The Guidebook Season

October 8, 2011

The pigeon post brings news of awards to Cornwall.  The Good Pub Guide 2012 names us Dining Pub of the Year in Cornwall for the third time in five years.   Pub Wine List of the Year in the Imbibe/Roederer Wine List of the Year awards.  An illustrious panel including Hamish Anderson.   Meanwhile, in Wales, The Griffin is renamed Dining Pub of the Year and is given its first Bib Gourmand by The Michelin Guide.

How do we deal with awards in this industry? 

In truth they can be a double-edged sword for those trying to develop a small business.  Here are our rules:

– teams have worked hard to be in a position where we are in consideration for an award.  Recognise their efforts and skill.

– we can all look at our shoes and pretend we don’t care about awards.  But for a small business the PR opportunity is like a tank of oxygen half way up Everest.  Tell the world, quickly and quietly, that you’ve been recognised.

– ultimately the decision of an award is a fairly subjective one and there are others who could equally well be singled out in any one year.  Don’t believe the hype.

– the guidebook view is based on guests’ experience earlier in the year.  A time that is simply not relevant any more.  Focus on the next service.

– you sign a deal with the devil when you win an award.  Your regular guests’ expectations soar.  New ones come with a heightened sense of anticipation that can only be met by a better service.  Meet the challenge.



10 days in Cornwall

July 4, 2011

An eventful period. 

It starts with signing a number of intimidating papers which resulted in us becoming the new custodians of one of Cornwall’s great seaside hotels, The Old Coastguard in Mousehole. 

We wake the next day realising we have much to do.  We’re not going to talk too much about it here, as we want to spend a little time getting to know the building and the team who work there.  Slowly but surely we think it has the potential to become a wonderful alternative to The Gurnard’s and The Griffin.  Different, but adhering to our own sense of what is right and what is good.   We’ll let you know when it’s time to visit.

Theoretically, the rest of the week was a holiday on the Lizard booked long before we had thought that Summer 2011 might bring such an exciting venture.   Aside from some desk time and a family visit to the new site, there was time to remind ourselves what a brilliant holiday spot Cornwall remains. 

A cottage rented on the Trelowarren estate ( in the heart of the Lizard.   Beaches at Kynance Cove and Coverack to match anything in Europe.  The usual bright Cornish skies without the searing heat of southern Europe or even our own South East.   And, before the holidays start, not even remotely busy or frantic.

So, back to work today with much to do, mostly taking care that what we already do at The Gurnard’s and The Griffin remains as good as it has ever been.





Last weekend, twenty four hours of isolation from children and from the Vaio.   

First stop: testing a seaside hotel behind Camber Sands (  A brave idea indeed, in a somewhat unpreposessing location.  But Harry Cragoe and Tudor Hopkins have done a fine job, with the 18 rooms full on a Friday night in June and the restaurant buzzing to the noise of 50+.  A recipe that seems to work and a few thoughts for own future.

The next morning, some shock therapy coffee at The George in Rye (  Another example of young British hoteliers revolutionising provincial British towns, putting the hotel at the heart of the community.   This pair, Alex and Katie Clarke, were at University with me twenty odd years ago.  What use our Arts degrees now, except in editing the menus? 

I paused to reflect that the two and a half hours that it took us to get from London to Rye was the same as it takes me every week to get from London to The Griffin.  Would that more from the south east understood how easy it is to make the leap across the Severn Bridge.  I tried not to be too pleased also at how poorly the Kent sea compares to that which laps against our Cornish beaches.  Another world. 

On the way home, a brief stop at Chapeldown Vineyard near Tenterden.  A fully booked restaurant.  A restaurant named after the chef.  I have never been a fan of that kind of self-regarding chakllege to the fates.  Also a restaurant in a vineyard that doesn’t offer glass sizes of 125ml!  But English (and Welsh) wines remain on the up.  More thoughts on that anon.

Home to children and Vaio.  Greeted in that order.  I promise.

Go WSET, Young Man

March 3, 2011

Another four of our team are through the four day wine tasting and training course that we subsidise and encourage them to take.  This makes it now at least 20 of our team who have passed the WSET Intermediate exam in the past three years, something to be proud of in an industry which tips its cap at training in only the most perfunctory and box-ticking way.

These are courses that genuinely add to our guests’ experience, while also expanding the interests and skills of our team.  Definitely worthwhile, even if the individual is not always around six months later. 

The WSET courses are open to allcomers and I would recommend them to anyone interested in ratcheting up their wine knowledge.   In fact, one of our regulars, Paul Horner, did sign up to this paticular course.  Maddeningly, he passed out top of the class.  Drat.

A word from our kitchen

February 5, 2011

A word from our kitchen

So at last it feels we are emerging on the right side of winter: a beautiful pungent aroma of wild garlic in Cot Valley this morning; gorse becoming a deeper yellow, a sign that the days are gaining a few extra minutes of daylight; more prevalent birdsong at either end of the day; and the first daffodils blooming.

Bruce is looking forward to New Season Asparagus, both purple & white, which should be available shortly.  Caroline Arkley ( has some foraging courses on the horizon and is already out looking for Three Corner Leeks, Seaweed, Sea Kale & Nettles.  We will be hosting a few lunches here through the Spring with whatever she can find.

Wonderful Rhubarb, Purple Sprouting Broccoli, Radishes, Red Chard and much more are in season and playing their part in Bruce’s seasonal menus. Our ‘Spring Menu’ will be up and running very soon.  

From our ‘Sea Larder’ we are seeing plenty of Sardine, Wild Sea Bass, Brill & Megrim Sole.  Bruce was recently quoted in the Ecologist in support of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s campaign.

The roads west are still pretty much traffic free.  This is an ideal time to take us up on our Winter Escape (until 24 March) or Spring Sleepover (from 28 March).

Awards Seasons

October 7, 2010

Awards.  Pesky things in this industry.  It’s that time of year.  Enough to cause some strange behaviour.  And rashes.  Or so I’m told.

You never seem to win them when you think you deserve them.  You persuade the people you work with that they don’t matter.  They sometimes go to the place you’ve just visited and thought quite the worst pub in the world.  But when you are on the receiving end of them, the whole system suddenly seems the most just and appropriate in the world.

In sum, the awards season in this industry is a good time to observe the human condition.  Envy, schadenfreude, ecstasy, anger, disappointment, frustration.  Rarely humility, except the most forced kind.

The Griffin and Gurnard’s Head both won awards this morning.  Dining Pubs of the Year in Wales and Cornwall respectively according to the Good Pub Guide 2011.  These are awards worth having from a guide with integrity.  We know from experience that it will throw out any establishments it thinks not worthy.  So this is an achievement for our teams to be proud of.  And for us to shout about a bit as the opportunity does not come along very often.

But should we be misguided enough to think that this makes us perfect?  Definitely not.  Going in the right direction: probably.  An award is the perfect excuse to look again at what you do and think about how you improve it.  Resting on those laurels is not an option.  Communicating this message to a team is not easy.  It can occasionally seem unfair.  But it is so important.

Anyway, must start preparing that acceptance speech…..

To the Bristol home of one of our favourite wine suppliers, Nick Brooks of Vinetrail.  A frisson of excitement as his tastings never fail to throw up something we want to shout about.

Apart from the odd New Zealand orphan, his list is sourced in its entirety from within the hexagonal boundaries of France.  Mostly small domaines focused on great winemaking, more often than not using organic or biodynamic principles.  Wines with real purity, yet jumping with character and texture.  Nick talks about the impact of geology on wines in a way no-one else we know does.  A fascinating afternoon.

Five of us tasting, converging from Penwith and across the Severn Bridge from the Griffin.  Rarely a concerted reaction to a bottle: concord would be a boring thing when it comes to wine.  The lists at each of the Gurnard’s and the Griffin vary, as they should, reflecting the individuals, the food, the landscape.

Which wines talked to us this time?  For me: Cote de Brouilly that will sit happily on the Gurnard’s list, Gamay with a stony edge to it.  A Roussette de Savoie of which only 70 cases or so are made each year.  I hope we can take one of them.  Rich but in no way oily.  Truly beautiful when we tried it later in the evening.  A St. Chinian from the Languedoc, given backbone by more than a slug of Mourvedre, like a dose of national service perhaps.  Brilliant for early winter lunches in the Beacons.  And a Sauvignon de Touraine that gives its posher Loire cousins a kick up the behind.

Afterwards, supper at Flinty Red, one year old progeny of our first chefs down here, Matt Williamson and Claire Thomson, and the owners of Bristol wine shop, Corks of Cotham.  Our first visit, and as brilliant as we hoped.  If you are in Bristol and hungry, it should/must be your first choice.