Harlyn Inn, Cornwall
October 10, 2015

As you could probably tell from my rave about Restaurant Nathan Outlaw, and indeed from the flurry of pictures all over my social media, Mr M took me for a lovely weekend in Cornwall recently as an early birthday treat. We love Cornwall, we’ve been quite a few times now, but I think Padstow is always going to have a special place in our hearts. It was where we had our first ever camping trip and treated ourselves to a slap up meal at Rick Stein’s Seafood Restaurant, and since then we’ve been back several times, both with friends, and just us.

This time, as you know, Nathan Outlaw’s in Port Isaac was on the agenda, as was plenty of outdoor time. Long walks by the sea are a favourite of mine – there’s nothing quite like a good old march along a coastal path (especially if you’ve got a new DSLR to play with). The highlights of these long walks are inevitably the stop for lunch or a snack. Food is great at any time, but somehow tastes a tiny bit better when you feel like you’ve earned it.

The Cornish Coastline

Where am I going with this? Well, I’m sorry folks but this isn’t a rave review, it’s a bit of a tale of disappointment. Why am I doing this to you? Purely because if you, too, do a jaunt along the coast path from Padstow, I don’t want you to feel let down like I did.

As we walked down into Harlyn Bay after a few miles mooching along the coast, we umm’d and aah’d by some of the food trailers parked by the beach offering pasties, cream teas, and other easy snacks. No, we thought, there must be something a bit more original.

A bit further into the village and we found the Harlyn Inn. An alright-looking seaside pub, complete with rooms and a surf shop type thing.  We grabbed a drink and some menus and sat out on the large terrace. The menu looked okay, as did the food people were munching on. Sandwiches, burgers, some ace looking pizzas. Fine. And tapas. Interesting.

After much gluttony the previous day (yes, we may have had Rick Stein fish and chips for tea, despite spending the afternoon enjoying a five course lunch at Nathan Outlaw’s) I decided to try to be good, opting for tapas. I ordered two tapas dishes – one of calamari and chorizo and one of whitebait, while Mr M went for a pizza.

We sat and waited, enjoying the sun. The sun went in. We waited a bit more. We started to get concerned. Don’t forget, this wasn’t the end of the walk but was meant to be a quick snack before we headed back to Padstow. A bit more time passed and we checked the time of the order – 50 minutes ago. It started to rain. We moved under an umbrella and agreed that once an hour had passed, we’d ask what was going on.

A few minutes before the hour-mark, the food came. Now, some pubs offer tapas menus. It’s become more common over the past few years. It’s not always traditional tapas but often a bit of a gimmick they use to sell themselves as a bit more food-orientated than perhaps they are. I have no problem at all with tapas at pubs if it’s done well. Like I say, it doesn’t even have to be traditional, but it’s got to at least be appealing.

Tapas at the Harlyn Inn

The whitebait I received wasn’t too bad. Breaded deep-fried fish with a chunk of lemon. Okay, what did I expect. The chorizo and calamari was a different story. A string of bulbous balls of chorizo that someone couldn’t quite bring themselves to separate, resembling something you’d see on a challenge on I’m a Celebrity. As we debated the comparison, several words came up, but as I write this post in the wake of the Prime Minister’s pig-gate scandal, I feel it’s better to steer clear of any comparison to genitalia when it comes to stuff we put in our mouths.

And it wasn’t just the appearance. I’m definitely not averse to a bit of grease, but the explosion of hot fat as I bit into one of these beauties hid any flavour I might have tasted. As for the calamari, what should be a crispy, fresh, fishy treat was a quivering, flaccid letdown. Tentacles don’t usually bother me when they’ve been crisped up and are packed with flavour. But when they look like they’re still the stuff of underwater horror films, I just can’t do it.

Do you want to hear about the pizza? Yes, you do, because it was a welcome contrast – a whole different league. Not the best pizza in the world, but good, honest comfort food. Thin dough, nicely presented on a wooden board, and covered in tasty toppings. Jamie had chosen meat, and it was a generous helping of chilli, salami, red onion and cheese. It was tasty. And big. And generous. And cheaper than the two tapas dishes I’d ordered.
Pizza at the Harlyn Inn

I’m a big believer in complaining about stuff at the time, and I have plenty of times before, but it was made difficult on this occasion by a) the fact that we’d already been there an hour and a half for what should have been a quick snack, and b) by that point the barmaid was deep in conversation with her mates out on the terrace and I, quite frankly, couldn’t be bothered to interrupt.

As we left, we debated whether I should blog or not. Backwards and forwards and around and around we went, but it was Jamie asking whether I wished that we’d stopped at one of the food trailers instead that made my mind up. Yes. I wish I’d had a pasty. Or some chips. Or had just ordered a pizza. But I was lulled by the promise of something a little bit different. And so I think it’s my duty to tell you about it. So if you find yourself walking in my shoes, all along the coastal path and into Harlyn Bay, you can learn from my mistakes.

I’m not saying the Harlyn Inn isn’t a nice pub, probably with perfectly honourable aspirations, and serving some pretty good food. But maybe someone somewhere has aspirations that are just a bit too lofty. It’s a lesson – to me when I automatically choose the ‘different’ option, and to food outlets trying to offer something a bit different. If you can execute it, great. But if you can’t, maybe it’s better to stay away. Sometimes it’s better to just keep it simple.

Next time I’ll have the pizza.

We paid for our meals at the Harlyn Inn. They didn’t know I was a blogger.