi-cured, smoked and dehydrated fresh mackerel fillets. Dried bonito flakes can also be used)

2 litres pure fresh water

1 live lobster (approx 450g)

4 whole mackerel fillets, butterflied with tail leftintact (you can get your fishmonger to do this for you)

8 hand-dived Cornish scallops, shelled and cleaned

12 Fowey mussels

12 Palourde surf clams

200g egg noodles

1 small chilli, thinly sliced

1 tsp fresh ginger, pulped

1 head Cornish greens or bok choi

4 spring onions, finely sliced

METHOD:

Put the kelp or kombu in a pan with the water, simmer for 10 minutes then cool to 80C. Add the mackerel or bonito flakes and steep in the stock for 5-10 minutes until they fall to the bottom. Strain through a muslin cloth and return to the heat. Boil until reduced by a third or until the flavour is to your satisfaction. Set aside.

Place the lobster in the freezer for 10 minutes then plunge into boiling salted water for 8-9 minutes. When cooled shell the lobster tail and claw meat and slice into chunks, reserving the legs in the shell for garnish.

Season the mackerel and push a toothpick through both fillets at the head end to create a small boat-like shape with the tail sticking up in the air. Place on a tray with a small ladle of the dashi stock added to it and cook in the oven for 4-5 minutes at 190C/ gas mark 5.

In a saucepan add the scallops, mussels and clams with the remaining dashi and bring to the simmer, then add the noodles, chilli, greens and ginger and reserved lobster meat including the legs and continue to simmer for three minutes.

Divide the noodles and greens between four large bowls and place a mackerel tail-up on top of each bowl. Ladle the dashi around the fish, while keeping the skin crisp. Divide the clams, mussels, scallops and lobster meat equally between the bowls.

At the restaurant, the dish is enhanced with pork-belly won tons and foraged samphire.

Welcome to our new blog

Here we’ll be keeping you up to date with all that’s new and exciting from our bustling café by the beach. It’s a unique place in many ways; a theatre of flavour, creativity, and frenetic activity, where the shifting seascape provides a constantly changing backdrop to many a memorable meal.

You can expect to hear from our passionate team of chefs, who are never happy unless they’ve perfected a new dish, discovered an ingenious new method, or strived all day to be rewarded with great feedback from customers.

That end result is what we all work towards, and yet it begins a long way beyond these white-washed walls. Quality, locally sourced produce has become such a commonly rolled-out phrase, yet it is the simple imperative for fresh and flavoursome cooking.

Lobster Pot, near Zennor

Here you’ll discover how we take this mantra to new levels, pushing our own boundaries and often counting our food metres rather than miles. The kitchen garden is developing and surprising us with every season that passes, and foraging from our location offers exciting possibilities which motivate our chefs to explore the coastal path each day; risking life and limb in pursuit of pennywort. Finally our commitment to sustainable fishing grows, as the immensity of the decline in fish stocks is fully realised and the issue comes to the fore of conservation agendas worldwide.

Our location is unique, looking out over St Ives Bay towards Godrevy Lighthouse, a view which of course inspires great literature and art, as well as great cooking. So please indulge us whilst we also write about St Ives itself and (some of) what we get up to in this light-enhanced little town in Cornwall.