Operation West Country: My mission was to travel down to the far reaches of our green and pleasant land as quickly as possible and report on a suave, laidback establishment that is making waves on the north coast of Cornwall. I fully accepted this task and set off by the quickest route known to man.
“Cornwall” I said, “In a couple of hours”. That was the beginning of a conversation that became a bet (that I won) and ended just outside Newquay on Cornwall’s beautifully rugged north coast.
Let me explain, M and myself often travel to South West Cornwall as we have family there. But for me, as a child my heart was always loyal to the North side of the county. The larger waves, the tempestuous weather, the sheer joy of the wind in your ears and the sun in your eyes. I loved the freedom it offered me on family holidays in 1970s.
So when I discovered you can fly to Newquay from London Southend Airport, which is equidistant for us living in South East London to Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted in terms of travel time. I said, “We could be there in a couple of hours”. M retorted “No way”, of course if you drive or take the train it will be at least five hours from West London. But it only takes 70 minutes with Flybe from Southend Airport, an airport so charmingly small, with friendly staff it’s a pleasure to be in and you can park next door to the departure building. Check out the Skylife lounge (they’ve got a mechanical pancake maker that had M entranced) it’s super comfortable, drinks on tap and plenty of space to stretch out and have a read.
I don’t wish to bore you with the rest of the conversation but the Watergate Bay Hotel our base for a few days is eight minutes from the airport by Coastline Travel (the taxi company based at the airport, you can’t miss them, they are the only people with a desk in arrivals). So we installed ourselves in our four-berth suite, which had a separate room with kiddy-sized bunk beds if you need them and us in a large wooden floored, bleached Scandi-Cornish vibed room with not a hint of Poldark anywhere. We very quickly started to call it paradise. This is an ideal multi generational get together hotel with over 70 rooms of various shapes and sizes and plenty of space to relax in. We even had a sea view balcony with our own table and chairs. There were plenty of magazines and a Ruark hi-fi, tea and coffee facilities and fresh milk in the fridge. Pretty near perfect.
The hotel is a joy to be in with an infinity pool, a few restaurants (more on that later) and a grown up chill out room with three enormous windows looking out to the ocean to rival anything Sydney Harbour can offer (or a Bond villain’s lair for that matter). It’s dog friendly, they have a small gym, a bar that’s open all night (if you want it to be) and they also own the beach right outside the hotel where dogs are welcome all year round unlike most others in Cornwall. With the windows open, we could hear the sea, for a townie there’s something hypnotic about the endless slightly varying swoosh of the waves to send one gently to sleep.
Eating here is simple as is drinking. A relatively new addition to the hotel is Watchful Mary Bar, actually outside the hotel slightly closer to the beach this cool bar cum restaurant has killer views and hosts live music a couple of nights a week so if you fancy something a bit more lively this is for you. The food is fabulous, check out the air-dried cuts of meat, excellent cheeses and mushroom pâté. You could make a night of it here or just treat it as a pre meal set of snacks as we did (we were hungry).
As well as the bar there’s a surf school where there’s no age limit to surfing whether you’re silver or not, a small shop with the usual beach essentials and The Beach Hut restaurant. The Hut serves a selection of oriental inspired dishes, which took our fancy, think green paw paw and poke sushi style rice. Great food and a little lighter for lunch, they are open all day mind so you can call in anytime, there’s a small balcony so you can enjoy the fresh air.
The two main events are Zacary’s Restaurant in the main building, which has a great candlelit atmosphere at night and brings to the table seasonal local produce cooked with flair. There’s also a smattering of a little more exotic ingredients, I really enjoyed the grilled octopus starter and local veal with dauphinoise potatoes main. There’s lots of choice and they offer three courses for £45.
The big pull for many to the hotel is the famous Fifteen Restaurant. Jamie Oliver has lent his name to a worthy charity operation helping the young people of Cornwall progress through a training programme that prepares them for work in the hospitality industry. It’s quite a special place with elevated epic views (see the sunset photo, this was taken as the starters arrived) through a full width window across the bay and over the sea. They offer both an à la carte and tasting menu. We opted for the six-course tasting experience for £58 (and an additional £42 if you want the wine pairing, which in my opinion is not only worth it but the pairings are sublime. It kicks off with a glass of Pol Roger Brut Reserve Champagne) and there’s also a more extensive wine list if you so desire. The food and staff were superb. There’s a real sense of team and pride in all they do here. Leanne our principle server (we had many different ones throughout our three hour stay) was wonderful, calm, experienced and a joy to be around. I kicked off the evening with a semi autonomous cocktail ‘Stormy Hennessy’ I couldn’t resist the lure of Hennessy brandy, ginger and lime. It was worth it, I recommend at least one before supper commences. The food was tip-top and grew in depth and intensity as the evening progressed working through pasta, fish, meat etc. I adored the duck the most but to honest I could have eaten each plate all over again (if I had had the room, you won’t leave hungry).
The Watergate Bay Hotel has a lot to offer to a lot of people. On the one hand it’s a perfect getaway for the young couple, with wind in their hair as they surf the early waves. On the other it’s a super place for the young family, sandcastles, walks on the cliffs etc. Then again, it’s perfect for any age that don’t really want to do much except eat reliably good food, have a choice of thoughtful wines and drinks and watch the sun go down. And repeat. Speaking of which, I must have a think about when we can get down there again, now I know it doesn’t take too long to be in paradise.
Watergate Bay Hotel, On The Beach, Watergate Bay, Cornwall, TR8 4AA, England.
Tel: +44 (0)1637 860543
The hotel overlooks the two-mile-wide sands of Watergate Bay beach and is just a 10-minute drive from Newquay Cornwall Airport.
Type of Hotel: 4-Star Beach Front Hotel
Number of Rooms: 70+ rooms, suites, family suites and village family apartments
Price Band: Medium
Insider Tip: There’s a cosy area separate but still part of the main action at Fifteen. You can book this area at the end of the restaurant for four people or more … you get your own large window and a sense of exclusivity. Very cool.
Reviewer’s Rating: 10/10
Neil Hennessy-Vass is Contributing Editor for Our Man On The Ground as well as a widely-published globetrotting food and award-winning travel writer and photographer.
Photographs by Neil Hennessy-Vass