We spent our holiday down at my Mum’s house in South West Cornwall this year and before setting off, I did some extensive research into good, well reviewed Penzance eateries. I knew we would get at least one night to ourselves (childless), which is one of the benefits of staying with family. That said, we wanted to make sure that the evening was spent wisely, drinking plentifully and consuming decent food made with local ingredients.
Fish is always a favourite when dining by the sea of course, it just seems somehow incorrect to order a meat based meal when you have fresh ocean catch at your fingertips. On that premise, I had focused my search on restaurants and cafés that offered a large choice of seafood. Trip Advisor rated ‘Mackerel Sky’ within the top two places to eat in Penzance, and after reading a few pages of very positive feedback, my mind was pretty much made up.
We booked a table for eight o’clock on a Wednesday night, and were promptly shown to our table upstairs after finding the place tucked away on a side street off the main road through the town. The first thing to grab my attention was a beautiful painting portraying the view looking out from Mounts Bay which covered the whole back wall. I immediately felt relaxed (particularly as there was also a lovely interpretation of a lighthouse next to our table – I have a deep appreciation for them you see, just one of my many fascinations!)
Almost every table appeared to be occupied (not with holiday makers either – most seemed to be locals – a promising sign) and the atmosphere was full of content chatter. The specials board happened to be placed near to my chair, so I had a clear view of all of the extras available. Or not, as the case may be. We were told immediately on sitting down that they only had two portions of lobster left…and within the few minutes it took to fetch the menus and a pad, on taking our order the waitress told us that they had been snapped up! It wasn’t a problem, in truth I thought it was great that the staff were knowledgable of what was happening with the food. Nothing worse than having your heart set on something from the menu, only to be informed while waiting that they’ve ‘run out’. Anyhow, from this I deduced that the lobster is popular and thus almost certainly very good. Next time, perhaps (if we book in early enough).
So, on to the food we did actually eat. All of it was delicious. We went for the tasting board to start, which, when you saw how much was presented, was reasonably priced at just fourteen pounds for a sharer. It included smoked salmon, white anchovies, smoked mackerel pate, squid and aioli, plus a selection of local cheeses. I found the pate particularly flavoursome, and the stand out part for Dan was the squid. Not at all rubbery, fresh and with a nice crisp coating. The Cornish Yarg (produced in Cornwall and made from the milk of Friesian cows) was the winning cheese for me. All of it came with ample bread and a selection of mixed olives.
I had chosen my main even before we had arrived. For some time now, I’ve wanted to sample fish tacos, being something we are unlikely to cook at home (predominantly due to the price of fish these days). What better place to try them than by the sea?! I’ve seen many versions of them and I wasn’t disappointed when ours were served (Dan went for the same as me). They were huge…and came with a pot of creme fraiche on the side. The filling inside was a selection of white local fish (succulent and well cooked) that had been pan fried with Cajun spices and mixed with homemade Salsa. They definitely had a kick to them (without overpowering the dish) and the whole thing was perfectly balanced in flavour and texture. Again, I thought that just over ten pounds was extremely good value considering the generous portion size.
Naturally I made some room for a dessert, even though by the time it came to the third course, I was pleasantly full. I always tend to opt for ice cream and the Cornish variety is especially tasty. They stock Roskilly’s here (I must admit I was hoping for Moomaid of Zennor, but this is also wonderful) and I had a scoop of the wild cherry and dark choc chip, plus a scoop of the golden Cornish Fudge. With a little homemade shortbread biscuit on the side (sweet touch I thought) and a couple of juicy strawberries, it didn’t hang around for long as I devoured it within minutes (while Dan savoured his cognac). It rounded the meal off a treat and all for under four pounds (how many places can you say that for these days).
To accompany our meal I had a caraf of wine and my husband had a pint of local ale. The prices escape me but we certainly didn’t think that we were paying over the odds. And that sentiment supports the entire eating experience in general. I thought it was tremendous value for money, quality local produce in a relaxed and friendly environment. All that you can ask from a dining experience – as someone who lives around the corner or as a tourist.
I hear that the Cornish crab rarebit on the lunch menu is one not to be missed, so I’ll certainly be returning for that, and possibly the smoked mackerel burger too. Holidays are never long enough…particularly when you like eating as much as we do, and you find a gem such as Mackerel Sky. See you next year guys…unless I can talk the other half into a Christmas time visit – I’m working on it!