Wind back to the late 1970s, and I remember Watergate Bay in autumns and winters as this extraordinary and enormous, empty stretch of flat firm sand and ever roaring surf. The wind would whip through my duffel coat toggles and I’d have to force the lapels together with mitten-clad hands. I remember groups of camper vans parked overlooking the beach and cold, shivering men peeling off wetsuits. A gathering of mates drawn from the sedate south Cornish coast for their thrill fix had become rugged guys with an assumed air of ‘cool’, and me, that an awkward teenage girl, more self-conscious by a family walk, would surreptitiously gawk at.
The only building near the sea was the hotel, imposing but of a bygone age, seemingly locked until the summer season returned.
How things have changed, except the beach that it. Surfing is de rigueur at The Extreme Academy Watergate, along with learning to kitesurf, waveski and paddlesurf. So that tramping in with wet sandy feet into what is now a splendid hotel for all seasons is perfectly acceptable.
An autumn night and the Other Half and I were recently invited to dine at Zacry’s, the Watergate Hotel’s new restaurant. Zacry’s is a somewhat metropolitan looking brassiere of zig-zag angles. It was a sliding doors moment (indeed even the doors slide from terrace) to step from a blustery dark night and the sea’s roar and into the calm and the light.
Yes, it’s true we felt middle-aged but determined to still get with it and I was pleased with myself for not over-dressing. For though this is ‘posh food’ for local standards, the ambience is relaxed and people-friendly. Bring your children, eat with just your fork, it won’t lessen the absolutely exemplary standard of attentive service you’ll be treated to and the maître d’ isn’t going to make you feel awkward if both elbows rest on the table.
Watergate’s hotel and it’s surrounding must be a magnate for affluent folk escaping city life and the Taste of the Bay’s 3 night offer must be the ultimate winter break. Head clearing and awe-inspiring as this spot in Cornwall is during the day and then topping off the evenings with 3 different dinning experiences of such high-caliber (Zacry’s, The Beach Hut and Fifteen Cornwall) all in one location is pretty unique. Watergate’s customers are delivered the same sleek sophistication of metropolitan bistros with a mix of relaxed ‘sea ‘n’ sand’ bonhomie.
I’ve not eaten in enough different places to know how to compare Neil Haydock’s menu style to. So like a floundering haddock, I’ll let the blurb do the talking:
“The style combines Cornish attitude with a classic brassiere, while the food draws on international influences, local inspiration and executive chef Neil Haydock’s passion for contemporary American cuisine.
Provenance is important and the seasonal menu showcases both classical and contemporary dishes, grilled meat and seafood all feature large. And, thanks to the indoor charcoal oven, flavours are big, bold and distinctive. Expect dishes like Fiorentina steak, Cornish spider crab and Grampound duck.
Zacry’s is not just a place to eat, it’s a place to unwind with a unique energy and buzz around food.”
Woefully inept faced with the startling menu choices; husband and I admitted we were helpless. This is where the charming waitress steps in; we needed someone hone in on a final choice and to be led by her enthusiasm for certain dishes. She checked what we liked first before making a suggestion, although for me it was the ‘curved ball’ and had me opting for almost the last dishes on my mind.
Husband pitched in with fried rabbit, celeriac and apple slaw. I plunged in with crispy rock shrimps, KP mayo, and white truffle oil. The rabbit wasn’t the prettiest looking dish but the balance of texture, crispy batter and crunchy slaw was fairly swiftly consumed. I found the shrimps more as soft, sweet sensation in a batter with a smooth mayo and I would have happily continued eating all night long.
We did that feeble thing, compromising by picking two dishes from the mains that sounded different and that we both thought we might like so we could swap and share. Chargrilled monkfish, braised puy lentils, cavolo nero, salsa verde is my kind of dish, but it is quite salty. The other choice was chicken breast, jewelled cous cous, harissa, yoghurt and coriander because it sounded intriguingly different. The monkfish was firm and meaty and the chicken succulent under a really crispy skin. The ‘jewels’ in the cous cous that were an exotic mix of sweet, dried fruits and quite were delicious.
But here’s my word of caution, when you decide to swap main courses, make sure they are complimentary. The sweet fruit followed by the salt in the lentils and cavolo nero didn’t sit well together and the flavour experience of the food was certainly compromised. We should have offered each other a taste of the other’s dish but otherwise clung greedily to out own.
Dessert, the great rounding off: my husband’s choice was Tuscany orange cake, blackberries and yoghurt ice cream and mine the Tanzanie dark chocolate fondant, pistachio ice cream. Both were delicious. However I was by that time fairly well imbibed with an excellent bottle of wine and apart from saying it oozed chocolate from chocolate and his cake seemed in rich orange, I was done in, replete, a happy bunny.
I wished we might have stayed. The Hotel is just so perfect, relaxed and homely. The image of a woman sat reading in the ‘Living Space‘ with her dog asleep under the table says it all. However, our own dog at home meant we needed to leave and so we shuffled off back into the windswept night.