Fine dining and laid-back eating finds itself in an historic location.
Words by Hannah Tapping
Bodmin Jail Hotel is truly unique. Nestled in the historic Cornish town of Bodmin and not far from the wonderful wilds of Bodmin Moor, this boutique hotel was built by Napoleonic prisoners in 1779 and used as a prison until 1927, when it was decommissioned. After falling into disrepair, its current owner realised its potential with a sensitive restoration that has retained many original features. Laid out over four floors, the hotel has a steel exoskeleton with a metal landing underneath and a glazed roof which lets natural light flood in. Stylish bedrooms, which are three prison cells knocked together, exude industrial chic.
Aside from the luxury hotel accommodation, food lies at the heart of this hotel. The Courtyard, open to all, combines historic charm with a relaxed, laid-back vibe. This cosy, inviting space is somewhere you can enjoy a delicious meal with friends, a romantic dinner or just a casual bite. Menus are inspired by Cornwall’s bountiful larder and it’s clear that a passion for showcasing the best our county has to offer tops the menu here. Fish from nearby waters; beef and pork from Bodmin Moor; fruit and vegetables from the fields and orchards that surround the hotel. Open all day and through into the evening, this is an eatery that has become something of a neighbourhood hangout, such is its appeal. Grab a bite, catch up with friends, or relax with a drink, the choice is yours.
For more formal dining, The Chapel Restaurant offers clean, refined cookery in a remarkable setting. Aperitifs are best sipped in the hotel’s Champagne Bar – the French 75 made with Tarquin’s Cornish gin, fresh lemon juice, a spot of sugar, and topped with Emile Leclère Brut Champagne is a highlight – before ascending the majestic marble and gold staircase that leads to the restaurant. Its vaulted ceilings and an impressive, ever-changing light show casts iridescence across the room, creating an elegant, beautifully lit and comfortable space. As the lights reflect in the immaculate glass and tableware, diners eagerly anticipate a taste of culinary excellence where they are treated to the finest fish, meat and poultry that Cornwall has to offer.
In conversation with Executive Chef Dane Watkins, who has been at the helm since the hotel’s opening in 2020, he tells of The Chapel’s ethos and what diners can expect: “Fantastic produce sourced from extremely local producers is at the heart of our dishes. My incredible team works closely with suppliers in order to obtain the season’s best produce for the kitchen.” Dane has created a menu that is both modern and sophisticated. Inspired by his Nan, Dane has always had a passion for food: “I always liked watching her cook for us in the summer holidays, she would create delicious food for myself and sister, from what seemed like absolutely nothing. I was in awe of her knife skills.” Transferring this passion to the Chapel’s kitchen, Dane’s signature dish of scallops, coriander velouté and shallot bhaji with a curry emulsion is a favourite with hotel guests and owners alike.
With access to so many wonderful ingredients, Dane cites pork and celeriac as two the ingredients he couldn’t cook without. No surprise then that Kilhallon Farm pork belly graces the list of starters, served with pak choi, daikon and soy. As fifth generation butchers and graziers, James Kittow is a producer and purveyor of the finest Cornish quality meats and just one example of Dane’s trusted local suppliers. The fantastic possibilities of using local meat and fish has resulted in an innovative menu, with seasonal vegetables perfectly pitched as supporting acts. The dinner menu itself reads like a map of Cornish produce; St Ives smoked salmon, Fowey scallops, Newlyn Cod, each dish perfectly balanced and beautifully presented.
Dane’s team of chefs brings the same quality to whichever of the restaurants you dine in. From a decadent Champagne afternoon tea or a quick open sandwich in The Courtyard after a long drive, to sitting down to an elegant three-course set menu in The Chapel Restaurant, every ingredient is treated with the care and attention it deserves. The same goes for the attention to detail in terms of welcome and service, with a front of house team that offers warm hospitality and always has the diners’ enjoyment in mind. Food is complemented by an extensive wine list, chosen to pair with Dane’s seasonal menus, and featuring a broad range of producers and grapes.
Such culinary excellence at the Bodmin Jail Hotel is made possible by the fact that the owner and CEO are self-confessed foodies: “For me, this is an incredible benefit,” says Dane. “It means there are no culinary boundaries, which is a first for me as a chef. It is incredible to be unrestricted in the direction we take the menus and it means there is always something exciting and new happening in our kitchen.”