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?
We’ve visited The Gurnard’s Head in sunshine, rain and Cornish mizzle and it’s equally appealing in all weather. On this occasion, the sun was shining, so we decided to take a walk before lunch. We followed 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. If you choose to do the same, 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.
Food & Drink
For a mid-week lunch, the pub was nicely bustling and it’s the perfect time to try out the brilliant food here, since the two-course set lunch is just £18. 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. There’s even a sign outside appealing for home-grown fruit and veg and it doesn’t get more local than that.
Surprising myself, I started with the vegetarian option, cauliflower tempura with Stilton fondue — but then it was battered and dipped in blue cheese, so maybe not such a surprise. Mr Muddy went for mackerel with rhubarb, ginger and soy, which made a delicious seasonal combination.
The sea trout I had for my main, was perfectly cooked, with crispy skin that was as moreish as crackling and was served with sprouting broccoli, mussels and shallots. The hake was equally good, with leeks, basil and a decadently creamy crab dressing. We had no room for the sticky toffee pudding or lemon and condensed milk crunch but you should always leave something for next time no?
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.
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 arm chairs, 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.
Staying at the Gurnard’s Head
The Gurnard’s is hugely popular with locals but also weekenders, looking for a complete escape. There are seven comfortable and well-equipped rooms; most have a bath you can sink into after a chilly coast walk 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 you’ll find The Old Coastguard, another sister business of The Gurnard’s). Too many options to mention here but a post on the area is in progress!
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.
The Gurnard’s Head, Nr Zennor, St. Ives, TR263DE. Tel: 01736 796 928. Gurnardshead.co.uk