Cornish cuisine in London: take it with a pinch of (Vintage) Salt

On-the-Roof-with-Vintage-SaltI truly believe that the better the friend, the badder the influence. Well join me at the bloody hip with Ally T, then; the well-heeled gent who is solely to blame for my impending unemployment. With a single photo of a turtle, he tempted me from the cruel clutches of employment towards the sun, sea and sand of South East Asia and that, my dears, makes him the worst influence ever. And possibly the best friend. So where better to celebrate a seasoned friendship, such as ours, than Vintage Salt?

Occupying the pop-up space atop Selfridges for one summer only is Vintage Salt. Themed like a fishing village from my beloved home count(r)y, it projects Cornwall’s languid vibes onto the incarnate panic attack that is Oxford Street. Or at least it tries to. Coming from a true maid, it is certainly a Londoner’s Cornwall (ahoy there, fake ropes)…

Vintage Salt

The first thing to note? Don’t make your merry way as far up the escalators as you can go, as per my own mistake. A dedicated lift, (wo)manned by an impeccably made-up but somewhat aggressive hostess, will take you skywards from a spot right next to the Chanel perfume stand (if you’re dining with a member of the not-quite-so-fair sex, I’d certainly take this opportunity to spritz him with Chanel Bleu to keep your nasal passages happy until you starter arrives). I would have preferred it if she’d gone the whole Cornish hog, dressed as a comical pirate and screamed “Y’ARRR ME HEARTIES, ALL ABOARD MY PIRATE’S VESSEL FOR A VERTICAL JOURNEY, TREASURE AWAITS YE” into the foyer of Selfridges, but I suppose we can’t have everything.

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I always get over-excited by any mention of Cornwall anywhere beyond the A30, so I was hopping on the spot when I saw a chalkboard of facts to massage Cornwall’s collective ego. We have 433 miles of coastline! ”Vedo whye cawas badng?” is “do you want a drop to drink?” in Cornish! There are exactly* 6000,000,000,000,000 grains of sand on Perranporth beach alone! Superb.
*not exactly

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Don’t get me wrong, I am no prudish princess who requires an escort from the bathroom to her table; but I was a little disappointed that there was no one there to greet me and take me to my table. When you’re paying an arm and a (wooden) leg, y’arr, for fish and chips, there are certain things you’re buying other than the sorry trout on your plate and damn fine service is one of them. After hovering awkwardly, I made a beeline for the bar and let them know I had a reservation. They didn’t seem to know what to do, and it was just… awks. Eventually, a young woman approached me in classic Cornish garb: a stripy Breton tee, jeans and deck shoes, and seated me at the window. A Sundowner cocktail in hand (Cognac, earl grey, pineapple and sparkling wine), I awaited my guest.

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Rarely do I order three courses, particularly ahead of a bikini-heavy trip to Toulouse (more on that at the end of this week), so it was a one-course affair this time. Although tempted by the sea bass – as long as I trust the source, my fail-safe order is always scallops and sea bass – I branched out and went for the cod. I know, I know, someone pass this girl a sedative pronto, she’s wild. Equally pushing the boat out (I hope you see what I did there), Ally chose the fish and chips.

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Judging by the pricetags – £15 for his, £22 for mine – I imagine these codfish were both kings of their respective shoals, but mine had the taste factor to match (Ally’s too, I hear; but I’m batter-dodging). The summer vegetables with my cod were particularly succulent tomatoes (which made the dish), petit pois, mange tout and sprouting broccoli, and it came in a sinfully delicious Gusbourne Estate & sorrel sauce. A little research tells me Gusbourne Estate is a wine (I won’t pretend to be a wine buff… I’ve only just decided I’m too pretentious for Jacob’s Creek). They really ought to have used Camel Valley, if they’re going for a true Cornish vibe. In fact, Camel Valley didn’t make a single appearance on the wine list, much to my dismay (my house white was average); and there was but one cider! A true Cornish drinking hole, this is not, but its saving grace was the distinctive bottle of Tarquins at the bar. Look how joyous I was to be able to sample my very favourite drink in the whole wide world ever ever ever:

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I’ve heard a lot about the cute and colourful beach huts just around the corner but, due to an ominous-looking sky, the removable rooftop stayed put (it flirted with the idea of opening once or twice, but the staff clearly knew better than to expose us to the early September elements), and ultimately deprived us of an al fresco dining experience. The lighting was beautiful, though, making it a food blogger’s paradise.
The cuisine was perhaps a little too haute to smack of a genuine Cornish vibe, and I felt the decor was less Kernow (that’s ‘Cornwall’ in Cornish) than ‘my-second-home-at-the-seaside’; but I suppose this is Selfridges on Oxford Street, after all. As far as luxe Cornishness in the Big Smoke goes, it certainly deserves a pat on the back, but I feel a little more research into a Cornish menu and ambiance was necessary before they slapped a £25 tag on a single sea bass.

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