Fishermen's friend

Restaurants: Penny Pots shows smarter taste in its choice of shellfish than in its choice of decor; Cream walls and yellow and pink curtains might be tolerable, but dozens of plaster teddy bears peaking out from the uplighters are just too much Photograph Wright
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The Independent Culture
I used to have a theory as to why eating alone in a restaurant made one feel so horribly self-conscious. It went that eating is closer than we prefer to admit to other bodily functions. Being caught doing it all alone is to be caught doing something pretty base. I still think there is something in this; notice how conversations always rise by a few decibels when food arrives at the table (just when you would expect it to fall), or the acute embarrassment that arises when a dinner- party falls silent - we are all caught with our trousers down. On the other hand, I am happy enough to take lunch all alone in a sandwich bar so perhaps the embarrassment of eating alone in a smart restaurant simply comes from the fact that everyone else sees you as a lonely outcast, worse still, a lonely outcast and a glutton.

These apercus came to me as I sat alone in Penny Pots, amid the hushed chatter of 25 or so other diners. My companion had to withdraw from our Cornish weekend at the last minute, and after half an hour of pleas and tears on a telephone at Paddington Station failed to turn up a substitute, I had bravely set off for the journey alone. Penny Pots has been around for a long time now. It has a Michelin star to its credit - the only one in Cornwall - and its chef-proprietor, Kevin Viner owns enough diplomas and medals to fill a dentist's waiting room. But the restaurant has just moved to new, larger premises, in what estate agents like to describe as "a modern complex of luxury beach-side apartments" (to the rest of us, an eye-sore) over-looking a beautiful bay (Maenporth) about three miles south of Falmouth.

At first glance, the impression is a bit like Rick Stein's superb seafood restaurant in Padstow (no Michelin stars, of course, but the real star of Cornish cooking): a light, bright spacious room, white table clothes, and comfortable cane chairs. But first impressions can be deceptive; here everything is fussier - cream walls and yellow and pink curtains might be tolerable, but the dozens of plaster teddy bears peaking out from the uplighters are just too much. If you go, ask for one of the tables in front of the large sliding window that looks over the bay. This is where I sat, happy for as long as it was light, dismayed as dusk arrived and the heat-retaining sheen to the window transmuted into a mirror, in which my isolation stared back at me.

After an amuse-gueule in the lounge area, I was offered a complimentary espresso cup of haddock and shellfish soup - good and spicy. I began with the most complicated choice on the menu, a twice-baked cheese souffle with cream and spring onions - a perfectly fine souffle, spoilt by having cheese fondue poured over it. My companion would probably have done better with roast scallops served in a Thai sauce with fresh herbs and garlic (Penny Pots is renowned for its scallops) or cod fishcake with grilled lobster on an olive oil and balsamic vinegar dressing. Next, I partook of a complimentary sorbet - tomato and basil (although I had to be told this). I then went for fillet of cod, roasted with a crab crust, served on a shellfish sauce. This had a slightly tired feel to it. Again, I expect my partner would have done better with fillet of sea bass with mussels, served with sea asparagus and saffron sauce, or the roast fillet of Cornish lamb.

For dessert, I tried a terrine of hazelnut parfait on a Bailey liquor anglaise. With the parfait, two different flavoured anglaises, three different types of biscuit and a cluster of sugared hazelnuts, this involved seven different elements. Is this a record? Vanilla shortbread filled with fresh raspberries and clotted cream, served on its own coulis with orange-flavoured ice-cream would have been more seasonal and truer to the region, although, not, I expect, any lighter - all the desserts were cream-heavy.

Food journalists have long been known for their Maoist leanings, and the time has come for an act of self-criticism. I will admit that I probably ordered badly, going as I did for the heavier, less seasonal options. Still, the only thing that felt really local about this place was the service - as open and friendly as could be. Other dishes took little inspiration from the area: this accomplished, if rather too fancy, modern French cooking could be served up anywhere. Viner needs to open that reflective window, and let in some of the briny elements all around him

There is a fixed price menu: two courses at pounds 21, three at pounds 25; with coffee, service and wine, about pounds 40 per person.

Penny Pots, Maenporth Beach, Nr Falmouth, Tel: 01326 250251. Evenings only, closed Sun and Mon. All cards accepted. Smoking after 10pm only

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