Exploring one of Cornwall’s finest establishments, and the remarkable menu that keeps getting better.
Words & Images by Rebecca Hawkey
High on the hill, overlooking the glistening expanse of the Camel Estuary, sits Padstow Harbour Hotel. Originally this Victorian dwelling, constructed in 1901, was called the South Western Hotel, and it has been serving as such an establishment from the very beginning – providing shelter and luxury accommodation for those on their travels. In 2019, after a mere handful of previous owners, it has settled itself comfortably under the ownership of Harbour Hotels, a company that operates 15 luxury hotels across the UK. Since its new lease of life, The Times has featured Padstow Harbour Hotel on a series of coveted lists, such as; ‘Best Luxury Hotels in Cornwall 2022’, ‘The Cool Hotel Guide’, and ‘30 of the Best Hotels in Cornwall’. It’s no wonder then that this impressive enterprise is rated the number one place to stay in Padstow.
As a local Cornish dweller, I don’t often get to explore some of the more prestigious hotels that dot our shores, so when I had the opportunity to chat to the head chef of their renowned Harbour Kitchen and Bar, and take a peek behind the scenes, I was enthusiastic to say the least. Their restaurant and bar invites relaxed waterside all-day dining, offering light, seasonal, and locally-sourced food, with a tastefully curated menu to order from. Their extensive drinks menu features eclectic wines, cocktails and a selection of locally distilled gins and local craft beers, so you can get a real taste of what Cornwall is all about.
Head Chef Mark Aldred has been working at Padstow Harbour Hotel since 2017. With 15 years of head chef experience and leading a kitchen, he has developed the menu in a way that explores the produce that Cornwall delivers in abundance, with popular favourites being the cod and crab, the south-west cider mussels, and the sea bass served with clams and sea vegetables. Mark and the team work hard to source their produce from local suppliers where possible, like their beloved cod coming straight off the boats at Newlyn Harbour. This kind of dedication to supporting local catchers and growers is a testament to the standard of produce that Cornwall has in abundance. When speaking with Mark, I learn that he is local to Padstow, having grown up on these shores. His love for Padstow, and Cornwall as a whole, is evident in the way he speaks about the natural beauty of what lies just beyond the hotel doors. Working at Padstow Harbour Hotel grants unrestricted views across the estuary and to the dunes beyond; it is a sight to behold, and one that we can all enjoy from the comfort of the restaurant and bar. I don’t know about you, but a vista like the one I was treated to, paired with an ice-cold gin and tonic and a plate of the vibrant, mouth-watering cod, sounds like a day well spent.
Given Padstow’s reputation for astounding cuisine, it should come as no surprise that more than a few culinary masterminds reside here. Whilst that may be daunting to some, Mark sees this as nothing more than healthy competition. Mark has a natural desire to push the envelope when it comes to crafting new and exciting dishes, and he does so with the help of his entire team. He believes that everyone from the executive chef to the commis chef have something to offer when evolving a menu, not just for their ideas, but as a way to keep everyone enthused and engaged about what they serve and where they get their produce from. Working in such a respectable establishment, and creating the dishes that they do, is a team effort after all.
When wandering the halls of Padstow Harbour Hotel, I couldn’t escape the feeling of instant relaxation that seemed to emanate from the very walls. As soon as you step through the door you are greeted by colours, textures and patterns that seem to be pulled from the depths of the sea. The pastel blues and seaweed greens flow from one end to the other, drawing you further in, and I was only too happy to oblige. It wasn’t just the colours that caught my eye, but the carefully curated motifs dotted from room to room. From beautifully hand-crafted miniature sailing boats, to an actual boat suspended from the ceiling, these accents of the ocean were every bit as impressive as you would imagine. Settling down in the restaurant and bar, I was able to get a feel for what a bustling summer’s day here would be like. The skies delivered some classically Cornish mizzle for my visit, and the tide was out so as to reveal the extensive sand bank of the surrounding estuary, and yet I was still in awe. Even on the greyest of days, the views from Padstow Harbour Hotel never fail to encourage calm and serenity – a perfect combination to sit back and enjoy some of the best food and drink that Cornwall has to offer.
Roasted cod loin and mussel popcorn, served with asparagus, saffron potatoes, a red pepper coulis with a tomato and spring onion dressing.
350g cod loin
8 asparagus spears
½ red onion (finely chopped)
1 large clove garlic (chopped)
1 large plum tomato (roughly chopped)
1 red pepper roasted (skinned and de-seeded)
10 new potatoes (Parisian, cubed or turned)
Pinch of saffron
10 large mussels
(Flour, egg, milk and panko breadcrumbs for panne)
8 cherry tomatoes (halved)
1 large spring onion
Squeeze of lemon juice
Drizzle of olive oil
Sprinkle of sugar
Smoked sea salt (optional)
Lightly salt the cod in the fridge for approximately five to six hours, and cut into two equal pieces.
Tomato and spring onion dressing:
On a baking tray, lightly sprinkle the cherry tomatoes with sugar and smoked sea salt. Place in a preheated oven at 100 degrees celsius for three to four hours. To make the dressing, slice the spring onion at an angle and place in a mixing bowl, with half the red onion and dried tomatoes. To finish, coat the mixture with olive oil and a squeeze of lemon juice and mix with a spoon.
Red pepper coulis:
In a frying pan sweat half the red onion and garlic until soft. Add the chopped tomato and roasted pepper, and cook until it starts to dry out slightly. Place in a blender until smooth. Season to taste with salt and pepper, then pass through a sieve and set aside.
Place the new potatoes in a pan of water with a pinch of salt and saffron. Cook until just about soft, then refresh in cold water and set aside.
Place the mussels in a warm pan on the stove, add a splash of white wine and cook until all the mussels open fully. Once cooked, remove the mussel meat and discard shells, chill the mussels in the fridge until cold. Once chilled, panne the mussels with flour, egg, milk and breadcrumbs, and place back in the fridge ready for frying.
Bring a pan of well salted water to the boil, lower the heat to a simmer, and add your asparagus. Cook for roughly three minutes. Drain and place into a bowl of iced water.
Take your cod from the fridge and wash off excess salt. Pat dry with kitchen paper, and place the cod skin side up into a heated non-stick pan with a drizzle of oil. Cook until golden brown, turn the heat down and leave for four to five minutes. Gently flip the cod over and cook for another four to five minutes. Meanwhile, reheat the saffron potatoes in a pan of simmering water, adding your asparagus when the potatoes are almost cooked. When done, brush with butter and keep warm. Fry your mussel popcorn in a fryer or pan of oil, cook until crispy and heated all the way through. Spoon your pepper coulis onto a plate, place cod in the middle skin side down, and arrange the potatoes, asparagus and mussels around the plate. Finish with a drizzle of the tomato and spring onion dressing.