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Coastal cuisine

Words by Hannah Tapping

Bucking the pandemic trend and bringing seasonal menus to the fore in two impressive restaurants by the sea; in conversation with chef proprietor Michael Caines.

You’re best-known for Lympstone Manor, what inspired you to make the transition across the border into Cornwall?

Cornwall is intrinsically linked with Devon as a destination – after all, you have to travel through Devon to get to Cornwall – and our residents at Lympstone regularly travel on to the Duchy after staying with us. We holidayed in Cornwall when I was growing up and I have family in the county, so I love and know the area well. When the opportunity arose to acquire The Cove at Maenporth and expand our business interest into Cornwall, it seemed an obvious and natural next step.

While many restaurants were closing their doors for good during the pandemic, you opened the Harbourside Refuge in Porthleven. How was this possible and what was the driving force behind the decision?

The opportunity to acquire The Harbourside in Porthleven came as a casualty of the pandemic, which affected many restaurants who had to re-think their business. Rick Stein, the previous owner, decided not to re-open after the first lockdown so the restaurant became available on the market. I was approached by Trevor Osborne, owner of the Porthleven Harbour and Dock Company, who has done so much for the town, to see if I would be interested in taking on the venture. I had to say yes! Not only is it in an outstanding location but it also gave us another restaurant within easy reach from The Cove. After discovering Trevor’s plans to further develop Porthleven as a foodie destination I was really excited and felt confident that we could, over time, make it a great success.

Your Cornish restaurants have a different vibe to Lympstone. What is it that makes them unique? And are there influences from the Manor that can be seen at The Cove and The Harbourside Refuge?

The key to both our restaurants in Cornwall is their location; both unique and by the sea. The market that they have to cater for covers both tourist and locals alike and although they both come under the Michael Caines umbrella they are standalone restaurants in their own right, each with individual characteristics. A part of that difference in application and appeal lies in the talent and creativity of each of the two brilliant head chefs, Jack and Michael. It is important that we maintain the same quality of food and service that people have come to expect from our other restaurants at The Cove and The Harbourside Refuge, whilst offering an accessible price point for all.

Could you tell me about the Head Chef in each of the Cornish restaurants, their backgrounds and why they were chosen?

At The Harbourside we have a fantastic young chef, Jack Wilkinson who joined The Cove as junior Sous Chef and developed into a true leader as our Head Chef in Porthleven. Jack is adept and creative and has continued to build on the reputation at The Harbourside, to become one of the best in the area. Mike Cingari has recently joined us at The Cove, from St Mawes Hotel, having previously worked at Fifteen Cornwall and Rick Stein. Originating from Italy, he has a passion for food, especially pasta, and we are delighted to have him on board. Both chefs are eager to develop their teams over this year and steer The Cove and The Harbourside Refuge to become great destination restaurants – hopefully achieving a few accolades along the way!

Both are supported by myself and our new Group Executive Chef Stuart Shaw who has a fantastic pedigree in the industry over a number of years, starting under the stewardship of Raymond Blanc.

What was the ethos behind the menus for The Cove and The Harbourside Refuge and how have they been developed?

Our ethos is ‘all things local’, championing the best of Cornish and south west produce. As both restaurants are in close proximity to each other, we needed to differentiate between the two whilst offering the usual menu staples for a seaside restaurant – from mussels to classic fish and chips – but to also include great poultry and meats. There are firm signature dishes on our menu that I have developed over the years in my restaurants but also dishes created in collaboration with the head chef and team in both restaurants resulting in menus that evolve seasonally. Each have their own identity and artistic flair with lunch menus also changing weekly, in addition to daily specials, ensuring that there’s always something different to come back for.

Can you tell me about the local suppliers you use and why?

We have an array of local suppliers from Cornish Crab and Flying Fish, Colin Carter’s Eggs, Philip Warren Butchers and West Country to name just a few. These suppliers are carefully selected to be able to supply us with the best fresh product that Cornwall and the south west has to offer, with a sustainable approach and reduction in food miles. Our menus are designed around the seasonality of products whilst also supporting local businesses and the communities in our locations.

I know that you employ many young, local people. Why is this important to you?

It is really important to support the local economy and be able to give opportunities to staff within the vicinities of our restaurants. This develops and encourages the sustainability of our businesses for the future. Our businesses are open all year round and we want to promote a local work force who can deliver great service with a good work-life balance, so they can enjoy what the beautiful county of Cornwall can offer.

The last two years have been turbulent for the food and drink industry to say the least, how have you navigated the troubled waters?

We opened The Cove at the beginning March 2020 and then after trading for two weeks closed due to Covid-19. We re-opened in June, were extremely busy, but like most businesses, found ourselves short staffed and so the team worked extremely hard over the summer season. We bought The Harbourside Refuge in July 2020, opening in August with some of the existing team and set about recruiting new team members to add to the talent. Throughout 2020 and 2021 we had to appraise the business, often only being able to open five days a week due to a lack of staff. It’s been a difficult two years to be honest, with the opening and closing of our two businesses in Cornwall which in turn has affected us maintaining consistency and standards.

What do you see for the future of food in Cornwall?

Cornwall has an attractive future, but a challenging one with the current labour crisis and state of the housing market. It is important to continue to encourage the next generation into the industry in order to build a sustainable restaurant sector that can develop and influence not just in-county but nationwide. As we export Cornish produce out of the county, we need to continue to attract both talent and customers to our region through innovation and outstanding quality.

It is great to see so many talented chefs already here. Rick Stein, Paul Ainsworth, Emily Scott, Nathan Outlaw, Adam Handling and Jude Kereama who have all chosen to base themselves in this wonderful county we can all be very proud of. Cornwall continues to be a an attractive place for some of Britain’s most talented chefs, offering the next generation the opportunity to develop the region to become one of Britain’s best foodie destinations. The future is bright!


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