There are times & places that stick with you through life, events that are synonymous with people or places. Driftwood hotel in Cornwall is one such place for me. Many moons ago, I met a great young lady; eyes like pools of melted dark chocolate¹, with beautiful olive skin and an infectious smile & laugh.
I’m lucky enough to say that she is now my wife; yes, hard to believe that there is somebody who puts up with all my little foibles and rants at the TV/on social media, but there you have it. We often talk about meals we’ve had together; the Martin Wishart’s & Bouley’s of this world, as good as they were, are often over shadowed by our first dining experience together at Driftwood. ‘Miss’ was so far out of her comfort zone, that she almost needed Sat-Nav to find her way back to the table.
That was seven years ago, and nothing stands still. ‘Miss’ is now an experienced diner and no longer fears what a crosne is on her plate, she takes everything in her stride & has a great palete to boot. So when I decided to get a table towards the end of her Summer holiday, there really was only one choice, it had to be Driftwood.
Long serving chef, Chris Eden, kindly sent out some complimentary champagne with our canapés:
Each of the canapés had their own personality; the taramasalata on the rye crouton with flecks of dill & punctuated with a vinegar jelly, was delicate & subtle. Whilst the smoked bacon gougère was ballsy affair, & what’s not to like? Everything with bacon tastes better, even choux pastry. The third offering was a polenta encrusted arancini, again, a subtle twist on a classic.
Driftwood has a myriad of menu options, with three variants of tasting menus plus wine flights, & the option we went for, the fixed price menu. At £55 for three courses it is already a bargain, but then add the usual peripheral dishes; canapés, bread, pre-starter & pre-dessert, and you’re already thinking where is the catch? Yes, there are occasional dishes which have supplements, both the Lobster starter & the Beef main course featured here suffered that fate. But it’s a small price to pay at this level.
With decisions made, we moved on to the wine choices. Thankfully Driftwood do a decent choice of wines by the glass, as well as the usual well scoped main list, all ably controlled by Tom. ‘Miss’ isn’t a big drinker, & I was driving, so the wines by the glass was the way forward. This gives restaurant staff chance to really share their knowledge & enthusiasm.
Tom paired a lovely Chenin Blanc with ‘Miss’ starter of Quail and a beautiful Sauvignon Blanc with her beef. That said, unfortunately ‘Miss’ doesn’t like red wines, which left Tom with a tricky situation. Fortunately, he came good after listening to the styles of wine she likes, so much so, she had a second glass. On the other hand I’m quite open about wine, apart from the dreaded Chardonnay, I’ll give most things ago. Tom dared to partner a Pinot Noir with my Turbot main course, often reds with fish is a risky business, thankfully it paid off in spades.
Pre-starter was a delightful combination of potato foam, parsley puree, confit cod & crispy cod skin.
As far as a prelude to a meal, this was as good as it gets. There was everything you need; height, texture, colour & flavour, a deftness of touch and understanding of the most humble of ingredients. Whilst a less experienced chef would have included a citrus note, not Eden. He embraces the earthiness of the tuber, & harnesses it with the freshness of the puréed parsley. The confited cod was delicate & flaky, coupled with the crispy quaver like skin was a triumph of restraint, but also a display of technical ability.
While ‘Miss’ reveled in her Quail dish, which was liberally garnished with truffles, I tucked into my Lobster gazpacho. Every now & then I come across dishes that I just want more of, Eden’s gazpacho is just such one. The Lobster tail was beautifully moist, the balance of acidity in the various tomatoes & chilled soup was outstanding. And the quenelle of diced apple & celery added further contrasts & textures. The sea herbs, mainly samphire added a sliver of saltiness. The only fault I could see, an it is a personal one, is that the soup was marginally too thick to be poured tableside elegantly. But as a dish, I’d have been quite happy for a larger version & the meal to end here, such was its magnificence.
These are additional courses that chef, Chris Eden, sent out for us. I’ve included them in the post, as an example of what else is on the menu.
The ‘potato risotto’ was an interesting take on the Italian classic. The rice had been replaced with potato, it challenged the perception of what a variant of such an established dish could be.
The grilled Mackerel was we’d come to expect from the Driftwood kitchen, beautifully balanced: textures, acidity, sweetness, salty and so on.
‘Miss’ had plumbed for the 40 day aged beef, and quite frankly I was jealous. She begrudgingly offered me a tasting morsel. It was wonderful stuff, the harmony between the smoked bone marrow, with the beef, which had been cooked over coals, was outstanding. It left me with the feeling, that yet again I’d been jipped on my choice (see previous reviews).
Whilst the glorious beef opposite me tried its best to grab my attention, it was failing, because of the turbot I’d chosen instead. Cooked to perfection, the translucent flesh of the turbot is a great foil for the sweet peas, earthy girolles & fragrant truffle gnocchi. The fish skin quaver makes its second appearance of the night, but it’s like being reacquainted with old friends.
In the past pre-desserts for us have just been an extension of the following course. A look at me type of moment, where a Pastry or Head chef want to tease the customer into what else they have in their culinary armoury. Eden & his team actually remember what it is really for, to revive a jaded palette.
However, the meal at Driftwood has left my palette anything but jaded, it has savoured every moment. The double bubble bowl was simple & elegant, with care & equilibrium in equal measures. The much out of favour granité, being a great alternative to a sorbet.
The dessert menu is a short concise affair, six choices including cheese (which carries a £10 supplement, but has its own separate menu).
‘Miss’ chose the Driftwood chocolate bar, a brave choice considering she’d had a similar dish in New York, at Paul Liebrandt’s now defunct ‘The Elm‘. After much discussion, I opted for the ‘Thunder & Lightening’ tart, I’m a sucker for a decent tart, and it’s got nothing to do with soggy bottoms.
‘Miss’ reported that it was hard to compare the two chocolate bars, as the only thing they had in common was the shape, & chocolate obviously. With the notable nod to high street confectionery, Eden has taken that concept & run with it. His technical ability gives him insights in flavour combinations & touches which just work.
The tart was proof yet again how the Driftwood team are persistent in using great local produce. The flavour of Cornish clotted cream shone through, but not in the artery clogging way that it so often can be. Dabs of raisin purée added a deep fruity note, and the light smattering of petit red vein sorrel contributed a the light raspberry acidic slap to stop it running out of control. Add some ginger beer sorbet, and what’s not to like?
Coffee & petit fours
At £5 for coffee & petit fours, Driftwood has a great offering.
Conclusion – The nuts & bolts of it
In the seven years which have passed since our last visit, Chris Eden’s food has evolved. Portion size has been cut, whilst refinement has dramatically increased. The food is neither attention seeking or pretentious, like Driftwood itself, it is comforting, familiar yet exciting in the same instance.
The addition of a Michelin star a few years ago was the clearest indication yet that Eden & Driftwood are high points on the foodie map of the South West.
Yes, I’m not going to deny that there are small irritations which I don’t agree with – flowers being one, or the cocoa nibs which the petit fours are served on being another. But these are person things & they don’t overly detract from the great dining experience to be had.
So what did it cost?
- 4 Glasses of wine £42
- Sparkling water £4
- 2 Three course menus £110
- Lobster supplement £5
- Beef supplement £5
- Tonic water £2
- Coffee & petit fours £5
Total of £173
Is it worth it, absolutely. You’d be hard pressed to get the same level of technical skill, setting & experience, anywhere else for the same kind of money.
Want a bargain? Driftwood is now open longer than when we first visited, so keep an eye on their website for bargains in the off season.
¹ This was actually a chat up line used by a member of the legal profession on ‘Miss’, in the workplace.