Jon’s Bistro at Bre Pen, Cornwall

The bargain alone should get you in the door; twenty pounds for three courses. Plus it’s free to BYO. Which means you can choose the tipple you want to drink with dinner and not have to pay for the privilege of using a wine glass and for someone to open it.

What also comes free is the view of sloping green pastures, gambolling sheep and the clean smell of salt spray from Mawgan Porth beach below. Then there’s the warmth and hospitality;  the welcome into Jen and John’s Harvey’s cosy farmshop/restaurant feels more like a visit to distant relatives than an excursion for dinner.

And I haven’t even got to the food.

There’s no shortage of big name destinations to eat if you’re in Cornwall. There’s a sea shiny outpost of Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen at Watergate Bay.There’s a flock of restaurants and pubs bearing Rick Stein’s name in Padstow.  Further north  is Nathan Outlaw’s 2 Michelin stared joint at the St Endoc Hotel. And here in Mawgan Porth, just five minutes drive from Newquay airport there’s a lovely restaurant at The Scarlet Eco Hotel.

The Scarlet is our home for the weekend. I’ve come to help review for the brilliant Caviar and Mint (nb, if anyone likes their luxury breaks with a side of sustainability, that’s exactly the first place you should start your armchair wanderings).

There will  be more on The Scarlet to come. For now feel safe in the knowledge that it’s exactly the sort of place where you could spend a weekend wafting from the spa, to the indoor pool, to the relaxation room with a book and back again. Or it’s the kind of sport where you can sign up for 8 am yoga, a hike along the windswept cliffs with a picnic and a loan of the hotel dog to join you on your jaunt.

We pick the middle path ( I say we- not The Hungry One this time- he’s gadded off to Oktoberfest to drink beer and eat pork knuckle. I’ve taken the opportunity to escape  with an old friend and an excellent partner in the eating/ travelling caper).

I cottoned onto Jon’s Bistro after doing some research on the area. It sits on the other side of the beach slope from the hotel, about a 25 minute walk down and up two steep hills. Or it’s four minute drive. In summer months from Thursday to Saturday night Jon and his wife Jen transform the Bre Penfarm shop into a cosy bistro for  18.

It’s unfussed and relaxed, with a 1950’s farmhouse to the flooring and bathrooms and a dash of Cath Kidston to the pistachio polka-dot tablecloths.  Out the window are chickens and sheep. Much of the produce that ends up on the plate comes from the adjacent paddocks, often picked just hours before.

The menu is tight and well planned with two choices for each course, plus optional extras of olives, cheese and a potato gratin as an additional side for those with heartier appetites .

We start with fresh made bread and herb infused rape seed oil as a local alternative to olive. It’s peppery and bright, the same colour as the sun bleached fields we flew over just hours earlier.

We opt for one each of the entrees, making initial promises to share. The first; a hedge of
beetroots from the farm, dice of dark ruby and others slivered and raw. The slivers are  a cross between stained glass windows and crisps. They’re partnered with Cornish sardines, lightly soused, dabs of yogurt and Nasturtium leaves. It’s smart stuff; sweetness and pickle walking hand in hand along the perimeter of a plate.

The other option for sharing was shards of air dried Cornish ham, sticky segments of French figs and some goat cheese. While ham, fig and curd is not a novel trifecta (in fact we ate a version of it earlier in the day at Jamie’s Fifteen)Jon’s tinkering with textures is what takes it to another level. The goat cheese has crumble and a little heft; it’s more than enough to stand up against the figs. Meanwhile the prickle of the leaves adds bitterness and a tickle of crunch.

The two options for main course were baked crepes with mushrooms, or lamb shoulder with violet artichokes and baby turnips. The bottle or red we’d stashed in our handbags as well as the wind which whistled along the coast all bleat for lamb.

A lady-like portion of cheek-soft shoulder is delicately plated with beautifully turned artichokes and turnips, linked together by oil they made from garlic scrapes when they were in high season.

What is not so lady-like is the side portion of potato gratin (£4 additional). It’s thick and thigh-gildingly good; rich with cream and solid with layered potatoes, the top puckered and brown like the backs of a fisherman’s hand. It’s perfect for those with larger appetite.

Once again in the lamb it’s the bitterness which makes it all sing. Heston may believe that acid is a much under employed aspect in the kitchen. For me  bitterness is another note which doesn’t get played enough. In the right hands, it’s a novel ace to play. And Jon’s are those kind of hands.

On reflection there’s so much about the plating and the flavours here which reminds me of Iñaki Aizpitarte at Le Chateaubriand. The bitterness, the fascination with textures, modest portions  and the way the food gently splays across the plates. For a £20 small farm shop bistro in Cornwall, to the 10th best restaurant in the world in Paris, it’s not that far at all.

Dessert is a gentle hop and a skip through sweetly comforting flavours in some surprising textures. There’s wild blackberries hiding in a rich gel and also a pillowish mousse. Above it there’s heather honey squares of parfait. There are three warm madelines, appearing more like seashells in this coastal setting than they ever have. Over the top is a dusting of pistachio praline.

It’s plate-scrapingly good stuff.

While there are candles on the tables and wine is served out of glasses, not rustic tumblers, this is not the place to go if starched cloth and finery are what you need for a perfect night out.

Jon used to work at Claridges. He also spent three years training chefs at Fifteen.  You’ll probably like this place if the following are more important to you; a chef who knows what he’s doing. Access to beautiful produce; Cornish seafood, lambs from the adjacent paddock and veg from plots in walking distance from the kitchen. Your own choice of wine. A charming host. And all of this for £20 per head.

I feel almost bad for letting people know about Jon’s Bistro, lest we find it difficult to get a table next time we’re down south. So please, take it as a token of how much I like you all that I’m sharing. Suffice to say; it’s a very special place indeed.

Jon’s Bistro at Bre-Pen Farm
Bookings: Ph 01637 860420
Mawgan Porth, Newquay
Cornwall TR8 4AL

We flew from Gatwick into Newquay airport (a 50 minute flight). We hired a car at Newquay from Blackbird Car Hire– who were cheap and terrific.


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  1. What a lovely retreat! I’m a big fan of bitter flavors in food, and think it’s something Italians really embrace (with their love of bitter greens).

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