Hazlephron Inn, Cornwall

An important distinction to make:  the fact that the Hazlephron Inn is categorised on these pages as a “gastropub” should not, in spite of its being twice awarded Cornish dining pub of the year, lead you to think it the type of establishment that employs on one those tricksy and ambitious young chefs who wants to paint your plate in smears and build vertically amid acres of white plate.  It’s not that such establishments can’t or don’t serve good food, but by applying the dictats of fashion they miss out on the simpler virtues of serving good ingredients simply and without a fanfare in a way that pleases customers.  You don’t have to be targeting Michelin stars to satisfy, and often the better food is served with humility and by not trying too hard.

This is where the Hazlephron Inn comes from.  This is taken from their website:

We pride ourselves on cooking fresh food everyday, which is reflected in our twice changing daily menu of specials. These include a wide range of starters and main courses prepared from fresh, local, seasonal produce wherever possible. Delicious homemade puddings, local ice cream from Roskilly’s and Callestick and a selection of Westcountry cheeses complete your meal.  With an enviable award-winning reputation for the freshest local and seasonal food, our daily changing menus offer something for everyone.  We are also featured in AA Britains Best Pubs, Good Pub Guide 2014 and Food & Drink Cornwall. Great local produce and an experienced kitchen team will produce the best the locale has to offer. All our ingredients are sourced from local suppliers whenever possible, for example our butcher Mr Trevarthen supplies all our prime quality local meat from his family based firm. Matthew Stevens of St Ives has a nationwide reputation for the quality of his fresh Cornish fish and shellfish, and we are very pleased to be able to name him as our main supplier of fish, delivered daily.

Credit to the owners for that philosophy but also on their style, which focuses on doing fairly straightforward pub grub with competence and without flashy touches.  They focus on genuine home cooking, using the fresh ingredients mentioned above, which puts them above a good 75% of pubs at the very least.  I can forgive many faults when the establishment is making every effort to do the job properly and without buying in microwave meals from Brakes Bros.

The first thing you come across is a genuinely traditional free house (as opposed to “brewery re-imagination of what a traditional pub looks like in the 21st Century, complete with TVs and game machines”), the sort that has evolved over centuries and where the owners are merely custodians.  In fact, it is the type of place which gives the impression of having been in the same hands for generations, which makes the fact that the current ownership (David Adams, Ian & Claire Murray) is fairly new all the more remarkable. 

The pub also happens to be just a short stroll from a wonderful Cornish beach and the sea, the sort of location that makes English country pubs a joy to behold.  The first impressions are good, not only in that the pub is a reflection of its terroir but also in the friendly greeting.  What appealed was that the hosts were polite, friendly and helpful in the way you would expect, but not over-attentive in the modern style.

At no point were we given feedback forms or invited to join their mailing list, but the concern for our satisfaction was manifest without the need for marketing – other than the self-effacing website (I mentioned to whichever of the owners was at the bar that I would write a review and send him the link; he seemed delighted at the prospect!)  In my eyes this is good news, since it demonstrates a confidence that the name and reputation of the pub will engender good word-of-mouth without the need for intrusive “customer relationship management” – to use the jargon.  As it should be!

The Hazlephron Inn was on this occasion host to a party of four friends meeting for a slightly early birthday party and, as it turns out, to celebrate the news that couple C and N are to marry next year, so definitely an occasion worth celebrating – but here with beer rather than champers.  From a decent range of local brews, I chose “Betty Stogs, Queen of Cornish Ales” from Skinner’s brewery – how could I possibly resist that? – and perused the menu plus a long list of “specials”.  If I have an issue with this it is that the menu should be shorter, all the better to focus on fresh preparation.

Some dishes you know will come from the freezer and be finished off in the microwave, some of them comfort food dishes that appeal to British tastes.  However, full marks for adding a twist: one of our party ordered one such dish, a humble macaroni cheese, which was delivered with a generous slice of goats cheese atop the dish, undoubtedly the first time I’ve seen that presentation to a simple dish.

The menu does include a mix of home-made pub favourites, such as the steak and ale pie and liver and bacon ordered respectively by two of our party.  There is of course home-battered fish and chips but I plumped instead for home-made crab cakes in grown-up portion, served with yet more chips and salad.

The first thing to note about the dish was that the chips were indeed “hand cut”.  This is often a cliché applied automatically, but here it was self-evident since the chips in question were cut in quirky shapes that would never come from any machine.  They were decent chips without being the exceptional  triple-cooked variety (see here), though for their personal touch I loved them to bits.  The crab cakes were very decent and fresh, albeit served with an unexceptional sweet chilli sauce (presumably this condiment has infiltrated from the invasion of the Thai fish cakes, but to my mind is not necessarily the most appropriate combination to crab) and a well-dressed salad.  Not a great dish but worthy and using the best of local to good effect.

Similar things were said of the pie (with a very crumbly home-made shortcrust pastry) and liver.  For desserts I chose a competently made panna cotta with excellent texture, swamped by a sea of sticky raspberry syrup and summer fruits.  The raspberry vacherin turned out to be of mega proportions, built from a base of home-made (those words again) meringue (so easy to buy in the cash & carry so well done for making the effort) and build with layers of raspberry, ice cream and clotted cream, plus the same unpleasantly over-sweet raspberry syrup.  Perhaps they should go easier on syrup, since it detracts from the overall effect – less is indeed more.

It’s not my normal habit to award marks, but since C and N both work in education they insisted on applying gradings based on the OFSTED scale of 1-4, where 1 is “outstanding,” 2 is “good”, 3 is “fair” and 4 is an outright fail.  Of the four of us, three rated the meal as “good”, one at the weaker end of the scale, but the other was only “fair”.  Maybe next time the fillet of sea bass might prove a better bet than macaroni cheese, but then choosing from the menu is an art in itself.

There is room for improvement here, which may involve cutting down on the choices and the unnecessary additions, and focusing on what is good and decent, but I wish the new owners every success and will make every effort to visit this delightful pub on my next trip down to Cornwall.

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