A review of The Driftwood Hotel

A review of The Driftwood Hotel

by Isaac Parham 10 July 2014

Isaac reviews Chris Eden's cooking at The Driftwood Hotel, where he has earned the accolade of first Cornishman to win a Michelin Star in Cornwall.

Isaac Parham is a freelance food writer and editor from South London. When not browsing Borough market or watching his beloved Portsmouth FC, you'll find him travelling the country to find the nation's best food.

Isaac Parham is a freelance food writer and editor from South London. When not browsing Borough market or watching his beloved Portsmouth FC, you'll find him travelling the country to find the nation's best food.

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.

Driftwood restaurant
Chef Chris Eden

Eden perfected his technique working under Phil Howard, a chef known for his exacting standards and classical approach. The traces of Howard’s influence are clear – particularly in a luxurious beef dish (supreme sirloin and frugal featherblade) – and a climactic chocolate tart. But he is his own man, too: there are idiosyncratic touches throughout and his unique feel for texture is dizzying – often dishes feature as many as eight or nine components with differing mouth-feels.

His ambition is clearly paying off – as one diner comments to a waiter: “It’s nice to see a Michelin star restaurant turning tables on a Thursday night; many others aren’t.”

Post-service I sit down with Eden and he speaks affectionately – if a little breathlessly – about his spell at The Driftwood; the draining summer services, early starts and how he wouldn't have it any other way. Unlike the other Eden Project, this one feels completely at home.

Where else I ate in Cornwall

Despite choosing south coast over north coast for my review, I couldn't resist hopping over to Paul Ainsworth at No.6 for lunch. It was everything I had hoped for - adventurous, smart and humble. We especially loved the bread and butter pudding, which came with a little letter from Paul explaining that the dish had been inspired by his spell under Gary Rhodes. Great service, too.

I also had one one of the best Fish and Chips I have ever had, in a little restaurant/cafe next to Lizard Point called Coast. The restaurant doesn't seem to have a website, twitter or indeed any kind of online presence, but it does have incredibly fresh fish, generous portions and a nice view of the sea. Well worth seeking out if you're close.