Why gourmets should go west

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The Independent Travel
With dramatic seascapes, beautiful countryside, clotted cream, and the very best fresh fish, Cornwall has much to offer the hungry visitor

CORNWALL is a mixture of the rough and the lush: of sweet pastures on granite and market gardens near wild seas. Lovers of food and landscape should head to the furthest shores, the Lizard and Penwith in the far west.

Cornish fish is the best in the country for variety and quality and, in the spring, the footpaths and high-banked roads are lined with wild flowers and the heady smell of wild garlic. Penwith, with its magical shores and pagan grandeur, has a food festival until 18 May (01736 352000).

THE BRIGHT light, twisting lanes and culture of St Ives are ever a draw for artists and visitors. The Tate (01736 796226) is a building that lets the light in and its all-white cafe on the top floor has a view of the surf beach. Barbara Hepworth's gallery has been left as it was when she died, with her sculptures in the garden, her work shirts hanging up and her cacti still flourishing in all their funky forms.

Zennor is a charismatic village. The church has a celebrated mermaid bench-end and the excellent folk museum (01736 796945) is full of yarns about local characters, including the one-time inhabitant DH Lawrence. The cliff walks from here to St Ives and Gurnard's Head are tough but exhilarating, or you can walk up granite-strewn hills. The Lizard has spectacular cliff walks facing the Atlantic.

THE OLD CHAPEL in Zennor (01736 798307) is a welcoming hostel full of flowers, paintings and changing coastal light. The cafe serves sinful chocolate cake and hearty soups. Its creator, Gabrielle Jackson, had a former life as a television producer when she put Gary Rhodes into those Disney chessboard trousers and spent three series with him searching out good food around Britain. Her utter passion for local produce means that her breakfasts have excellent bacon and sausages, and porridge topped with a golden pool of melting clotted cream. Cakes are made with free- range eggs from the hens next door.

Also in Zennor is the Tinners Arms (01736 796927) with fires at both ends, blossom in the courtyard, wooden floors, and well-kept Sharp's beer, brewed in Wadebridge. Roskilly Ice-Cream (01326 280479), made from rich Jersey milk, is the best in the area and has about 30 outlets and a farmhouse cafe at the end of the Lizard. Just some of the recommended flavours are clotted cream vanilla, raspberry, a tangy lemon, Fudge Dread (using their own, delicious, clotted cream fudge), cardamom, orange mascarpone and gooseberry.

GUINEVERE (01326 565911) is a real bargain. It has style and a genuine warmth yet serves three courses for just pounds 16 and a three-course Sunday lunch for pounds 7.95. The place is the much cherished baby of Carl and Rachel Grove who met on a cruise ship where he was a sommelier and she was a dancer. He became front-of-house at Pont de la Tour and Blakes, then they put down anchor at this small restaurant in Porthleven, a Victorian harbour where the sea booms against the granite walls. At the beginning, Carl was cooking on two caravan stoves and their parents helped with the washing up. The personal care put into everything makes the place special and built up business. He now has a "football pitch" stove. Dishes include Bermudan fish chowder, cod with pesto and home-dried tomatoes and puddings such as prune and rum bread and butter pudding.

Another small, friendly restaurant favoured by locals is Russets (01736 794700) in St Ives. The fish is as fresh as the last tide - sometimes still flapping on the chopping board - as they tend to buy direct from local boats. Wine is bring-your-own with no corkage charge. Main courses cost around pounds 8-pounds 10.

Trengilly Wartha (01326 340332) means "the place above the trees" and is an award-winning freehold pub, tucked away in a valley within walking distance of the unspoilt creeks of the Helford River. They have home-made bread, pickles and cheese biscuits and excellent local products such as Menallack, a Cheshire-style cheese made a few miles away (01326 340333). Fish is done simply but with thought, for example, grey mullet with a vanilla-scented sauce (pounds 6.80) or crabcakes bound with white fish (pounds 9.30).

On a recent trip to west Cornwall, I ate 10 kinds of fish cooked in various ways and one dish leaps to mind in restrospect: an elegant plate of brill on minty leeks, with hollandaise sauce draped off the fish like a discarded silk robe. This was at Crahan, near Helston (01326 573090), where the food is exceptional even if the atmosphere is not quite there. Three courses cost pounds 21.

QUAYSIDE FISH (01326 562008) in Porthleven is an outstanding shop. Its friendliness, standards, service and sunny yellow walls take away any cook's fear of fish. The smokehouse every day produces such goodies as a succulent salmon "roast" and smoked shell-on prawns which make a great picnic lunch on the quayside, nearby cliffs, or the woodlands around Loe Pool, dotted with bluebells and violets at this time of year. Lemons, wine, sauces and cookbooks are on sale, and there is a mail order service for fresh fish. The Pilchard Works in Newlyn (01736 332112) is another place that couriers fresh Cornish fish all over the country. This is the last working pilchard factory in Britain. It is a marvellous working museum with a really tasty product that is completely different to the canned variety. They also sell a high-quality salt cod. Halzephron Herb Farm (01326 240652) is full of surprises, including parrots. The whole herbal range, from marinades to cordials, is out for tasting, prices are reasonable and standards high. Herbs and lavender grow on a clifftop with wonderful views. Merrivale Farmhouse (01326 221271) in Gweek has pioneered English charcuterie and produces really flavoursome sausages that you can eat in the shop's cafe or take home.