Why this Cornish fishing village is a must-visit for sustainable food

Perfect views and great food in Cornwall
Perfect views and great food in Cornwall | Image courtesy of The Harbourside Refuge
Nina Zietman

Senior Commissioning Editor

As we continue to explore foodie hotspots around the world, one destination in southern England remains popular with tourists from home and abroad.

Rugged, storm-battered cliffs and cobblestone fishing villages, fringed by turquoise waters, come to mind when you think of Cornwall. However, few realise that two-thirds of the county is farmland. From new potatoes and strawberries to cereals, milk and cheese, an abundance of food is produced here. Combine this with the county’s rich fishing history, it’s easy to see why Cornwall has become a foodie hotspot in recent years.

You’ll likely have heard of Padstow, home to famous restaurants from Rick Stein and Paul Ainsworth, whilst St Ives is home to the renowned Porthminster Beach Cafe and new Adam Handling restaurant. However, if you venture further south, you’ll find the lesser-visited fishing village of Porthleven. Historically, Porthleven was known for tin and china clay mining, as well as its fishing industry. Over 100 fishing boats used to operate from Britain’s southernmost harbour, cruising back home with mountainous hauls of mackerel and pilchards. Unfortunately, fishing has declined across Cornwall in the last 30 years. Whilst it still has a working harbour, Porthleven has taken on a new reputation as an up-and-coming destination for culinary connoisseurs.

Every year, thousands of visitors descend on the village for the Porthleven Food Festival, fronted by chef Antony Worrall Thompson, whilst its narrow streets house world-class restaurants – from Kota, run by Jude Kereama who regularly appears on BBC’s Great British Menu, to Michelin-rated The Square. The newest addition to the restaurant scene arrived in 2020, namely The Harbourside Refuge from Michael Caines. Naturally, Cornish heritage is a huge part of the food culture here. Caines is a major champion of seasonal, local produce. Meat is sourced from Cornish Duck, a free range poultry farm in Fowey, and the kitchen only uses fish and seafood from sustainable sources.

The saffron risotto is one of the star dishes at The Harbourside Refuge

We arrived during the summer holiday heatwave; temperatures hovered around 28C. Beams of sunlight bounced off the cobblestone streets as we sat on the terrace at The Harbourside Refuge, sipping Cloudy Bay sauvignon blanc. It was remarkably still and quiet, especially compared to the suffocatingly busy streets of Padstow or St Ives. After ordering a glass of Cloudy Bay sauvignon blanc, we were ready to try the best seasonable, sustainable dishes Caines’ team had to offer.

For an upmarket restaurant, the setting is comfortably casual; think chunky wooden tables, white stone walls and squishy leather sofas. This isn’t a white tablecloth affair, although the dishes suggest otherwise. Each course was beautifully presented. For the starter, I opted for the salmon mousse with dill crème fraîche, which I greedily slathered over chargrilled sourdough toast. My mum chose the vegan menu, describing her chickpea panelle dotted with lemon and garlic sauce as “sublime”. In fact, the chef even took a photograph of the panelle because he was so proud of it, whispered the waiter.

Mains were equally delicious. I was presented with a perfectly-seared fillet of hake (local to Cornish waters), perched on a tower of crushed new potatoes and mint hollandaise, whilst my mum’s saffron risotto came with crispy flakes of black truffle. Finally, dessert. We both tried the deconstructed vanilla cheesecake with miso macadamia crumb, as well as the roasted pineapple with bitter lime sorbet and coconut foam, which went down a treat, given the tropical temperatures.

Michael Caines is serving up tasty, sustainable local food in Porthleven

It’s worth noting, for a seafood-orientated restaurant, their vegan menu was outstanding. My mum even described it as “one of the best meals she’s ever had”; she is, genuinely, a hard woman to please. Dogs are also welcome, an added perk. Price wise, it’s also fairly reasonable, especially if you opt for the set lunch menu (£26 for two courses and £35 for three courses). Just make sure you get there soon; no doubt the Padstow fans will migrate down to the south coast soon enough.

The Harbourside Refuge by Michael Caines in Porthleven is open for lunch and dinner everyday from Wednesday to Sunday. Book a table ahead of visiting to avoid disappointment.

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