The Cornwall Collective, Year 1 – March 2015
We decided to take another SB in March 2015, this time a domestic affair, down to the lovely Cornwall, the home of so many childhood holidays. This one was a little off the cuff by anyone’s standards, let alone mine, but Mr G wanted to be impulsive, and so we were – as in booking the hotels in the car en route to Penzance.
We wanted to start something of a tradition with this SB (which we’re pleased to say we have – see The Cornish Collective from 2016 [posting soon] – and we’re well underway planning 2017, with three other couples joining us) – with the premise being, that we would stay in a different hotel each night, and travel around the coast from hotel to hotel, doing some nostalgic tick boxes, and also visiting some of the new gems of hospitality in the South West. So, strap in, as this blog will be a little long winded!
Night 1 – The Plume of Feathers & Jamie Oliver’s ‘15’
The Plume of Feathers, near Newquay, was a bit of a random choice made in haste in the car. We booked a standard double room, for around £100 for the night – it’s an extended pub with rooms, that’s pretty characterless it’s fair to say, even if it sounds a little mean – and wasn’t the best start to our Cornish adventure. Don’t get me wrong, it was fine for a middle of the road affair, but it didn’t really know what it wanted to be – I have a growing phobia of ‘faux’ country pubs, that paint their signage in eau de nil or duck egg blue, and that all seem to serve the same menu – and everything about them, leaves you feeling a bit disappointed – and sadly, The Plume of Feathers was in that category.
The room was simple, decorated in predicable oatmeal and cream – the bathroom was disappointing even at this level, being literally a closet. The bedrooms were in a rabbit warren of extensions and outbuildings, adjacent to a large, and nicely if safely, decorated conservatory extension to the main bar area. Unfortunately, both spaces clashed pretty horribly – the bar was a traditional drinking bar – no table service, and bad carpet – vs the conservatory dining area, that rather fancied itself as a gastro destination – more commitment needed from the PoF to get it up together and cohesive – but certainly do able.
Anyway – in light of the PoF being disappointing, I put in a call to ‘15’, which was about a £20 cab ride away to book in supper – and fortunately, they had a table free at 9pm, which suited us just fine – and so off we went.
Eating & Drinking
So – onto Jamie Oliver’s 15. The approach is quite impressive – perched over Watergate Bay, you descend down into a bunker like building, which opens out surprisingly as a mid-century contemporary playground, that is both thoughtfully and tastefully arranged. It reminded me very much of my much loved Cowley Manor, and could see taste similarities straight off.
We settled in for what would be a fabulous and memorable evening. I had an Aperol Spritz to begin, and Mr G a Manhattan – both were delicious and presented in gorgeous glassware, with no scrimping on measures. The menu was particularly well arranged I feel – the choices were; having three courses in a traditional a la carte sense, or a tasting menu of around half the menu – with the idea being, you and your partner would order tasting menu a & b (which neatly covered the whole menu], therefore letting you try every dish, for a pretty reasonable (given the quality) price of about £90 per head.
Throughout the meal, I couldn’t fault the food – it put me in mind of Le Manoir in terms of flavour, presentation, and cookery skill – simply fantastic in its glorious simplicity. The menu is strongly Italian in influence, using the finest local ingredients – I still dream of the ravioli in sage butter, and even as I write this, over a year later, I can evoke the flavours once again in my mind.
The only slight drawback, was the service, which was frankly at points rather odd. It’s pretty apparent that a conscious decision has been made (or perhaps it’s a necessity) to employ the local late teens and twenty somethings, to run the floor – which naturally I thoroughly support, along with letting individual team members shine and show their personality – but I feel it went a little far with the team at 15. Mr G and I joked, that our waitress was high for example, as she truly was, quite away with the fairies. This said the team did create a relaxed atmosphere, which is all important I feel. All in all, Mr G & I both agree on this one and highly recommend it – it’s definitely featuring on the 2017 itinerary.
En route back to the PoF, we stopped off at the neighbouring (to 15 that is) Watergate Bay hotel for drinks. It gets lots of great press, and, as we didn’t stay I’ll keep this brief, but it wasn’t exactly to my liking. We only truly visited the bar, which I guess on a sunny day would be lovely, but on a dark March evening, the white-wash, beachy, New England styling felt cold – which was mirrored in the service. We ended up having a bit of a set to with the bar staff who very, very promptly wanted to boot us out once they had reached their cut off time for non residents. We’ll visit properly as a group in 2017 – I think for couples, getting the vibe of the place, you’re probably safer at the Scarlet – but I should imagine for groups and families, Watergate would be fun.
Final thought on food from day 1 – breakfast at the PoF was generous, and a la carte – a pleasant surprise. The quality was good food wise – it was a shame mind you, to be seated in the dark, more traditional side of the dining space – I was a bit lost as to why you wouldn’t host it in the conservatory, which is clearly where they have spent some money. But in any case, good marks for a good breakfast.
Out & About
We travelled from the PoF down to Penzance, and then hugged the West coast back up to Rock, to our next destination, the St Moritz hotel. In Penzance, we took in the sights – visiting St Michael’s Mount in Marazion, taking lunch in a local pub in Penzance itself, and a nice stroll around the town – I’m thrilled the Jubliee Pool is open as of 2016, and can’t wait to experience it in 2017.
The coastal drive is just lovely – we dropped down to Land’s End too, to tick it off the list. The sights are lovely there, and it’s pretty essential to ‘do’ it – but it’s one of those attractions that is horribly commercial and smacks of National Trust – there is so much opportunity to develop this into something more special than it is. Still go – it’s worth it – but don’t expect anything really from the cafes etc there – other than the setting.
Night 2 – The St Moritz Hotel
OK – I have real mixed feelings on this one, but I have gone back since, but still remain a bit conflicted (See Cornwall Collective 2016 when published). It SHOULD all work, and should be an easy recommendation to make to you all – I do however, struggle to in honesty.
The hotel is a surprisingly large, upscale resort, in sleepy Rock. It has a glamorous exterior for sure, that has you thinking of another St – Tropez that is – reflective blue glass and white everywhere, which is quite striking when in the sunlight – yet when not, it’s a bit monolithic, and not in a particularly good way. I’ve spent a bit of time looking into the St Moritz, after my second stay, and understand the Owners have a fierce grip on costs and efficiency – which is plainly good business-wise, but I’m not so sure experience-wise – I will explain.
The Reception area is quite pleasant, and you are greeted with their greatest coup – a Cowshed Spa (which was the primary reason I booked the hotel – on the strength of it being effectively endorsed by Soho House). The bar and lounge is upstairs, and then there is a leisure club, separate to the Spa, in the main building – I say leisure club deliberately, as it’s quite jarring against the Cowshed spa, and general pleasantness of the reception area. We ate in their restaurant that evening, which I will run through shortly.
Our bedroom was a King Room, their top category – outside of their various apartment options, which I haven’t spent any real time looking into. It was nice – but smaller than I had expected given it being their highest category. It was furnished simply, in cream, white & blue, with an obvious marine influence – a little characterless but no real issues with the room. It would be nice to have a bath in the room – it’s a must really for me, and I think an important part of a breakaway – having time to have a nice soak – so I was surprised that they didn’t have one in their ‘top’ category of room. We paid about £200 for the room, B&B.
Briefly on the Spa & leisure centre – Cowshed was full sadly (no communication prior to arrival, which was a shame – even though we booked the day before, a confirmation explaining the availability would be sensible) so no comment there, other than it looks great. The leisure centre wasn’t great – the gym is well equipped, but a bit fausty and really did put me in a mind of a 3* local health club, with some 500 members or so – not great. The pools were OK, but had a real municipal feel about them – it was almost as though the St Moritz has been built around an old leisure club – the facilities felt dated, and not in keeping with the rest of the hotel. Nevertheless, it’s nice to have them of course, and use of the facilities was included in the price.
Eating & Drinking
This was interesting – the open plan kitchen and dining space is a nice conception, but would benefit from some plants to help break up the space that otherwise is a little hard – wooden tables with no mats, crockery and cutlery clattering on tables and the hubbub of the kitchen make it a little canteen-ish. From the bar, you can sip a drink and look through to the restaurant. Service and food were fine, if a bit forgettable – I’m not still waxing on about anything as I am with 15, for example – but it was OK. They have changed their chef, and it was better in 2016. The bar itself though, is a bit disappointing – it’s as though they started furnishing it, and then ran out of cash or interest, and shoved a bunch of badly worn tub chairs in – it’s very peculiar.
The St Moritz was nice in many ways, but as a hotelier myself, I found it frustrating – there were lots of areas to be improved upon and opportunities missed for guest engagement and enhancing the experience. Mr G feels I’m a bit harsh on this one, which perhaps I am, but my main annoyance is the missed opportunity – it’s the kind of place I would love to get my hands on for a few months to make a difference to, and make it really sparkle. Our experience in 2016 was better, when we travelled with another couple, Mr & Mrs D, but I still harbour the same frustrations about the place – to give you a current view.
Night 3 – The Scarlet Hotel
It was all leading to this. I had literally been dying to visit the Scarlet – many of our friends had already been, and it had long appeared on comparative lists in my day job as one to watch – so expectations were high – and they were I have to say, exceeded.
The approach to the Scarlet is quite mysterious, snaking down windy roads, through a residential area you stumble upon the Scarlet, sitting proudly at the heights of Mawgan Porth. I want to throw it out there, that Mawgan Porth is the most spectacular cove I have visited in the UK. So, the Scarlet wins straight away on setting.
As you arrive, the Scarlet remains shrouded in mystery, as you park at the rear of what one can only describe as a bunker – but when the automatic doors whoosh open, a wave of calm comes over you, that I have termed a Scarlet Coma, as you turn the corner and gaze straight out of the floor to ceiling viewing window across the bay, over an architectural piece of cleverness; a jutting flat roof with a tranquil pool of water. I love that the Scarlet have done this – it’s all about the experience, and that first ‘take your breath away’ moment – and they have nailed it. I knew, we were in for something special.
There is no reception desk, instead a sign telling you to relax – the team know we’re waiting, and they’re coming – and duly they do, very quickly, and promptly they take us to our room. We booked an Indulgent Room, their highest category, and it was spectacular. Mr G and I have a difference of opinion on this one (Shockingly…), but for me, it’s one of the best rooms we have ever stayed in – the décor of the hotel is bright and colourful, with sharp design and many influences, and a mid-century grounding to it all – our room, was a master class in that. The zoning of the room through clever half walls was genius, and the whole space was cleverly worked into different circular areas – there were no sharp corners, everything flowed softly and just worked. We had a balcony overlooking the sea, a walk through dressing zone, a free standing bath in its own zone, and fabulous walk in shower room and a lovely lounge – for me, it’s pretty close to perfection. So far, so good.
Back into the main building, you get the impression I feel, that it’s a hotel built around their spa – not the spa being an ancillary revenue earner, which I got the impression from at the St Moritz for example. The scent of incense drifts up from the basement floor where the spa is located, and we were seduced – we had to visit. The indoor pool is sublime, with gorgeous mosaic tiles, and views across the ocean. The relaxation room is world class, again – and there is a theme here – with views across the ocean. It’s a bit of an oddity though, that there is not a gym here – which for me, is a disappointment – it may be a philosophical decision about relaxing, but I find going for a run very peaceful, and think hotels should be wary of being too prescriptive in how they dose relaxation.
Anyway – we had a few more hiccups to follow. We had booked a couple’s massage, which soon went wrong; with us starting off in the couple’s room, and then being separated for no apparent reason by the therapists. The treatments, all Ayurvedic, were not quite as good as I had expected I say with true sadness, as I so wanted it to be heavenly. I left feeling very greasy, and not particularly relaxed, and given their consultation forms go into the looseness of your bowel movements, I was amazed that they didn’t refer to it all, in terms of tailoring the treatment – so that was a shame. I booked a facial for the following morning, to give the treatments another chance – this, I am pleased to say was better, and was performed in a canvas tent – which was quite an experience (although a bit loud).
The final thoughts on the spa are how wonderful the changing rooms are – really, this again is a stroke of genius, and I’ll let you experience that when you go (which you must) – and the outdoor facilities. The outdoor pool, which is naturally filtered and was actually colder than the sea when we went, is an incredible experience. Jump in, make yourself do it – and then get the hell out as quickly as you can – your skin will feel amazing, and you will feel exhilarated. Finally – the outdoor hot tubs are bliss. I think it’s a bit greedy to charge guests to hire them, but nevertheless, it’s still a must do – the view is totally knock out.
Eating & Drinking
This is a little up and down – but mainly up. The bar is poised on a mezzanine level above the main dining room, with cosy booths to have pre dinner drinks in. It has definite Moroccan influences, which adds to the eclectic spirit of the hotel. Service is charming, and drinks are good – but horribly, unnecessarily expensive – £20 for a glass of wine I just do not feel is justified, at opening level – and that’s my gripe with it.
Supper was lovely – the food was not executed as well as 15, which was the main comparator for the evening, but for us that didn’t matter – the setting was incredible, the food honest and generous, and in all good value at £45 per head for three courses – the wine however, was still too pricey in my opinion (Goodness knows what Mr G thought!). Good choices too, food wise – it goes without saying, you should sit on the terrace if you can, and if you cannot, by the windows to get the most of the views.
Breakfast was very good, if a little slow. I love their concept of not having a buffet (Mr G came round to the idea too), or even the usual a la carte options, but rather a changing three course breakfast, which evolves daily. Naturally you can opt out of courses if that’s a bit intimidating – it had a real farmhouse feel to it, and as I say, truly was lovely. The only issue here was time – I was against the clock for my treatment, and it took around an hour to get through it.
The only other niggle we had with the place was that turn down didn’t happen – they came in whilst we were getting ready for supper and then didn’t return – a shame, as I would have loved to have seen what they would have done. Other than those very minor points, it’s all positive, and has indelibly marked a place on my heart – if I can talk Mr G into it, it’s a contender for a wedding venue for example (that’s if Mr G asks me too…!).
Who is the Scarlet for? This one is simple – it’s for couples, who want an exceptional experience, and who don’t mind paying for it. The great thing about the Scarlet, is that’s all they claim to be – so they focus on their market, and deliver – so good for them; many, many places could take a leaf out of their book. Be wary with costs though – I had an industry rate for our bedroom through connections, but for the sake of argument, it should have been about £400 for the night – we still had a bill of £600 for the one night, so you’re looking at around £900 for one night with spa, food & drink, in their nicer rooms. I maintain it’s worth it, but it’s definitely toppy.
Out & About
On the way home, we stopped off at the lovely Padstow for a quick tour, but didn’t stop long – in the 2016 instalment, we stayed at the Seafood Restaurant, and did all things Rick Stein.
Wow – that was a long one!
The Plume of Feathers: www.theplumemitchell.co.uk
Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen: www.fifteencornwall.co.uk
The St Moritz: www.stmoritzhotel.co.uk
The Scarlet Hotel: www.scarlethotel.co.uk
The Jubilee Pool: www.jubileepool.co.uk
St Michael’s Mount: www.stmichaelsmount.co.uk