Food and travel writer Emma Henderson shares the best seafood restaurants in Cornwall to visit in 2023...
When you’ve got the biggest coastline in England, as Cornwall does, you’ve got a duty to offer up the best seafood restaurants in the country, too.
Cornwall is renowned for its excellent fish and seafood, which is of such top quality that you’ll see it all over the best restaurants across the country, including some of London’s Michelin star restaurants, where it’s shipped frozen overnight to be used the following day.
But in Cornwall, it’s as fresh as it can get. Many restaurants are so close to the harbours, and some are even opposite the fish markets, that it’s little more than a hop, skip and a jump (or perhaps more of a flop) to the kitchen to be prepared. And you can’t get better than that.
The Seafood Restaurant food Rick Stein - © Sam Harris
There’s none more famous when it comes to Cornish seafood restaurants than this one, opened by Jill and Rick Stein. It’s also one of the oldest, opening its doors in 1975 and has become synonymous with the town and putting Cornwall on the map as a food destination. Expect simple fish dishes like seafood soup and fruits de mer, or seared escalopes of salmon, plus what’s come to be one of his signature dishes, Indonesian curry, and fish and chips, of course. Rick’s food empire has slightly taken over Padstow with his four restaurants, which also
Headed up by Jude Kereama, in the little fishing village of Porthleven, Jude’s been one of the driving forces for encouraging more Cornish seafood restaurants to pair their dishes with Asian spices and ingredients, which goes so perfectly with seafood.
The name is an ode to Jude’s roots, who hails from New Zealand, where ‘Kota’ is Maori for shellfish.You may also recognise Jude from BBC Two’s Great British Menu too, where he’s appeared in a few series. His menu features smaller plates and plenty of seafood from mussels, scallops and crab to squid paired with things like saffron or samphire. Setting itself apart, this restaurant is really family friendly too, with a dedicated kids room with games and films to entertain them while you wine and dine (in peace).
Where? St Ives
As one of the newest contenders in the list, The Fish Shed opened just last year. It sits right above Porthmeor beach and is just a few steps away from the Tate St Ives.
The menu is designed to share its small plates, which are all about the freshest local fish, and has plenty of Korean influence with the likes of deep fried monkfish with Asian slaw, mussels in a laksa sauce along with indulgent sides such as crab and jalapeno topped fries. Cocktail fans will love the small but perfectly formed list – the sake sour is a must try. Sit outside on the terrace if it’s sunny, but as it’s only currently open from 4.30pm so be sure to book as the space is cosy too.
© Onna Boden
Newlyn is Cornwall’s largest fishing port in England, so having a restaurant here means the fish could not be fresher. From the little restaurant of Mackerel Sky, you can see where the fish is landed and you’ll likely walk past many of the fishermen coming off the boats. Mackerel Sky is casual and affordable with dishes like crispy sole in a Katsu curry sauce, plenty of local white fish grilled and served with samphire or capers, mackerel with pickled cucumber and horseradish, while the crab nachos are the standout dish on the menu that’s mostly full of dishes designed to be shared.
You won’t miss the restaurant as there’s always a queue outside, but don’t worry, staff are used to it and work swiftly to get you in. If it’s sunny, sit outside on turquoise chairs. mackerelskycafe.co.uk
Where? Port Isaac
Hot on the heels of Rick Stein’s synonymous association with Cornwall is one of his proteges, who is doing the same thing in Port Isaac. Nathan Outlaw has had two restaurants in the fishing village for 20 years now, each with its own identity, but both have the same ethos of only buying produce from boats using low impact fishing methods. Nathan Outlaw’s Fish Kitchen sits at the bottom of the village, opposite the fish market and it has been serving small plates before it was fashionable. The restaurant is set inside a 15th century fisherman’s cottage, so it comes with plenty of its own charm. Dishes to share include cured trout with chilli, mango and cucumber, as well as breaded hake with asparagus, mint and coriander.
At the top of the village is Nathan Outlaw’s New Road, the fine dining option. The tasting menu offers elevated fish dishes like sea bass with velvet crab sauce or raw scallop with cod roe, and the whole event is a real experience. Plus, the view is incredible.
Another waterfront restaurant, the deal here is dishing up the freshest seafood, including fish from Newlyn and oysters from Porthilly. Set in Events Square, next to the National Maritime Museum Cornwall and overlooking the harbour, its the sister restaurant of The Shed, next door. Unsurprising, the inside feels like a shack, with plenty of wood and corrugated iron sheets and rope-style hanging lighting.
The menu includes its signature smoked haddock and bacon chowder dish, as well as the likes of fish and chips, oysters, seafood linguine, whole lobster or dressed crab, and plenty of regularly changing specials, like langoustines or Korean fried prawns. If you can’t choose though, the team has that covered as there’s a big sharing platter with a little of all the seafood to try. Dishes are bright and colourful and zingy, and there’s also a children’s menu too.
Where? Porthcurnick beach
No longer as unknown as its name suggests, or as ‘hidden’ as it was a few years ago, this little beachside shack is another outpost that will always have queues. It’s all takeaway, you can’t book, there’s no inside tables, just a few benches outside, so get down early as the most popular dishes will always sell out. And once they’re gone, they’re gone.
Set just above Porthcurnick beach, park at the bottom of the A30708 road and walk across the top of the beach to reach it.
It prides itself on not using deep fat fryers, so expect simple grilled fish, fish stew, beef chilli, soups and pasties. Its signature dish is a creamy lentil dal topped with crispy onions, slices of pickled red onion and coriander that’s absolutely not to be missed. Look out for its renowned feast nights too, which are announced on its website and Instagram and feature the likes of grilled mackerel or lobster and chips.
Just steps away from Mackerel Sky is this historic pub, Tolcarne Inn. It’s a proper Cornish pub with a 300 year history, low wooden beams still intact and a cosy big fire, which is set just off the promenade that connects Penzance to Newlyn. Leading the kitchen is Ben Tunnicliffe, where a chalkboard menu changes daily to reflect what’s brought in on the catch that day, with the likes of mackerel, bream, scallops, crab, mussels, bass and john dory.
Ben’s cooking style lets the quality of ingredients shine, so dishes are simple and well executed. It’s this style that’s earned it a mention in the Michelin Guide too, commenting the restaurant’s turbot dish is a standout. Along with sustainably caught fish, he also uses market garden produce and community farms.
The Sardine Factory is another restaurant right on the water, and opposite a fish market (just like Nathan Outlaw’s Fish Kitchen), so the fish really couldn’t be fresher – unless it was still in the sea. Overlooking the harbour and East Looe, the restaurant has Bib Gourmand status from the Michelin Guide, so expect seriously good cooking.
As the name alludes to, the restaurant is housed inside a former sardine factory, and is run by Benjamin Palmer. The menu is wide, including sharing plates, plenty of differently dressed oysters as well as mains including fish and meat with nods to Middle Eastern and Indian spices. Expect dishes like hake with makhani dahl, yoghurt, roti and curry fried onions, while plenty of fish and chip fans will be glad to hear the classic comes with curry sauce too.
What started as a fish restaurant in north London has now bloomed with another site in Cornwall, too. Headed up by Katie and Rick Toogood, the restaurant in town has the same signature fresh fish counter you can buy from as the one in the capital does, but what sets this one apart is its penchant for pop ups. For the past few years, as soon as the mercury rises, the team pick up sticks and move out of Padstow’s main town and swap it for a nearby greener space to create Prawn on the Farm. Although this year it’s taking a fallow year on the farm and should return to normal service next summer, you can still visit the restaurant in the centre of Padstow. Instead, it’s the turn of sister restaurant Barnaby’s (also in the centre of Padstow) to adventure out this year. You’ll find the Barnaby’s popup at Trevibban Vineyard, not far from Padstow.
Opening in 2020, the Rocket Store is small but mighty. Sitting on the edge of the trickling river that leads to the village’s impressive harbour, inside there’s just a few tables with more outside.
Dishes change daily on the chalkboard menu, which depends on the boat’s catch and what’s available elsewhere from local producers. Small plates packed with flavour are designed to share, and the fish is superbly cooked in dishes like sea bass sashimi, ginger and tarragon, while much of the food is organic where possible.
Where? Fistral Beach, Newquay
Another Rick Stein alumni is Paul Harwood who runs Fish House Fistral, which sits on the famed Fistral beach. It’s a relaxed beachside atmosphere, but with food much better than your average beach cafe you’d be forgiven for confusing this with from the outside. Instead, Paul’s food has been inspired by his travels and love of Asian cooking, so on the menu you’ll find Sri Lankan prawn curry or cod tempura. Doubling up as a place to eat and a mini sports centre, you can also organise surf lessons from here too, just make sure to leave enough time after lunch before taking to the waves.