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I arrived a little late for my lunch booking at the Tate St.Ives Café. Accompanied by one of Cornwall’s most accomplished abstract painters I was hoping for some suitably arty discussion and maybe a little enlightenment regarding the less comprehensible exhibits in the gallery.
The reason we were late? Too busy enjoying the views outside. St. Ives is just an irresistible feast for the eyes, its picturesque harbour , broad sandy beaches and maze of fishermen’s’ cottages lull you into a sense of well being.
Many art galleries have their cafes tucked down in a basement but the architects of the Tate building, which was opened to great acclaim in 1993, have given over their most prestigious level, the top floor, to the all-important purpose of visitor sustenance with The Café priding itself on sourcing its ingredients from Cornish growers and suppliers.
As soon as you enter the door of the café the vertiginous outlook over the town’s rooftops contrasts dramatically with the cool minimal interior while the friendly efficiency of the staff gives a sense of calm. The wine list attracted our attention early on due to the presence of Cornwall’s very own Camel Valley ‘Bacchus’ 2007 and we couldn’t resist the opportunity to try a glass Pale in colour and light on the nose, Bacchus, once sipped, takes you surfing on the barest hint of petillance through a distinct range of honeyed citrus rind and apple orchard flavours. It’s no wonder this wine has achieved critical acclaim.
Sat at a table with a glorious command over Porthmeor beach, the Atlantic and infinity, we started with a soup of the day, a smooth ‘potato & leek’, and a mini-plate of ‘marinated Manzilla olives’. For my main course; grilled fish from Newlyn. Off the fishing boats for today was Hake, served with wild mushrooms and capers on a bed of minted Cornish potatoes. The fish arrived with a nicely caramelised crispy skin . It was a satisfying choice. The fresh mint didn’t quite ‘lift’ the potatoes as much I would have liked leaving the capers to do most of the work in characterising this dish. Grilled fish is available at the day’s market price, all other mains are below £10.
To accompany the fish I didn’t have to look any further than the well chosen house white, a 2007 Monte Alina from northern Spain, with rich well balanced fruit unencumbered by oak, perfect for lunch. (Wines are available in 250ml carafes as well as by the glass and the bottle).
There are a good number of sandwiches on offer and my lunch partner chose the ‘Newlyn harbour hand-picked white crabmeat open sandwich with crab mayonnaise and baby gem lettuce’. It was the most expensive choice in an otherwise modestly priced range which starts below £5.00. The crabmeat itself was superb, ultra fresh and light textured, but a little overwhelmed by excessive bread.
I noticed that as well as gallery visitors from far and wide, there are also locals here for whom this is a meeting place of choice. Cakes and sandwiches are available all afternoon and you don’t have to buy a gallery entrance ticket if you just want to go up to the café.
The menu overall is good value and quite informal with plenty of sticky desserts to please children.
We tried the ‘Rhubarb & Apple Crumble with Cornish clotted cream’ which was very nicely combined to bring out the best of the fruit. Not too sweet, the crumble topping provided a perfect contrast. A trio of Cornish cheeses included my longtime favourite , Yarg, a delicately flavoured nettle-covered beauty produced at Pengreep farm near Truro. A potent chutney is served alongside which is best avoided if, like me, you want to savour the cheese itself.
Our unhurried lunch was concluded with a superbly flavoured espresso and the realisation that throughout our conversation we had not discussed art at all.
So, it was down to the glorious sandy beach below which had been beckoning us all along, some daft attempts to take photographs of ourselves and then on to more galleries in town.