Category Archives: hotels

Sasha’s birthday weekend

Last weekend was the third anniversary of Sasha’s 40th birthday, so we took a little trip to celebrate. Well, kind of. What really happened is that I made us a dinner reservation for Sasha’s birthday weekend, noticed the date after the fact, then added a B&B booking in order to make a weekend of it. Because I am thoughtful and romantic like that.

Our chosen hotel, Higher Faugan, called me at the last minute and said that they’d overbooked for the weekend, then asked if we’d be willing to relocate (free of charge) to a holiday home with a jacuzzi. I am never one to turn down a hot tub, plus the new place was nearer our restaurant, so I said “yes”.

Our living room and kitchen/dining room…
…and our bedroom.

The new place was located in Hayle, which is a popular holiday destination because it can be used as a base for hiking, surfing, swimming, and generally enjoying the Cornish coastline. Unfortunately, on the day of our visit, it was overcast, cool, and a bit misty, so we weren’t feeling too excited about the idea of spending time outdoors. Instead, we were hoping to lounge around in the “jacuzzi.” Unfortunately, this turned out to merely be a (small) bath tub with jets. *sigh* We therefore went with Plan C, which was to watch Wimbledon and then have a nap.

Afterwards, we both got dolled up for dinner. Not to be self-centered and superficial, but I’d been anticipating this date for a while because I was planning to wear the brand-new vintage-style flamingo dress that I bought a couple months ago. I’d been saving the dress specifically for this occasion, and was quite excited to wear it because I had also purchased a petticoat so that I could do the dress justice. I’ve always been a fan of vintage and vintage-look clothes, but have never had the guts to really commit to achieving the genuine vintage look. This was to be my big debut, and we’ll just pretend that I was doing it all in honor of Sasha, rather than taking his birthday weekend and making it all about me.

Obligatory selfie, taken while wearing the new flamingo dress. You can’t see it, but I was also wearing the flamingo earrings that Sasha got me for my birthday last year. It was my way of honoring Sasha, of course.

Our dinner reservations were at The Black Rock, a highly lauded restaurant in St. Ives. It’s listed in the 2013 Good Food Guide, and I have also previously seen it on other lists of recommended restaurants in Cornwall. It doesn’t have a Michelin star, but it has received the Michelin Bib Gourmand award for three years running. Like many other gourmet restaurants in the region, The Black Rock is all about local ingredients.

We elected to get a taxi to St. Ives so we wouldn’t need to worry about navigating the town’s narrow, serpentine roads, or finding a parking spot. We were dropped off a couple streets away from the restaurant, which gave us a chance to see a bit of St. Ives before sitting down to our meal. I think I was last there in 2008, during one of the first trips I made to England after Sasha and I started dating. Amazingly, things appear to have changed very little since then; whereas several shops in Falmouth have turned over just since I moved here, I recognized many of the establishments in St. Ives from my previous visit.

The St. Ives waterfront

When I’d called the restaurant earlier in the day in order to confirm our reservation, I’d experienced a moment of panic when the host couldn’t find my name on the books. It turned out that they’d misspelled “Kight” as “Knight,” which happens all the time because people just can’t believe that you’d ever want to spell that name without an ‘n’. Imagine my delight when we showed up for dinner that evening and were told, again, that we didn’t have a reservation–all because the guy I’d talked to earlier in the day hadn’t bothered to fix the typo. Usually I’m an “all’s well that ends well” kind of girl, but I have to admit that this bothered me. I cannot tell you how irritated it makes me when people mangle my name. (Side note: A couple weeks ago, I sat through a meeting during which one of my superiors repeatedly referred to me as “Catlin”. I’d played a significant role in the event that we were discussing, she’d seen my name in several e-mails scheduling the meeting, and then she’d been formally introduced to me that very day. And still she got my name wrong.) Really, though, if this is the biggest thing I have to complain about on any given day, then I should probably just shut up and think about how lucky I am.

View of the kitchen from our table

Sasha and I were seated at a table with a good view of the kitchen, which was a nice touch. I could only ever see two, or maybe three, chefs–pretty incredible considering that the restaurant had maybe twenty tables. They always seemed pretty calm, too–no rushing around or Ramsay-style swearing. Either they had another kitchen elsewhere where all the real dinner prep happened, or these guys were just remarkably organized and Zen in their approach.

The restaurant was full of pottery–from little vases on each table to larger ornamental pots in little alcoves along the wall

Because we were in St. Ives, I expected the restaurant to be seafood-heavy, but actually it had a broad range of dishes, from fish to beef to pork to vegetarian. The menu was not huge, but because it had lots of variety, I felt as though I had plenty of options.

Sasha approves of the menu

For our starter, Sasha and I shared a double order of the roasted scallops. I then moved on to the gnocchi with crab meat, while Sasha had kind of an Asian-style pork belly with noodles. While we waited for our food to arrive, we were served some delicious homemade bread.

I was particularly interested in the wooden paddle, which was unlike any butter spreader I’ve previously encountered. I wanted to sneak it home in my purse, but I resisted the urge.
Roasted scallops

Our scallops were both beautiful and tasty. I don’t think I’ve ever had roasted scallops before; usually I get them sauteed. These didn’t have that nice little crust you get from frying them in a pan, but they also didn’t feel bogged down by lots of butter. They were light and fresh, and accompanied by a similarly light and fresh salsa.

Slow-cooked Trevaskis Farm pork belly with noodles, pork broth, seasonal greens, and pickles

One of Sasha’s all-time favorite dishes is “soupy noodles”, a.k.a. Asian-style noodles in broth. That is not what he was expecting when he ordered this dish, so he was pleasantly surprised when that is what he received.

My meal tasted delicious, but had one serious flaw: It contained several little bits of crab shell. I know that it is practically impossible to extract crab meat without leaving some shell behind, but it can be done. During the summer that I worked in Maryland, for example, I used to buy massive buckets of hand-picked crab meat with nary a shell in sight; even at chain restaurants like Red Lobster (not that I’m admitting to ever going to such a place), you can get crab dishes that are not contaminated by chitin. I can’t help but think that a Michelin-recommended restaurant should strive to protect its diners from that horrible (and sometimes painful) sensation of crunching down on a bit of exoskeleton.

House-picked Cornish crab meat, homemade gnocchi, parsley, chili, lemon, and olive oil
One of the things I love about gourmet restaurants is that the portion sizes are very reasonable, which means you can clear your plate during each course but still have room for dessert at the end. Sasha immediately spotted something to suit his palate, but I wasn’t too excited by the options that were available. However, this is not a fault of the restaurant; they had several different flavors and formats available, but many of them were things that appeal more to a British palate than an American one. One thing I could tolerate, though, was a glass of port:
Sasha ordered a double port, and our waitress promised to find him a nice “manly” vessel from which to drink it; I, on the other hand, chose to have a single port in the “girly” glass.
Sasha’s final course was strawberries in apple cider jelly, a little shortbread cookie with “garden mint” ice cream on top, and a large fresh strawberry. Jelly is a dessert that is quite common in the UK, but is really not my thing. Give me a few years and maybe I’ll finally get used to it. Regardless of its flavor or “mouthfeel” (if you’d like to use the pretentious culinary term), it certainly looks beautiful.
Sasha’s very photogenic dessert

I ultimately decided to have the brownie with coffee-flavored ice cream. The dish was also supposed to come with custard, but custard is another British thing I can’t handle–it’s a little too creamy and heavy for my taste. Actually, brownies are also generally a bit much for me, but this was the dessert that I found most appealing overall. Although I’m not a very experienced brownie connoisseur, even I could tell that the quality of this one was pretty exceptional; it was dense and chewy and had a deep cocoa-y flavor. The ice cream provided an excellent accompaniment, not just in terms of taste but also temperature.

My homemade brownie with coffee ice cream
After dinner, we had a bit of a stroll while waiting for our taxi. The weather was still gloomy, but actually quite picturesque:
A view of St. Ives, looking back towards Hayle
Every time I see weather like this, I try to imagine what it must have been like for sailors back in the days before bathymeters and radios and other technological aids to the maritime lifestyle.

Sasha and I soon noticed that my outfit was attracting quite a bit of attention, which I found surprising. Falmouth is full of people–from the arts students at Falmouth University to the owner of the vintage-style boutique Just Like This–who wear “unusual” clothing. Considering that St. Ives is such a hot bed of art, you’d think that the town is full of people wearing avant-garde styles. It was actually kind of eye-opening to turn so many heads. I’ve always dressed pretty conventionally, so this is the first glimpse I’ve ever had of what it must be like to march to your own sartorial drummer. Or maybe people weren’t interested in the dress itself, but instead the amazing flamingo cloth out of which it is made; after all, flamingos are the most awesome animals ever, as we all know. (Someone should write a book about them!) Or, maybe it was Sasha getting all the attention. After all, he was wearing his snazzy new linen duds that he bought for his internationalization trip to Nigeria last month, and he does clean up pretty nicely.

Busking harpist (or harping busker?) playing along the waterfront in St. Ives

When we got back to our place, we polished off the remainder of the complimentary champagne left by the caretaker (yes, I drank some; no, I didn’t like it) and watched TV coverage of Glastonbury. The big event of the night was the performance of the Rolling Stones, who were playing at the festival for the very first time. It was quite a thing to see. The Stones are old enough to be grandparents (and may, in fact, already be) but there they were on stage, dancing around as much as the twentysomething artists at the festival, and looking much cooler.

In a way, it was a very appropriate thing for us to watch on Sasha’s birthday; he may not feel especially excited about turning 43, but as Mick Jagger and the rest of the band demonstrate, age really is only a number.