In 2012 The Tolcarne Inn opened its doors with Chef Proprietor Ben Tunnicliffe at the helm. Ten years later, we’re proud to be known as one of the top places to enjoy fresh fish in the whole of the UK. Here’s a glimpse behind the scenes, as we follow the journey of a typical dish – from fishing boat to fork!
It’s first-thing, and The Tolcarne’s rustic wooden tables are yet to be laid for guests. Later they will play host to dog walkers, real ale drinkers and food-lovers, all soaking up the atmosphere of this historic maritime inn, but in the meantime Chef Director Ben Tunnicliffe is hard at work, pouring over his ideas for the daily menu.
“The day hinges around an early morning conversation with my fish merchant, as well as any calls from day boat fishermen who sell us their catch direct” explains Ben.
“I get out my notebook and start scribbling away, combining the best of the catch with the seasonal, fresh produce already arriving at the kitchen door.”
Newlyn has for long been one of the busiest and most important fishing ports in the UK and over 50 species are landed here.
When Ben took the helm at The Tolcarne, Newlyn lacked a strong draw for the foodie crowd, but the town’s raw beauty and industrious vibe appealed to him.
The town now boasts an acclaimed filmhouse, a neighbourhood wine bar, an artisan cheese shop and numerous other successful eateries as well as galleries – it’s one of the most vibrant places in Cornwall right now.
The fish market has been modernised in recent years and many major suppliers are based here.
However, Ben also has a license to buy the catch direct from vessels known as day boats – these small fishing boats go in and out with the tides, fish immediately offshore, and use traditional and sustainable techniques to catch their low-impact quotas.
Amongst other things, today Ben has sourced some beautiful red mullet, one of his favourite ingredients. Red mullet has a lovely flavour and texture which allows it to stands up to other strong flavours – it works especially well in Mediterranean-inspired dishes.
This will go onto the blackboard served with Cornish mussels, gnocchi and pesto – one of the more substantial dishes on the menu today.
The format of lunch at The Tolcarne is a ‘small plates menu’, the idea being that guests order a selection and build their own seafood feast.
Fish and shellfish are partnered with fresh produce from market gardens and community farms, hence the menu naturally evolves with the seasons. Ben’s ethos is to combine flavours simply and instinctively, letting the quality of the ingredients speak for themselves.
Below is Ben’s recipe for Red mullet, with mussels, pesto and gnocchi. He of course makes his own gnocchi and pesto, but in this recipe we’ve suggested replacing these with shop-bought versions for ease.
4 portions of red mullet – filleted, scaled and pin bones removed
1 kg mussels – cleaned
2 large carrots
2 sticks Celery
1 bulb of Fennel
4 banana shallots
Fish/light chicken stock
Gnocchi, homemade or shop bought
Wash the mussels in cold water removing any barnacles, and any stringy bits from where the shells open and close. Refrigerate until required.
Peel and roughly chop the vegetables to similar sized pieces, and sweat in some olive oil without colouring until tender. Add about ¼ pt of stock and the mussels. Cover with a lid and cook until the mussels are all open – discard any that don’t open. Add the cooked gnocchi. Stir and bring back to a gentle boil. Stir in a generous amount of pesto, taste and adjust with more pesto and/or seasoning according to taste.
Whilst the sauce is finishing, fry the red mullet fillets in a hot frying pan with a splash of oil. Do most of the cooking on the skin and just turn on to the flesh side to finish. I always slightly undercook fish as residual heat will finish the cooking process.
Serve in suitable bowl-type dish, with the cooked fillets of red mullet on top. You could add flourishes such as asparagus if in season, or some sundried tomatoes for added colour.