London is one of the greatest cities in the world, but I find I have to leave it at regular intervals in order to fully appreciate it. For me, as someone born and raised in a place where for the most part things are unhurried, London is easiest to enjoy in small doses; soaking up its relentless energy and then retreating somewhere with a slower pace of life to recharge.
Often, though, while I’m hidden away I find myself missing the hospitality of London. The incredible restaurants, the wine bars, the people passionately trying to create businesses that are the best in their field, places you genuinely want to spend time with products you genuinely want to consume served by people who really know what they’re talking about and get joy from sharing this with the world.
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Despite this, I have an ever-present dream of fleeing London permanently for the seaside. The exact destination tends to vary depending on where I’ve recently been on holiday. Last summer it was Hydra in Greece. When I got back from visiting home over Christmas it was the North East coast of New Zealand. This week, having just returned from ten days in Cornwall, it’s the idyllic shores of St Ives. This recent dream future home is an outlier though, and not just because it’s in the UK (most relocation plans also involve outrunning the ever-growing cost of living crisis) but because it’s one of the few destinations where I’m not totally sure I actually would find myself missing London’s restaurant scene.
If I fancy a glass of natural wine and some nibbles in St Ives, for example, then I can easily get them. And I’m not just satisfying that craving, either – I’m heading to what I truly think might be the perfect iteration of a wine bar; Little Palais. Owners Rich and Jess cut their teeth at some of London’s leading eating and drinking establishments, before heading back to Jess’s native Cornwall to open Little Palais. Originally occupying a dinky former gallery on a back street with lower footfall – and seeing all eight of their seats full basically all night every night regardless – they recently relocated to the Old Custom House on the harbour front.
The larger space allows Rich and Jess to flex their creativity by way of an expanded menu, and yet you could be easily forgiven – aside from the glorious, uninterrupted views of the harbour through two bay windows – for thinking that you were still cosied up in the back street. There is none of the British seaside raucousness that can find itself permeating the main drag on any given day. Instead, secreted away in here, is a haven of good food and drink and great tunes (particularly on Thursdays when they dig into their vinyl collection). I say this is the perfect wine bar because Jess and Rich have curated a succinct selection of food and drinks that satisfy your every need but don’t overwhelm you with choice. You may only find yourself with four or five bottles of any colour of wine to choose from, but the ever-changing list and the couple’s impeccable taste means you’re never not satisfied by what’s on offer.
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Equally with the cocktails. They’re consistently tinkering away in the background, making their own tonics or getting the guys at Howl and Loer to make them their own Little Palais gin, the finished products being fun and interesting drops that bring a fresh taste to the classics while still remaining supremely drinkable. And that’s before you even get to the food – incredible things in tins find themselves served alongside warm, toasted sourdough and a rotating selection of small plates included, on our visit, an unctuous, deeply umami crab rarebit (this is the seaside, after all). Jess is constantly updating their house ice cream selection, and there is no better way to finish an evening than with a scoop of her Brown Bread creation alongside a clarified cadillac, featuring Pump Street chocolate, vanilla, Trink Dairy milk and orange juice in a deceptively transparent drop that doesn’t give away the depth of flavour or texture to come.
Should I find myself, after one too many drinks at Little Palais, waking up with a craving for what is easily the best breakfast burrito this side of the Atlantic, I’ll head to Harbour View House, where a pile of avocado, bacon, egg and pico de gallo sandwiched within a toasted tortillas is the perfect hangover cure. I might come back in the evening, too, for epic margaritas and tacos in front of a picture frame window that might just have one of the best views in the world (particularly at high tide, when you’d be hard pressed to find an outlook more beautiful). Owners Georgia Macgregor and Ant Cornish took over the former B&B and, over the last few years, have lovingly renovated it into a seaside haven, tastefully furnished with rattan, forest green linen, wishlist-worthy tiles and knick knacks collected from their travels over the years. While the rooms upstairs make the perfect home-away-from-home for a trip to the town, the cafe and bar are worth a visit all on their own.
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What about Sunday Lunch I hear you say? I’ll drive the 15 minutes to The Gurnards Head in Zennor, where the kitchen is serving up what I can confidently say must be some of the best pub food in the country, and the bright, mustard-yellow building acts like a beacon rising out of the Cornish moors. Or, say, a Thursday night meal? Why, it’s gotta be the Fish Shed, sitting pretty in a renovated block of beach huts, with front row seats to the sunset over Porthmeor Beach. How about a special occasion? You’ve got One Fish Street, which lives up to its name, serving a seafood-centric tasting menu. Craft Beer? St Ives Brewery, of course. Daytime-only wine bar/coffee shop/small plates? St Eia, opened by Eleanor Vening, formerly of Quo Vadis and Barrafina and her husband, Mark Quick who was the wine buyer at Hawksmoor. Pizza? West Beach, which sits metres away from the waves at Porthmeor. Morning coffee? Yallah, who roast their own beans in Falmouth and serve up a cracking vegetarian brunch menu at their St Ives cafe (or just grab a brew to go from the hatch downstairs). Can’t give up fresh sourdough? Never fear, St Ives Bakery makes their own, alongside some of the best pasties in town – but get in quick, they sell out fairly quickly. How about destination dining? The options here are almost laughably limitless; you’ve got Padstow and its cornucopia of dining locations, the recently-opened Crocadon Farm just south of Dartmoor, the much-loved Coombeshead Farm, and many, many more.
You get the picture. If Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs was translated into food and drink requirements only, my triangle would be happily satisfied by what’s on offer in St Ives, plus I would get to start my days with a run along the ocean, mark my lunch breaks with frigid dips in the sea and spend my weekend days navigating the rugged South West Coastal Path, dodging boulders and bogs in the process. The town may have a classic windbreaker, bucket-and-spade, screaming-kids-and-melting-ice-cream reputation, and it does in part live up to that. But below the surface this is a vibrant town thrumming with interesting young creatives opening hospitality venues that would easily hold their own against some of London’s best. Just beware of the seagulls.