By Spence Homes
Arriving at Watergate Bay Hotel I took in the two-mile stretch of beach in North Cornwall that presents one of the best surf and kitesurfing breaks in the country. The beach is on the doorstep of the hotel, thus the hotel is nestled among the rocks and has unspoilt views of the bay.
The hotel, comfortably modern, white and blue against the cliff face, was once an RAF Officers’ Mess that fell into disrepair. Then, when the seventies hit, the Victorian building was converted back into a 55-bedroom hotel. A bucket and spade location, not far from Newquay, the hotel has undergone maturation after maturation and somewhat distanced itself from those vibes, seeking to ‘become a ski resort on a beach’. Surfing, and a large emphasis on sport, spa and wellbeing centres, or the ‘Extreme Academy’ and ‘Swim Club’, form a large part of most visitor’s attraction to the area and the hotel. The hotel gives a strong impression of active rejuvenation. The ethos of the place seems to be active relaxation: unwinding, being fit and healthy and feeling good. This is reflected in the calming colours, glass, open sea views and mellow music.
While I was here for just one evening, the open-house, do-as-you please vibes I got from the place, which offers a 25-metre ocean-view infinity pool, café-bar, cardio room, a studio for yoga classes, three treatment rooms, plus a manicure and pedicure room overlooking the bay (to name just the facilities of the Swim Club) mark this as a luxurious locale where every whim can be catered for.
I was mainly here for the food. The hotel is offering a new taste bud sensation, an experience called Winter Taste of the Bay, advertised as a getaway for those who appreciate the good things in life. The three-night foodie break will set you back £249 (prices start from here) for a Standard House room based on two people sharing. This includes the chance to dine at Jamie Oliver’s new Fifteen Cornwall and a dinner one night at the hotel’s restaurant Zacry’s, plus a lunch at The Beach Hut, a vibrant restaurant that basically sits on the sand. All are within minutes walking distance from one another. I was to lunch at The Beach Hut and later dine at Zacry’s, as this formed the last part of my own Taste of the Bay experience which had begun at Merchants Manor (Part One of my weekend, which can be read here). Checking into my room was stress free, as it should be. The room itself was of neutral colour and was dominated by a huge bed with a plump mattress and many pillows. Clean cut designs, sharp angles softened by calm lighting, plenty of space, and a clear view of the sea created a calming atmosphere that anyone would be happy with. The room was incredibly spacious and the bathroom facilities impressive, largely because of the purity of the water, the variety of temperatures available, and, vitally again, enough space both to relax and hang up drying swimwear- important for customers here. Keen to feel the wind on my face I walked some of the nearby cliffs, of which there are plenty of walks easily available to take, alongside incredible views that tempt one to wander from the set paths and find their own viewpoints. Tiring of the wind on my face I then headed to The Beach Hut for lunch.
The Beach Hut is perfect for a relaxed meal, ideally lunch or brunch. Executive Chef Neil Haydock manages both the Beach Hut and Zacry’s but the two eateries serve up very different styles of food. Basically on the sand, Taste of the Bay’s covered deck with glass surround, its wooden textures and seaman air, makes the most of the natural light as well as the damp beauty of the cliffs, sand and sea, and whisks one away to a land more tropical than Cornwall. Even deep into winter, the skies grey, I felt somewhere else, somewhere with less worry and more charm, and held the potential for better weather. The Beach Hut really is a hut, and feels a safe, excluded distance from the busyness of society and the sharper cut ‘ski resort’ feel of the hotel. That said, the Hut is no dingy, empty shack but bustles with casual diners, with the modest space and simple charm of the place lending itself to small groups. A fantastic view of the beach is given in any weather at any time of the year.
Part of the relaxed air of the place comes from its menus and the funky names of dishes, clearly inspired by the fish and chip charm of the beachfront but more so taking inspiration from American cuisines, often using well-known and well-loved dishes but creatively playing around with them, having some fun and adding some flavours. Burgers and fries, lots of fish, melting cheese and hipster wines could fool some but this is simply simple, real food prepared authentically and with honesty and character. Options like ribs, Cornish rib-eye steak and other grills seemed to be the power-play of the place. As I had already decided to give in to the Hut’s recommendation for the main course for the starter I chose something less American in influence and that would also allow me to make comparisons with dishes I had previously dined upon this weekend. Mussels were on offer and had an interesting twist. Going for the Sri Lankan mussels I was in for some full-on flavours. A large bowl of mussels hit my table, doused in a spicy, twangy, flavoursome broth. Steaming hot and buzzing with flavour, onions and tomatoes dominated while cumin made a play. Jalapenos would have been a brave move to add to this dish. The colour of lava, the broth transformed the palates reception of the mussels which were dripping with onion and tomato. Working well with the soft, sinewy texture and salty bite of the mussels the broth allowed me to get a whole new set of fused flavours from the common seafront dish. The intensity of flavour and the supplying of a basketful of bread to mop up the remaining broth once the mussels had been polished off, made this a must-try.
The wine and cocktail menus were impressive. The wine list in particular offered a huge variety of interesting options. I went for the Squid’s Fist, a Some Young Punks option that melded the tangy black of the Shiraz with Sangiovese’s fuller forms. The glass buzzed with plums, sour cherries and, no doubt, a whole lot of sugars that lead to a zesty, cleansing aftertaste with firm tannins and hints of, as advertised, ‘smoke and tar’. A playful one, this glass really had some fire to it and I enjoyed adding some anarchy to my meal. Calming things down a bit, I went for one of the house favourites for the main course, ordering the pulled-pork sandwich.
Presented well, the bun stuffed with lettuce and pork (more lettuce than pork) as well as Swiss cheese, came with a helping of chips dusted with sea salt. The pork pulled apart delightfully and had enough chew to it, balanced with a textured flakiness that warranted more of it being served. The taste was excellent but I was left with lettuce and bun sat astray on the plate. The medium-hard Swiss cheese, just melting from the heat of the meat, really brought the American flavours home [to Cornwall] and completed the course. The meal had been a filling one, though I did wish the sandwich had stood out from just being another very good sandwich. Leaving the very welcoming and cosy Hut I circled the Bay again. Seeing and feeling that the water was much too cold for a dip I took advantage of my Swim Club membership to swim in an extension of the Atlantic, only much warmer. This would be the 25 metre infinity pool the hotel boasts. The pool contains substantially lower levels of chlorine than most pools, making it better for the environment and, from the feel of my skin, better for you. A complimentary facial treatment from the spa team at the hotel aided my skin and was rather lovely. The spa team were incredibly friendly and informative- a real credit to the hotel.
My evening meal at Zacry’s, before an early night, was the highlight of the day. The service was incredibly professional. The restaurant had a sophistication to it that oozed from the service and small-talk of the waiters and waitresses, and found itself in the soft, non-intrusive music that filled the background. Perfect for an occasion, formal or otherwise, or if one simply sought a chilled out evening and a fine meal in elegant surroundings, presentation was on top form and the lighting was especially beautiful. The most delicious bread was brought to me, homemade and accompanied by Wicks Cornish butter with dashes of sea salt. The butter was solid enough to stand in a sphere on the rustic wooden board it was presented on but in the mouth was incredibly soft and fluffy. It was thoroughly delicious. My starter of Cornish scallops sat atop black pudding and trickled with cauliflower puree; this starter was partly chosen as a comparison to the other scallops I had tasted this weekend and these reigned supreme. Perfectly presented the three scallops were buttery soft to the fork, with just the slightest chew to them when in the mouth. The subtle, sweet taste of the scallops was enhanced by the creamy delicacy of the cauliflower and the crumbling charcoal black pudding, melting in the mouth. The black pudding was not lacking in aroma and spice, as can sometimes be the case. ZF rabbit stood out as an alternative starter, as did the charred octopus, haricot beans, chorizo, and rocket option.
I was recommended the pork loin chop as a main-course and went with this. The pork, a delicious pinkish colour, on the bone, was surrounded by kale. A lusciously creamy mashed potato with slender sticks of crackling crisscrossed over the whole composition completed the dish. These were the key elements of the main. The pork’s fat had a crispy outer skin that melted into the succulent centre, devoid of grease or oil, sweet to the taste and soft on the tongue. The mashed potato had a Cornish cream consistency to it, just soft enough without being airy and unsubstantial. Very creamy and rich, it suited my tastes but would be too much for some. It worked well with the body of the meat which was cooked well but benefited from the crunch and savoured richness of the crackling. One would eat this with a red wine, followed by a glass of port. I went for the Porto Alegre tawny and sipped this as I looked out of the open-windows at the darkening landscape, its classical beauty against the contemporary architecture of the hotel and surrounding buildings. Executive Chef Neil Haydock’s love of both classical and contemporary dishes had been evident on the menu; the sophisticated blending of these two modes, not binary oppositions by any means, was impressive. While my dessert was underwhelming, a theme of my pieces it seems (I had what was a dry and overpowering ginger pudding with clotted cream), I’d suggest that Zacry’s is one of the best places to eat round here. The starter and the main course were brilliantly executed, offering some of the best dishes in Cornwall, while the service was faultless.
My short stay here had been very pleasant but for a foodie, certainly, it would be worth visiting just to eat at Zacry’s. On that note I was aware that my visit was drawing to a close. Back in my room I squinted out at the now moody seascape and the spilt ink of the sky and surrendered myself to sleep.
The following morning I reflected that people would do well to visit these parts of Cornwall more often, with a winter call proving as fruitful as a summertime visit.