Words & Photography by Gabriella Dyson
From the moment we stepped off the ferry I knew we were in for a treat. The little harbour town of Padstow was festooned with lights and decorations for its annual Christmas Festival. Colourful fishing boats bobbed up and down in the harbour and we passed eager tourists and locals alike, whose arms were filled with tasty food and trinkets…
Cornwall’s Edible Offerings
First up on our agenda was a trip to the main Padstow Festival marque. There was a real buzz about the town and the marque promised plenty of foodie stalls and local artisan makers. With Christmas right around the corner I was in the market for something special to gift my friends and family.
Amongst the many stalls and crowds, I spied several well known Cornish brands and plenty of independent makers. Not wanting to leave empty handed, I made sure to snap up an Appletons Negroni and a bottle of Knightor Pinot Noir. I nibbled on some delicate fish goujons from Rick Steins popup food stall and made a stop at the Sharps Brewery bar; where we sampled their delicious Coconut Stout and a newly developed beer that tasted like caramelised banana…
Cooking with Beer
After a whistlestop tour of the main marque, we grabbed ourselves front-row seats in the Sharp’s Chef Demo tent. Head Beer Sommelier, Ed Hughes, was joined by two of Padstow’s most talented young chefs, gearing up to demonstrate how to cook with three of Sharp’s most popular beers: Offshore, Wolf Rock and Doom Bar.
First up, we watched as they whipped up some Chicken Kievs. They made quick work of the tasty midweek meal and paired it with a refreshing Offshore Pilsner (which the audience got to sample). I really enjoy this lager, as it’s crisp, clean and citrusy. You can’t really go wrong pairing it with something like a crispy kiev and I made sure I noted down the recipe or future reference.
Next, they cooked up some fragrant Cornish Mussels with Doom Bar Beer and some little handmade pies that paired excellently with their Wolf Rock Red IPA. Since the demo was only an hour long, and they managed to put together some seriously tasty dishes, I’ve been pretty tempted to recreate them at home. I was surprised by just how subtle the addition of beer was, but equally it added real depth of flavour to the food.
Of the three beers we sampled during the demo, my favourite had to be Doom Bar. It’s a classic amber ale and you really can’t go wrong pairing it with battered seafood like calamari, grilled white fish, or even a decadent Sunday roast. The beer takes its name from the treacherous Doom Bar sandbank at the mouth of the Camel Estuary in Rock. The sandbank is revered as a formidable nautical challenge – but despite its perilous namesake the beer is really moreish!
Sharps Secret Sessions & Silent Bistro
Demos done, it was time to experience the main event – the secret sessions and the silent bistro. Both of these immersive concepts really have to be experienced to get the full impact, but without giving anything away here’s the general gist: These experiences are designed to get you better acquainted with Sharp’s beers and put your tastebuds to the test. But it’s no ordinary beer tasting. Expect everything from mood lighting to fine dining morsels and noise cancelling headphones. For example, before the secret sessions started we were all herded into the back of a darkly lit van and asked to share our favourite movie with the group. During the Silent Bistro, you don a pair of headphones and you’re asked to communicate your thoughts by scribbling ideas onto a whiteboard. It sounds like madness but what they’re doing is flipping your existing ideas about beer onto their head and challenging you to think outside the box. I don’t want to ruin the surprise by sharing any more here, but I definitely encourage you to seek out these experiences at the next big Sharp’s event.
Tasting Menu & Beer Pairings at Mahe
Worn out from a day spent browsing and sipping on beers (it’s a tough life) it was time to round off the day at one of Padstow’s finest establishments…
Paul Ainsworth’s No.6 has long been regarded as one of Cornwall’s top culinary venues (especially where Michelin Stars are concerned). So, I was incredibly excited to learn that he was opening an adjoining cookery school and chef’s table experience.
Mahé Cookery School and Chef’s Table is a totally unique and personal experience. Ahead of our meal we were asked to select our favourite songs, which were then compiled into the soundtrack for the evening. As we arrived we were shown into a private space, decorated with one-of-a-kind antiques and bespoke furnishings. It’s a relaxed, moody space in the heart of Padstow and offers guests an incredible opportunity to sit just centimetres away from the a world-class kitchen.
As a group, we were treated to Sharp’s Beer cocktails before taking our seats around a chic marble counter, overlooking Chef John Walton and his small team. Over the course of the evening, they served a seven-course menu of modern British gastronomy, crafted from meticulously sourced Cornish produce and paired with complementary beers. I was fortunate enough to be seated by Ed Hughes during the dinner, so I got to hear all about each drink as it was poured – and boy was it an experience…
John’s bespoke tasting menu ordinarily costs £125 per person, and changes with the seasons to celebrate the produce grown, made, caught and farmed just miles from Mahé’s door. As expected, dishes were highly accomplished and the accompanying beers were expertly chosen.
Highlights of the meal included a rich Pigs Head Fritter with Roast Onion, Bramley Apple & Smoked Eel. This was accompanied by a Sharps Camel Valley Pilsner – which cut right through the richness and cleansed your palate between each delicious mouthful. Equally, the succulent Scallop with ‘Two Roe’ Beurre Blanc was quite possibly one of the tastiest
However, the star of the show had to be the masterfully cooked Fillet of Beef with Bacon Mousseline & Pomme Noodle. I dare say that I had given up any hope of keeping my belt done up by this point in the evening and the pairing of Wolf Rock Red IPA was an excellent choice from Ed.
Mahe is so good, I urge you to book a table for yourself and the foodie in your life. I never would have guessed that beer could complement so many varied and delicate dishes, but I was honestly taken aback by how fantastic each course and pairing was. John was a fabulous host throughout the evening and his cooking is outstanding. Without a doubt, Mahé is an experience that you must add to your Cornwall foodie hit-list.
Exploring Sharps Brewery
After a restful nights sleep at St Mortiz Hotel, it was time to check out Sharps Brewery. Having been to a couple of breweries before, I thought I knew what to expect. But I wasn’t prepared for the sheer scale of the venture. The brewery is located right by the sea and is the ideal space to create beers that reflect its Cornish heritage.
We were given a guided tour by Technical Brewer David Barr – whose passion and enthusiasm for brewing is abundantly clear. While I don’t claim to be particularly clued up on the technical side of beer making, I was certainly fascinated to get a glimpse into the large scale production behind some of our favourite lagers and ales. Everyone we spoke to seemed to live and breathe the lifestyle and I left with a new found respect for the world of beer.