Porthminster Kitchen, Wharf Rd, Saint Ives TR26 1LG

- Review -

Porthminster Kitchen: Understated, thoughtful and doesn't miss

'Kummerspeck' is easily one of my favourite German terms. Literally translated as 'sadness bacon', it describes the weight that you gain as a result of mourning or extreme sadness. I'd recently had the delight of my first ever panic attack during a tasting menu at Fhior in Edinburgh and despite knowing in my very core it was brilliant, I remember barely anything of it, apart from a single dish that was turbot and pomme puree all seasoned with sea pepper dulse. For that moment it was like being at an overcrowded swimming pool, with each bite a plunging of the self underwater, where all that clamor deadens into a muffled bubbling before you ascend back up to the chaos for what is, unfortunately, a critical breath. I'd gone up to see a romantic interest to whom I wasn't living up to their imagined standards and what should've been a few days of fun and food turned into, what can only be described as, a harrowing pile of shit.

I didn't eat for roughly two weeks afterward, subsisting on black coffee and the occasional protein shake. Then, fell into excessive overeating and a loss of drive to hit the gym as I'd so avidly done for years prior, quickly becoming a walking lardon of kummerspeck. After talking to a friend who now resided in mellow sunny Cornwall, they implored me to come down and push pause on all bad weather in my body.

“You’ve gotten pretty flabby” says my lissom friend who’s not seen me in some time. “I’ve definitely seen you leaner”. It’s an ideal way to start what should be a break away from the noise of what’s been a trying year, in which the whole purpose of coming to Cornwall was to escape. I found some comfort in chewing on the irony that she considered herself a champion for a Body Positivity™ as I tuned in and out from her dietary advice.

Speaking of being caught off-guard and plunged into cynicism and misery, it’s often a clause of visiting any tourist destination- especially if you’re after good food. Meager servings of clotted cream ice cream that’s poorly kept and so mostly frost and lactose to fish and chips that see you coming a mile off and don’t necessarily feel the need to have the quality meet the price. Why would they? They’ve literally got your back against the wall or in this case, the English Channel.

Strafing along the coast to half-shield ourselves from the whipping winds, hunger forces the hand to just pick somewhere before the sugar crash takes over. In all its whitewashed glory, accented with the glint of polished wine glasses, we find Porthminster Kitchen. At first it seems to offer that sense of sterility that makes you think it's governed more by investors' money than actual heart- and the prices will reflect an overbearing mission to claw that investment back.

Deploying the yardstick of any seaside establishment, I’m compelled to see what their oysters are up to. A few moments of leg-jiggling nervousness pass until we’re brought two reassuringly fine examples which I consume like a tequila shot; biting the lemon after so that the oyster can be consumed unadulterated- its gloriously fresh salinity that’s tenderly bursting with surf spray.

Crab seems like another logical move and it’s served simply in the shell as a blend of white and brown meat with some shredded gem and springy sourdough. There's a shot glass of tartar sauce which, whilst charmingly retro is brimming with cornichons, dill and salty bombs of capers. Complete with a lemon wedge, it ticks all the archetypal boxes, but only aesthetically- within that is some very refined skill and balance.

Opting for fish because my friend, now exhibiting guilt for her fat-shaming but projecting it on her parents for some reason, still has me feeling like a proper chub Lord. But Porthminster Kitchen doesn’t play that shit- instead, it gives my ‘mate’ the hand whilst embracing me with the other, as if to say ‘she can fuck off, you can eat this’. A fillet of mackerel that’s been properly attended to; expertly butterflied with beautifully crisp and golden skin, still flaunting its tabby pattern beneath the crust. Billed as ​​’mackerel, smoked rosemary, salsa verde, asparagus, new potato’ it has your finger wagging along with a wry smile at the pleasing deception they’ve employed on your expectations, as a well-written a performing menu should.

The smoked rosemary takes up position as an amber gel- it’s light on the smoke and still bearing that piney, aniseed quality that pairs so well with a meaty fish like this. The salsa verde has been liberally piped beneath, a flashbang tossed into the fray that has you gladly dazzled. The asparagus has been given the professional treatment- stripped of the out layer just before the head, three plump spears, suspended in a slick glob of hollandaise.

Playing further with your expectations of textures, this is all mounted on a fondant cake of new potato, rather than the simply boiled ones you might rightfully assume. A fine shard of potato starch that’s shaped like a silhouette of a flame is speckled with the seasoning of seaweed, using the hollandaise as adhesive. That little nod to zero-waste by way of simply the water used to boil the potato is not only witty but practical- crunch being the only texture that would be absent otherwise. A dill emulsion and smatterings of dill powder bolster the seasoning but further indulge the unctuous elements of the dish- it’s a dish that is so precise and well-executed, it’s as if it’s been carried out by a hitman. No part of this seems to show any evidence of being rushed or hair-brained; everything calculated and considered- one shot, one kill. No collateral.

My friend is alarmed that I’ve not ordered dessert and despite the absolutely bullshit claim that I just don’t fancy it not being bought by either of us, we pay up. Although I’m in my element when carrying out epicurean assaults, nothing sends my stomachs’ ambitions into a flailing withdrawal like being reminded of something that’s plagued me almost all of my life. Sufficed to say, I don’t see this person much anymore, because why would I? But what you should take away from this is that Porthminster Kitchen is a disarmingly great experience that I'd encourage anyone to visit, whether you're in terrible company or not- the food will heal you or simply augment the joy of eating with good people.