Muddy Eats: The Gurnard’s Head
My ultimate destination pub, in beautiful West Penwith! Go for the fish, go for the wine, go for the scenery. You won’t be disappointed.
Like the best Cornish beaches require a walk or a scramble, sometimes the best pubs require a bit of a pilgrimage too. Even if you don’t live very far from The Gurnard’s Head in West Penwith, by the time you’ve driven the winding roads across the rugged Zennor moorland to this far-flung pub, you’ll feel a million miles from anywhere. And that’s all part of the charm.
Painted brilliant, gorse yellow, the building itself manages to both stand out a mile and fit the surrounding landscape perfectly. A point of conversation and contention, people either love it or hate it – but we’re told the local artists (such as celebrated painter Rose Hilton) have given it their seal of approval and I have to agree. Why be dull?
The Eat Sleep Drink team opened The Gurnard’s Head way back in 2006 and want their pubs to be local institutions. You’re as likely to find locals propping up the bar as you are to find visitors and being on the coast path, walkers are welcomed, as are dogs.
Just like the menu, the pub’s interior is stylish but relaxed and the walls are hung with lovely local art and photography, much of which is for sale. We sat in bar (where dogs are welcome) but there’s also a slightly more formal dining room and a small, central area with comfy armchairs, where you can enjoy a quiet drink. On a warm-weather day, the large rear garden is hard to beat with its sweeping views, across the fields and out to sea.
SCOFF & QUAFF
Lunch is the perfect time to try out the brilliant food here, since its just £22 for 2 courses, £25 for 3 courses, and even in mid-week the place is pleasantly busy. The menu changes often and is reassuringly small, with a good mix of more adventurous and slightly safer options and a balance of fish, meat and veggie dishes.
The kitchen is headed up by chef Max Wilson (formerly of sister Inn The Felin Fach Griffin, in Wales) and manager Chris leads a really welcoming and professional team out front. As a founding member of the Sustainable Restaurant Association, all the produce used at The Gurnard’s Head is sourced as responsibly and locally as possible.
My pasta ragu was just the thing for a warming up on an extremely wet weekend and the meat here is always served beautifully alongside seasonal veg, some of which is brought direct to the door by local suppliers. At times there is even a sign up on the door inviting people to drop by with local produce – can’t get much more seasonal than that!
We ate with the kids who had their own menu – you can choose from the main menu or from the dedicated kids menu (different prices for tiny tots and bigger bites) meaning no worrying about over-ordering and paying for loads of food no-one will eat.
Mine loved the crispy corn fed chicken, community farm leaves and dip. All washed down with a glass of Polgoon apple juice, and with a side-portion of delicious bread and butter.
We finished with brownies and ice-cream for the kids (wolfed too fast to get even a hint of a snap) and our pistachio, lemon and cardamon cake with yoghurt, ice-cream and lemon curd was just the thing to share with a cup of locally roasted Yallah coffee.
In addition to a great choice of local beers, there is an extensive and thoughtfully chosen wine list, which is guided by the seasons and the menu, with the rare and very welcome option of carafes, if you want to switch between wines during your meal. The bar also doubles up as a bottle shop, selling all its wines to take away, at prices that compare pretty well to retail.
It’s always tempting to make a proper night of it by staying at the Gurnard’s Head and if you’ve got kids with you, you can get an extra bed put in for them too. Your fellow residents will be both weekenders, looking for a complete escape, as well as locals as it’s a hugely popular night off (it’s also a decent taxi ride back into the nearest towns of St Ives or Penzance, so definitely worth spending the cash on the room).
There are seven comfortable and well-equipped rooms; most have a bath you can sink into after a chilly coast walk (with divine smelling Bramley toiletries) and frankly, it may be worth staying for the breakfast alone.
Guests can choose from wild smoked trout and scrambled eggs, Cornish sardines on toast or the full Cornish – dished up with Yallah coffee, Polgoon apple juice and all-homemade sourdough bread, muesli, compotes and jams.
If you’re out for the day, the team will happily organise a picnic ‘The Coastal Walker’s’ (hearty Cornish snacks) or ‘The Theatregoer’s’ (a posh packed lunch, complete with olives and anchovies).
We often take friends exploring down this way and there’s lots to do nearby, if you want to make a day of it. See the mining ruins at Botallack, head to St Just to visit Kurt Jackson’s new gallery, hit the beach at Sennen or Porthcurno, take in a play at The Minack or hop across to the opposite coast to Penzance, Newlyn and Mousehole (where come April you’ll be also able to stay or eat again at The Old Coastguard, another sister business of The Gurnard’s, when it re-opens after an extensive post-fire refurb).
We’ve visited The Gurnard’s Head in sunshine, rain and Cornish mizzle and it’s equally appealing in all weather. When the sun is shining, or if you’re wearing a good coat, there’s a lovely little walk which makes a pleasant appetite sharpening just before lunch.
Follow the footpath to the right of the pub, down to Gurnards Head (the craggy headland the pub is named for) and back, which takes about 30 minutes, with a few stops to gawp at the stunning views.
I’d recommend sensible shoes, as there’s a bit of rock scrambling and a fair few cow pats to dodge, thanks of a herd of lucky friesians, who call this place home, and a good head for heights!
THE MUDDY VERDICT:
This is a really special Cornish outpost you can post me to any day of the week. Go for the fish, go for the wine, go for the scenery. You won’t be disappointed.
Good for: Anyone who likes great food, a laidback atmosphere and a bit of adventure.
Not for: There are certainly very bleak days in this part of Cornwall, which can be a bit off-putting. My husband would say you just have the wrong coat but that’s another story.
££: To keep The Gurnard’s a pub at heart, the management is careful not to inflate the prices for the tourist market. Set menus at lunch and dinner are very affordable.
Updated March 2020
The Gurnard’s Head, Nr Zennor, St. Ives, TR263DE. Tel: 01736 796 928. Gurnardshead.co.uk