While there is something to be said for randomly wandering a foreign town until you find the local favourites, when planning a trip in advance nothing can beat a good browse through TripAdvisor for restaurant recommendations. Before my trip to Cornwall I made a point of looking up the top ranked restaurant in St. Austell for a special Easter weekend meal. All signs pointed to Austell’s as being the area’s top pick (additionally, it’s listed in the Michelin Guide!) so I emailed my reservation for Saturday night in advance and headed off to Cornwall ready for a delicious dinner.
Unfortunately, and to my great surprise, I heard back that they were entirely booked so I swung by the restaurant to plead my single traveller case – thank goodness I did, they kindly found a spot for me and allowed me to enjoy the most delicious meal I’ve had in ages.
Austell’s operates on a set menu – always a good sign in my opinion as it means the menu options will be well prepared rather than a whole range of short order meals coming out of the kitchen. I could choose between a small array of starters, mains and desserts for a fixed (and incredibly reasonable) price. While located in a fairly unromantic area (next to a fast food Chinese buffet and Indian takeaway restaurant in what Americans would call a strip mall), once stepping inside the restaurant it was like being in a whole different location.
I started with a fillet of bream served with fried squid and a light, lemony fregula which was perfectly prepared. The fish was salty and light and had just enough fishy flavour to taste fresh but not enough to overpower the rest of the meal. The squid was incredibly flavourful and not the least bit chewy (which I thought was a given with squid) – it cut with my fork. The grains balanced the dish nicely, adding a bit of texture to the fish.
Next I decided on the Cornish beef ribeye served with a red wine jus, sauteed mushrooms, green beans and potatoes. I don’t eat red meat particularly often at home and so it was a very special treat, even moreso in that it was perfectly done to medium rare and I polished off the plate in much less time than I would have probably done in polite company.
Finally, I finished with the hot dark chocolate lava cake, served with mint chocolate chip ice cream. Simple, delicious and amazingly chocolatey, it was the ideal end to the meal.
Overall I’m so glad I picked Austell’s for my Easter meal (even if it was a Saturday dinner rather than Sunday!). The staff were wonderful – my waitress stopping to chat with me when she had a moment as I was sitting alone and of course the fact that they squeezed me in – which really added to the whole meal and ambiance. If you can get a table, I highly recommend a visit to Austell’s if you’re ever in the area.
10 Beach Road
Tel. for bookings: 01726 813 888
For a small town, St. Austell – home of the Eden Project and located on the south west coast of England in Cornwall, has a surprising number of hotels, bed and breakfasts and campsites. While this is due to the nearby Eden Project, which is not only a tourist destination in its own right but also a location for massive concerts during the summer, the fact that the surrounding area is absolutely gorgeous definitely doesn’t hurt.
So I was faced with numerous choices for where to stay while in St. Austell over the Easter holidays, and didn’t have much to go on when I selected, a bit at random, the Porth Avallen hotel on Carlyon Bay. What a wonderful decision! I was immediately impressed by the breathtaking views of the Bay and ocean beyond (their motto is “the only thing we overlook is the bay”) and their interior was filled with common areas to sit and read or just enjoy the view – including the lovely restaurant (where I enjoyed a full English breakfast each morning), the bar and the lounge. My single room was comfortable and – as promised, had a view of the bay. The brand new television and absolutely massive bath towels were just added bonuses.
But what was most impressive throughout my stay was the overwhelming friendliness and kindness of the staff. From the moment I arrived, I was greeted warmly by the receptionist (who I later learned was also staffing the bar and brasserie!) who provided me with maps of the area and suggestions for dinner that night. After my first night in the Porth Avallen, I awoke to a torrential downpour and upon wandering down stairs to ask how I might get to the Eden Project (my plan had been to walk) the owner of the hotel, George, offered to give me a ride! It was clear he was proud of his hotel and rightly so.
The Porth Avallen made a fantastic home away from home for my holiday and I would highly recommend it for anyone visiting the area, in particular single travellers as the welcoming air and amazing views much more than compensate for any travelling companion.
Porth Avallen Hotel
Tel 01726 812802
The UK seems to be quite generous about time off – in addition to the 25 days annual paid leave (that’s five working weeks, people!) there’s also a goodly chunk of Bank Holidays scattered unevenly throughout the year. Two of these fall on either side of Easter, namely Good Friday and Easter Monday.
With a four day weekend at my disposal, I decided to make the trek to the far southwest of the country and to Cornwall, an area of the UK about which I’d heard lots of nice things but hadn’t had the opportunity to visit. I decided to tie into my trip a visit to the famous Eden Project – a giant garden with two massive biodomes containing plant life from the Mediterranean climate and rain forest climate respectively. I’d heard a lot about the Eden Project, mostly because they put on a number of big music festivals throughout the summer, but as this is the time of year that everything seems to be bursting into bloom, it seemed as good a time as any to visit a new part of the country and the Eden Project itself.
Four hours on the train deposited me in the tiny town of St. Austell where I would be staying. The coastal village was fairly nondescript but had the benefit of being right on the water – and the hotel where I was staying was wonderful (more about that in a later post). My first evening in town I took a long walk to get my bearings but the highlight would be the Eden Project the next day.
Rather than try to explain the Project, and the amazing flowers within the biodomes, below is a series of photos from the trip:
Not too far from The Top Floor Flat is one of my favourite areas of London. I’ve mentioned it before, the home of the Queen’s Head pub (in my opinion one of the coziest in London) as well as a number of other local amenities (church, doctor’s office, tennis courts….). I was particularly fond of the Green last autumn when the leaves were changing colours but now that it’s nearly nice outside again, Brook Green is starting to pick up in activity. The playground was packed with kids, all the tennis courts full, dogs running around and the daffodils in full bloom.
My trip to the Green (not that it generally needs a reason) was to scope out the Brook Green Hotel for my mother who will be coming to visit The Top Floor Flat after nearly two years of residence here. While I am incredibly excited, it’s also important she finds a good place to stay nearby. The options are varied – being as near as we are to the Olympia Exhibition Centre and Earl’s Court Exhibition Centre, we get a lot of year-round traffic for people attending conferences. The Brook Green’s website was gorgeous and I knew the area was lovely so I thought I’d take a peek today while on my walk.
Unfortunately they were so busy I didn’t have a chance to take a look at a room (generally a good sign, though!) but the downstairs pub, also the main reception area for the hotel, was frightfully British with a full bar and very traditional pub feel. This is fine if you don’t mind sharing your hotel lounge area with ordinary evening punters but probably not ideal if you’re looking for a relaxing, low-key common space during the evenings. Additional, I had slightly misjudged the location of the Hotel, expecting it to be further on the Green while instead it was at the far end which, while absolutely fantastic for public transport (this has to be one of the easiest hotels in London to get to from Heathrow), would be less fantastic for noise level and view – half the rooms faced the Green, but also a busy high street; the other half were quieter but faced a parking lot and giant Tesco.
Having not seen one of the rooms I of course can’t judge the hotel overall – and it looks ideal for someone visiting the area and looking for a comfortable, easy to access, authentic British pub hotel stay. For anyone who is particularly sensitive to road noise at night (don’t come to London!) or wants a more traditional hotel offering with a quiet public area, this might not be the best bet.
I have to say, what would swing the stay in my favour, if I were travelling alone, would be the basement pub at the hotel which was offering up some pretty high profile comedians over the next couple of nights. Perhaps I’ll have to swing by for one of their shows, even if I am not visiting my family in one of their rooms.
Regardless, Brook Green is still a fantastic area, a gorgeous neighbourhood and a great place to grab a bit of sun, a game of tennis, a bit of fresh air or a pint.
This past weekend I, along with a few coworkers was invited by a work colleague to spend the weekend at his home in the country. It was absolutely amazing to get out of London for a few days and I was completely spoiled with good food, fresh air, glorious weather and two incredibly friendly dogs. It was exactly what I needed after a month and a half of missing California and dealing with dreary London weather and we made the most of our time with long walks (with the dogs of course) across the fields, a lot of time in front of the fire, and the talent samplings of our two peers who play the guitar.
Although getting back to London (where it immediately began to rain) was less than pleasant, the city and its terrible weather is definitely made more bearable through weekends like this one. Here are a couple of snapshots of the house, the fields and our walk through the British countryside.