Thursday, 23 December 2010

The Black Rock, St Ives

Overheard in the rented house:

Hay: “There’s a recipe on the wrapping of that goose.”

Chairman: “For what?”

Hay: “Roast goose! What did you think it would be a recipe for - mushroom soup?”

We bought the last goose in the shop yesterday. Talking of which, I understand there’s concern that supermarkets are getting too powerful. In their defence, the supermarkets say they provide jobs. So what do independent retailers provide? Scotch mist? If the raison d’ĂȘtre of supermarkets is ‘benefits of scale’ and thus lower priced food, then it stands to reason that they must provide fewer jobs than independent retailers selling the equivalent volume of produce. Methinks they’re clutching at straws using this argument, but I haven’t heard anyone in the news media challenging it.

Talking of food; some of these celebrity chefs really are prostitutes and will sell their reputation for a farthing. The house we’re renting has some Anthony Worrall-Thompson pans - the handles heat up and burn you, as do the handles on the lids. Utter waste of money, if you ask me.

I think it’s restaurant review time again – The Black Rock in St Ives. For quality of food, this little gem is simply the best restaurant we have visited this year.

We noticed The Black Rock tucked up a side street in St Ives about a year ago (it was previously a kitchen utensil emporium), but never visited, preferring to stick with the tried and trusted CafĂ© Pasta or the Alba. We were finally tempted this week by the offer of two courses for £14.95, or three for £17.95 – a theme currently familiar across all the restaurants in St Ives, which I suspect are suffering not only from the recession, but also the fact that St Ives is devoid of visitors due to the inclement weather elsewhere (one revered establishment, the Pedn Olva Hotel, is serving Trubute beer for £1 per pint, which is an absolute steal).

The black and silver wallpaper unfortunately makes the place feel like a bordello, while the lighting is woefully inadequate, due mainly to the black wallpaper and the black slate floor sucking in what little light is available like a black hole. A few spotlights over the tables would make it less redolent of a crypt.

On being seated the waitress lit the tea light at our table, but not those at the other tables, which would have given the place a cosy glow and helped to alleviate the feeling that we were sat in a Birds Eye cold store. Yes, it was a little chilly.

There are four starters and four main courses as standard – all sounding exceptionally delicious and making a choice very difficult. The waitress was professional (for a pleasant change), letting us know what was off the menu (but replaced) and what the soup of the day was without being asked.

A good selection of wines are on offer; I went for my favourite tipple of a Malbec, being the cheapest red on the list at £14.95. It was so good we ended up having two bottles (I have yet to come across a bad Malbec). The cheapest wine on the list is invariably good in most restaurants and I object to paying shed-loads of money for indifferent, yet highly priced wines that come from estates with large marketing budgets that have to be recouped.

Hay chose a ham and beetroot terrine with a herb butter and home-made bread and chutney as her starter. I went for white bean coquettes with a garlic sauce. A complimentary board of the most delicious, warm and crispy home-baked bread was provided for us both. Both starters were what we could only describe as superb.

Hay’s main course was a fillet of pollock on bacon and celeriac risotto with shredded celeriac garnish, which she pronounced ecstatic. Mine was slow-cooked pork belly with bean stew and cavalo nero cabbage. Hadn’t heard of cavalo nero before, but it looks like a very dark savoy crossed with spinach. The pork fat was fully rendered down, the meat beautifully tender and the skin crisped to perfection. Again – absolutely fantastic food of exceptional quality. Neither of us could fault the food in any way whatsoever and it was easily one of the best restaurant meals we had ever tasted.

I was tempted by a trio of ice-creams for dessert, comprising vanilla, mixed spice and cardamom – an interesting combination of flavours which I found most pleasing to the taste.

All in all we paid £70 (including tip) and found the experience memorable – despite the lack of mood lighting and the place being a tad chilly. Highly recommended if you’re in the area.

Here’s a parting thought. Bomb! Nice word and accurately descriptive. So why have we started calling bombs ‘improvised explosive devices’ since the kerfuffle in Afghanistan and Iraq? Management jargon, that’s why. In Northern Ireland they were always called bombs – sometimes the journalists became a bit more descriptive by inserting the words ‘car’ or ‘nail’ in front, but they were still bombs.


  1. If you like new world Malbec could I suggest something from the Cahors region of France, the spiritual home of that particular grape. Chateau Lagrezette for example, lovely wine, almost black in colour with a touch of Merlot to soften it up a bit - grab it if you see it.

  2. The black rock sounds amazing, I've been to st Ives before and went out once or twice for a meal and was not disappointed with the food. It's a pity about the lighting, you could always ask restaurants if they could turn up the heating or light a couple candles but the odds are that nothing is going to happen. Malbec is a good wine, but for me it's got to be a Pinotage - the only problem is that it's nearly impossible to find on any menu in the UK which is why I stick to place where I can bring my own.