Cornwall is a beautiful county, to be sure, packed as it is with fine scenery and country pubs that would doubtless keep the divisive Nigel Farage happy. Thankfully Mr Farage was not in evidence when a Facebook reunion occurred on a warm sunny day in May at the County Arms, a stone’s throw from County hall in Truro. Not a country pub as such but with spectacular views of Newbridge and the Bissoe Valley from the vantage point of a balcony with outside tables to the rear of the pub.
This is a refurbished pub, hotel and restaurant, though thankfully the brewer-turned-hospitality provider is a relatively small chain run by St Austell Brewery and has maintained a sympathetic and quality feel. The makeover is cool and vaguely postmodern rather than faux-traditional. It has a more solid feel than makeovers past, and a less intrusive ambience too. The colours are muted greys enlivened by ornaments and dried arrangements, works of art and original beams stained in a lighter shade, plus the occasional comfy sofa in attractively worn leather.
First good sign was the range of beers provided by said brewer. I had a pint of “Proper Job” ale, declaring itself to be “powerfully hopped”; cue conversation with barman about the hop shortage caused by insatiable demand from craft brewers for the source of bitterness and rounded flavour in their products. I hope Kentish hops soon become a protected national crop, but pending shortages the beer was delicious and moreish. Next time a pint of the pale ale might also go down a treat.
The menu at the County Arms is perhaps its saddest feature, being for the most part clichéed modern pub fayre to appeal to 21st Century consumers, as viewed by marketeers. True, they make a point of declaring faith in local ingredients and suppliers, as a Cornish provider should, but for the most part their menu plays safe in the direction of commoditised meals – but ironically no Cornish pasty, nor necessarily fresh local fish straight from the coast.
Five out of six in our party went for the Sunday roasts, though the next disappointment came when I asked if the topside beef was served medium-rare and was told that since they keep it warm it veers towards the well-done end of the scale. For me that was the deciding factor in favour of pork, and a tragedy that the management should be addressing in order to provide the best showcase for fine ingredients. That said, the recipient of the beef cleared her plate faster than anyone.
However, truth be told the roast pork was slightly disappointing. It had been chunked and kept warm in gravy rather than appearing as tender freshly-carved slices. Worse still, there was not a hint of crackling to be seen, which as any Englishman knows is utterly essential with your pork roast. In mitigation, a wide range of well-cooked veg were provided, something my mother regards as de rigour, but the apple sauce and other condiments were not offered and given only upon request in small bowls, straight from the jar – another quick win lost, given that home-made apple sauce is quick, easy and makes a big difference.
The lamb did not look especially appetising, and the diner in question left quite a lot of his dinner (small portion that was actually just as big as standard portions.) Of all three roasts, I’d say value was not an issue at £8.45 a plate, but I’d much sooner have paid a tad more to have quality meat served in tip top form, and it would not have taken much imagination, cost or effort to produce very superior roasts.
The sixth diner chose linguini with pesto, which is a relatively simple dish to put together but was enjoyed nonetheless. None of us sampled desserts, though I was intrigued that they had bought in both cherry pie and cherry bakewell the day after I bought myself a jar of morello cherries. Great self-restraint but I could not have eaten dessert on my own, could I?
Overall impressions of the County Arms were undoubtedly favourable, aided and abetted by warm and friendly service by a team of young waitresses, though the food slightly let the side down and could have been exceptional with just a little more thought. Especially with added crackling!
PS. My friends said of this review:
- “ I wouldn’t argue with any of the review. Violence is never the answer but serving roast pork without crackling is a serious provocation. I went to Sabor in Tooting on Tuesday where they served a piece of crackling bigger than the pork, on the strength of which I am prepared to recommend the place unreservedly.”
- “Just read it. Accurate and to the point. It was a memorable afternoon though. Thanks again!”
- “A lovely meal and a fair review Andy lovely company and even though I wasn’t at my best thoroughly enjoyed”
PPS. Reply from the restaurant:
Thank you very much for your email. I must offer my sincerest apologies for not getting back to you sooner, I have been out of the office for a week. I have read through your review and really do appreciate you taking the time to pass your feedback along.
I was pleased to hear that you enjoyed the real Ale and can promise you that we will have a nice cold pint of pale Ale available on your next visit. I was disappointed that you found our main menu choices to be clichéd however do agree that we offer many ‘traditional pub’ dishes, we have over the years changed the menu quite radically at times and the majority of feedback we receive from customers is requests for the simple classics to return. We recently changed the main menu to reflect the classic dishes and brought back some old favorites which have been selling very well. We do offer daily changing specials, Monday – Saturday and I have attached a sample of a specials menu for your viewing. We are changing the main menu again very soon and any comments or requests you may have would be most welcome.
All of the comments you make relating to your Sunday lunch have been taken on board and discussed in detail with our restaurant management team and head chef, we are very sorry about the disappointments that you experienced and action is being taken to ensure that the points you raised are addressed immediately. I was very happy to read that the Linguini was enjoyed.
I must say that I do agree with your assessment, the team here are great, they are warm and friendly and they all really do care which makes all the difference however we do have some work to do in improving our food offer and consistency which we are working on to ensure immediate improvements, your comments have been most helpful to us and all points raised are being addressed, Including the crackling which should absolutely always be served with a Pork roast.
We do hope to see you soon and would welcome the opportunity to cater to you again, perhaps on your next visit you can enjoy a dessert too!
Mrs Kelly Woodcock, General Manager
The County Arms Highertown Truro Cornwall TR1 3PY 01872 273972