24th October 2019
With views across the ocean from his kitchen, chef Paul Harwood naturally fuses his cooking style to echo his surroundings and the seasons. Having started his career under the wing of Rick Stein, Harwood opened The Fish House in 2014. The fact that the tables nudging Fistral Beach are booked up throughout the year, is testament to Harwood’s success, and his role at the forefront of Cornwall’s foodie revolution.
It’s a windy autumn day with storm clouds scudding across the waves, and Harwood’s menu is changing to embrace wholesome, hearty dishes made from ingredients plucked from Cornwall’s land and sea. “As the weather turns, I’m angling away from lighter dishes and summer salads, towards the sort of dishes to warm your cockles after a blustery beach walk or a surf,” Harwood explains.
If an ingredient is in season, Harwood really tries to make the most of it. “When wild garlic is in abundance in spring, I use it widely across my dishes. At the moment there’s huge numbers of mackerel in the bay, and my chefs have been out catching it daily. We’ve turned this into a popular Indian dish, served with dahl, poppadoms, kachumba, coconut sambal and raita salad.
As we move into autumn and winter, it’s mushrooms that dominate the upcoming menu. “I love using mixed, wild mushrooms from the West Country – such as girolles and ceps,” he says. A seasonal favourite that many locals return for is the hake, mash potato and wild mushroom sauce. “The dried, wild mushrooms are steeped in hot water and smoked whisky, intensifying the flavour. I use this and a mix of caramelised veg to make an intense, flavourful sauce – a really dark, mushroom fumé that gets poured over fresh, wild mushrooms and served with the hake. People come here just for that dish. It’s perfect after a chilly day on the beach.”
Like in most of Paul’s dishes, the ingredients are all local. “I’m in the category of trying to get people to eat fresh, local fish and enjoy what’s caught on the doorstep. The hake is from St Ives. People here tend to steer towards cod and haddock, but hake is a beautiful fish – softer than cod, with a deeper flavour, and firm enough to keep its colour,” he explains.
The variety of seafood on the menu really depends on what the fishermen catch. “In summer there’s lots of bream, red mullet and turbot – I try to get stuff off the day boats, a lot of which comes from Looe. Lobsters and crabs come from the Newquay fishermen, landed just a pebble’s throw away in the harbour,” Harwood tells me. However, while the notion of serving a whole crab is quite romantic, he admits that it can also be quite a messy dish, and there’s not that much meat on a crab to fill you up. “We prefer to serve a roasted hot shellfish dish, with a mix of mussels, scallops, prawns and crab claw… cooked in chilli, garlic and lemon juice. It’s a real favourite and much more warming than a classic fruits de mer.”
As the seas get bigger and less fishermen venture out in the more dangerous winter swells, Harwood explains that the choice of seafood becomes slimmer and prices are nudged higher. However, this doesn’t limit the rustic dishes on offer at The Fish House. Chowder is a favourite that’s back on the menu – made with prawns, cod, smoked bacon and cayenne pepper. Served with a chunk of homemade focaccia, a steaming bowl of chowder is a great dish for lunch beside the wild, winter waves.
Harwood has travelled extensively in search of surf and the finest regional recipes: “When I use recipes from a particular region, I try to stay true to its origins. For example, if I do Moules Mariniere, I stick to how they make it in Brittany, using butter not oil, and just white wine and parsley, without the cream – that’s a very British addition, which makes it rich and heavy.” Having spent a lot of time in Sri Lanka, he tried numerous prawn curries to get to best ingredients and recipe, which he replicates in the most traditional way, by making a powder. As a result, his Sri Lankan prawn curry is also a popular warm and spicy winter dish.
A firm believer in using local ingredients where possible, Harwood also relies on seasonal vegetables to bring the flavours of the seasons into his food. So as the chill seeps into the sand and the sea, it’s the root vegetables that come into the kitchen each day – fennel, leeks, butternut, cabbages, parsnips and celeriac. Whether you hit Fistral Beach for a surf, a shoreline stroll or a wild winter swim, you’ll find The Fish House open seven days a week for lunch and dinner,* so come in and fuel up on Harwood’s hearty winter dishes by the waves.