Friday, 31 August 2012

The Gurnard's Head, Zennor


Among the more elaborate theories of the Hungarian psychoanalyst Sandor Ferenczi, is the idea of Thalassal Trend, the desire to return to a sea-state, manifested through dreams of becoming a fish. I invariably forget my dreams, but as a Pisces I’m jealous of anybody who nightly shoals and spawns with a thousand like-minded neurotics while I snore and dribble my way into the void.

If Ferenczi was still with us, I am sure he could convince me in a completely plausible way that I, too, harbour a fantasy of returning to a sea-state. Who knows, he might even get me into the water. As a child the best journeys always ended in the sea, where now they finish at the beach or, better still, a cliff. I want the scent of tide; the percussive smash and clawing of waves; the luminosity - but I also want to be dry. Dry and warm. Nowadays, the sea must seduce me from a distance.

A love of the ocean is an affair of the heart and mind, and nowhere is this desire better fulfilled than at the Gurnard’s Head Hotel. The Cornish roads whittle down to single tracks the moment you cross the county-line, and past St Ives, these meandering lanes, like Swinburne’s weariest river, eventually “wind somewhere safe to sea”.  A mile west of Zennor and you come to the Hotel, and beyond that, to the north, the Gurnard’s Head proper, an obstinate lava promontory, humped leviathan-like within the swell.

Painted across the Hotel’s roof in big letters is THE GURNARD’S HEAD; - a sign would blow over, or be ripped away by gales. The weather forecast for Zennor is The Shipping Forecast. Few trees grow here, and there’s a year-round khaki scorch to the grass. The first time I stayed it hailed on me in the car park, but when I visited this June the platinum sun rolled uninterrupted through the blue space of day.

Head Chef, Bruce Rennie, trained with Martin Wishart in Edinburgh, but his food is altogether more primal. There is no rendering of the familiar into novel, unrecognisable forms; instead, Bruce has perfected the more important skills of seasoning and cooking à point. Calves liver and lamb shank were nourishing and full of flavour, and if I hadn’t been worried about appearing greedy I would have immediately re-ordered Dover Sole served with capers and fennel.

The wine list is an affirmation of proprietor Charles Inkin’s taste. The worst wine lists are those that lamely offer you the world in the hope that you will see something you’ll recognise; the best scream “This is what we like, and you will like it too!”  I had my first taste of Fichet’s brilliant Hautes-Côtes de Beaune at the Gurnard’s, and was blind tasted on an interesting Slovenian wine that I couldn’t remember the name of the next morning.  The red wines are also strung together by Charles’ passion, rather than by region or country. Burgundy and Bordeaux seem to become deeper, darker versions of themselves when served on these Cornish cliff tops, and the Ridge Monte Bello I opened one night  appeared to add extra muscle mass to its already well-developed form.

In a few weeks I will get down to the Gurnard’s Head again, just in time for the equinoctial gales. If Cornwall is a kingdom, then Zennor is a fiefdom within it. I haven’t been anywhere else that makes this Island feel so much like an island. I will arrive for lunch, but lowering skies or a change in the tide has a habit of turning lunch into dinner there. I shall, as the Gurnard's Head brochure advises, “Eat, drink, sleep”, and maybe, just this once, dream briny, monocular, fishy thoughts.  

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