The Eden Project has undoubtedly been a wonderful thing for Cornwall, a rare success for the ill-fated Millennium Project which also gave us/shoved down our throats a rickety bridge and a big tent-thing in Greenwich; a site that went down like a bad joke when it originally opened and now houses many of them for good measure.
But despite its success I query its location: surely this amalgamation of science and nature would be more effective some place a little more concrete, greyer, rough around the edges - Penge High Street immediately comes to mind. Because in summertime Cornwall it feels, well, like plonking a sandpit on Copacabana beach. For what is Cornwall if not one big oversized ‘biodome’ itself? - a thriving landscape in which cicadas trill among exotic plantation, seals bask on rocks and opalescent tides crash against nookish cliffs.
Anyway, it’s not that Eden Project I am concerned with. Because down in South Cornwall, adjacent to the littoral village of Portscatho, another Eden Project is quietly flourishing.
I am of course talking about chef Chris Eden and his restaurant at The Driftwood Hotel, which won a Michelin star in 2011 and earned Eden the honour of being the first Cornishman to win one in his own backyard. Which you may not know. Because, compared to the culinary temples of Outlaw, Ainsworth and Stein in Padstow and Rock, Driftwood flies under the radar a little – I can only surmise that London reviewers down for the day hedge their bets and stick to the north coast. Gladly, I decided to buck the trend.
The property is a jewel. Perched on a cliff and boasting ridiculously good views of the Cornish coastline (and its own private beach), it is easy to see why the hotel is primarily a fair-weather destination (it closes from December to February). It is made for the summer – when the long evenings can be spent on its terrace watching sailing boats slope by on the horizon.
But its lustre extends way beyond the cosmetic. Eden’s tempting menus (there are a few to choose from; I go for the seven course option) read like paeans to Cornish produce and the artisans responsible. ‘Kayak line-caught’ local sea bass and St Austell mussels sufficiently whet the appetite.
It turns out St Austell is where Eden calls home, and his mastery of the ingredients he grew up around is intoxicating. The aforementioned mussels necklace around meaty turbot in an excellently balanced preparation, while the sea bass dish restores the faith in this increasingly bastardised fish – doorstop thick and yielding pearly white flakes, it is kept honest by a bed of beady spelt and a crab bisque. Clotted cream, meanwhile, makes an appearance in a barnstorming ‘thunder and lightning tart’ – a haute cheesecake with ginger and saffron elements.
Primacy of produce is one thing but winning a Michelin star is quite another, and Eden is no mere conduit. His style celebrates the centrepiece of a dish - usually a locally-sourced protein - with a supporting cast of glitzy components. So John Dory is lavished with sprightly lime and earthy cauliflower; pineapple is befriended with lemon grass ice cream and coconut meringue; and an ethereal lemon verbena sorbet is grounded by Macadamia nuts.