In a village where everyone and everything seems to centre around the spectacular beach of Perranporth, there lies an oasis of calm and respite known as The Bolenna.
Words by Rosie Cattrell | Images by Rebecca Hawkey
Set in an old 1925 villa building, The Bolenna overlooks the green space of the village park and a tennis club which dates back to the nineteenth century. Formally a private home until 2019, Karen Colam and her daughters, Liv and Holly Huggins, took it on to give visitors their famous Poldark’s Cornwall tour business, matched with beautiful sleep experiences. It went largely unnoticed as a building until they opened up the frontage and planted nearly a million flower seeds and grasses. To venture up its gravel drive and through the wildflower meadow is to enter another world; where people feel nurtured, children play, dogs are welcome, and where great food, wines and cocktails are served alongside generous portions of love, welcome and humour.
The rooms at The Bolenna were where it all started. Food was, at first, not the focus in a village where so many restaurants were historically focussed on the high season weeks and largely ignoring the needs of a growing local population, wanting instead somewhere great to hang out all year round. The renovated rooms embrace and restore guests in beautiful surroundings and their efforts won them awards in the toughest of markets during Covid. Bookings were looking great for 2020 and they already had pop-up feast nights and supper parties for hotel guests. Breakfasts were tasty and sparked the interest of many locals who wanted to sample the freshness and edgy recipes. Holly had worked with Paul Ainsworth and wanted to make the food and drink a bigger element of the offering moving forward. The Bolenna, part hotel, part restaurant-with-rooms, was ready to launch into a full scale 2020 season. Covid had different plans.
Losing every forward booking and having taken on an expensive lease made 2020 a year of reflection and creative thinking. The unseasonably warm Easter and early spring was salt in the wound, but sadly, not on any food. A conveniently positioned front window gave them a chance to serve take away as the first lockdown eased and they delivered to sheltering families in the parish, and so the food gained an enthusiastic following. Dan Wilde joined the team as head chef towards the end of that summer and a new plan evolved over the winter. They built raised beds on the oversized empty car park and started to cultivate their own organic produce. They made take-away Christmas dinners for people to really embrace their family get togethers after a period of enforced separation. Food became the focus. “Feeding and nurturing were the embracing elements of our little business,” Karen reflects fondly, “and we were and still are so grateful for the support that has helped us not fall at the first hurdle. We added a yoga and wellbeing suite for Liv to start workshops and lessons in early 2021, and installed a hot tub inside our newly planted sensory garden. The food, service and setting started to get rave reviews, and we began to win awards and plaudits.”
Freshness and flavour is at the heart of their food, with unpretentious service in comfortable surroundings the key to everything they do. The emphasis is on the overall dining experience where you feel welcome to dwell and linger and never feel the pressure to move over to make room for others. As the Bolenna becomes well-known and tables sought after, they are insisting this remains and they have plans to expand the brand and move the ethos of ‘fine food, not frozen’ into other locations.
“The Bolenna cocktails are all hand built,” Karen continues, “we don’t use pre-mixes and the difference is remarkable. One regular described them as drinking a real cocktail for the very first time and realising that in other places you’d just been served ‘fruit squash for grown-ups!’” Stocking a range of local spirits, wines, beers and ciders, the team love to pioneer and champion the unusual ones. The constantly evolving wine list reflects their own love of wines and extensive travel that has influenced this. The star of the show is now, undeniably, the food! “Our garden-to-plate ethos means the kitchen makes strenuous efforts to minimise the carbon footprint of produce, bringing influences from every corner of the globe whilst using local producers wherever possible. Animal welfare is our key concern and ethical farming is essential for us at The Bolenna. Vegans, vegetarians and restrictive diets are all carefully considered and nothing is mass produced and frozen down just for convenience’s sake.”
At a time when hospitality has suffered its greatest threat it seems the natural resilience of women-led organisations sets a very different criteria for business success. “Not everything is measured by bank balances, although my accountant may not agree,” laughs Karen. “With every plate that leaves the kitchen there is a story of human creativity, love and nurturing. Having happy guests feel part of our family here is what we’re about and yes, we’re not naïve, this does mean we have to make it work in the real world too! It is an uphill struggle, but we don’t compromise on the love element; without that, we would be deep frying frozen scampi and chips by the ton and that’s just not us.”
Four generations of women fly the standard for The Bolenna. Karen’s mum, a pioneer of 60s emancipation, has been their constant supporter. Karen’s two daughters Holly and Liv, and even Holly’s two young daughters, Maya and Ruby have an active part in the running of the place. The staff have all become part of their extended family and everyone’s opinion counts. Every hand-built cocktail is trialled in house, all wine tastings are universal by everyone on site, all new food ideas are discussed, even what is grown in the kitchen garden. Anyone’s ideas are welcomed and explored. Karen thinks this egalitarian approach is why staff retention is high in a fickle industry where people move around so much. “Having happy staff just makes our food better” she says. “Service with a laugh and a smile is the best seasoning”.
While Dan Wilde has taken on the role of head chef, some signature dishes have remained since Holly and Karen started the menu; Karen’s brunch shakshuka and Holly’s Caesar salad have been there since the beginning. Mezze platters catering for all tastes and appetites can be ordered at any time of the day. Locally landed fish and seafood ensures the best seafood dishes in the area and tasty comfort foods like the chicken cacciatore or truffle risotto sit alongside their locally legendary Sunday Lunches where even roast lamb is available and a mouth-watering selections of side dishes. Dan has even mastered a gluten-free, vegan Yorkshire pudding!
Desserts never disappoint; The Bolenna Mess range of sweets are favourites based on the classic Eton mess but incorporating different seasonal fruits and flavours, and the plant based pistachio cheesecake is to die for! Seasonal crumbles and sticky toffee puddings are there for those with heartier appetites, and local cheeses for those with less of a sweet tooth. As the year progresses, The Bolenna team will be out foraging for new and exceptional flavours, always bringing their unique twist to food, drink and the dining experience.