This review of Driftwood Hotel in Cornwall is taken from our latest guidebook, Mr & Mrs Smith: Hotel Collection – UK/Ireland Volume 2.
I’m fairly certain that a man is not supposed to have feelings for a smoked mackerel, especially when that very chap is sharing a weekend with his significant other at a picturesque and remote boutique hotel in Cornwall. But I strongly believe that we shouldn’t deny our feelings, so, with apologies to Mrs Smith, I hereby confess that a smoked mackerel fillet with celeriac and apple remoulade, beetroot and banyuls vinegar has stolen my heart. Such a shame that I had to eat it.
In case you think that these are simply the ramblings of a wistful glutton, there is a link here. The beauty of that dish was its just-caught freshness: exactly the quality that makes Driftwood, and its setting on the south Cornwall coast, so special. For those who know Cornwall’s Atlantic shore – who have surfed at Newquay, or visited Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen Cornwall at Watergate Bay – the south is its more modest sibling. Facing the Channel rather than the Atlantic, there are few big breakers here; the whole experience is quietly understated. The hamlet of Rosevine is almost defiantly difficult to get to (driving from the A30 takes the best part of an hour), but when you finally do arrive, you’re confronted with a craggy, stark beauty.
If sub-tropical, sand-hemmed south Cornwall is to your taste, then there are few better ways to enjoy it than at the simple-but-stylish Driftwood Hotel. You could hardly be closer to the sea: from the decking outside our room, the beach below was a five-minute walk, cutting steeply down through terraced gardens with pairs of chairs and hidden bothies for reading and thinking. It’s only once you’re down on the beach, maybe a hundred feet below, that you can look back up and see Driftwood as a whole. Like the landscape, it’s pleasingly unostentatious: the main, extended building is a grey-blue beach house draped languidly along the hilltop that could have been shipped straight from Cape Cod. In addition, halfway down the path to the beach is ‘The Cabin’, a weather-boarded, family-size hidey-hole tucked into the hillside for that faux-castaway sense of seclusion.
Our room though, was up top. French windows opened onto our own terrace with sea views beyond the gardens. Like people, some hotel rooms demand to be looked at and others are more modest. Spending too much time with a show-off can be grating, so you won’t find hot tubs, plasma screens or robotic toilets at Driftwood. Instead, the bedrooms are cosy, stylish and uncluttered: a battleship-sized bed takes precedence, and the ensuite is bathroom, not ballroom, sized. Lamps and mirrors are adorned with – unsurprisingly – driftwood, but that was as close as things got to frippery. Presumably, the owners reasoned that anyone wanting to cocoon themselves in a room with a DVD-library selection, when Gerrans Bay, the coastal path and the Eden Project (25 minutes away) are all close to hand, is in the wrong place anyway.
Bags unpacked, bed bounced on and free toiletries assessed (L’Occitane, since you ask), we chose the coastal path for our first excursion. From the beach, you can meander east, or west. We headed west for St Mawes, on what we thought would be a quick morning pipe-clearer. We got nowhere near, but did make it to Portscatho, a fishing village that’s home to a couple of pubs, some craft shops and Ralph’s Local Stores’ cluster-bomb pasties. Back at the hotel, we sat out on the decking and gorged on our meat-packed fishermen’s fare.
Our mistake was not to have looked at the dinner menu before we did so, because Driftwood’s restaurant is as dramatic as its setting, and head chef Chris Eden’s menu is a set three courses (or seven diet-destroying broadsides if you go for the euphemistically titled ‘tasting’ option). The dining room overlooks the garden and has views out to sea – but we barely noticed. Our eyes were focused solely on the delights laid before us: monkfish, pollack, john dory and roasted Terras Farm duck, offset with thimblefuls of frothy amuse-bouches and a cheese board that practically insisted we order a couple more glasses of wine to do it justice. It was impeccable, high-end cuisine, served by knowledgeable, unpretentious staff. The food and service all reflected Driftwood’s appeal – high-quality local fare delivered with minimum fuss. The fact that residents are advised to book tables suggests that Driftwood is a fine-dining destination in its own right, but be warned: we’d booked a massage for the next day, but when it came to tempering the effects of Driftwood’s temptations, we’d have been better off with liposuction.
Breakfast revealed our fellow guests to be a pair of families (kids are catered for with ease), some couples, and Buffy, the owners’ Lakeland Terrier – who was soon shooed out. And then, a drive to a fine pub (the Kings Head in Ruan Lanihorne) for lunch, before returning for a cat-nap and a read. Some people turn to chakra-balancing, hot-stone rub-downs or reiki for their relaxation. We discovered that slumping in steamer chairs looking out over the sea, with the sun slipping away behind the promontory, does it for us. If only my sweet, succulent mackerel could have been there to enjoy it with me.