'It’s not rock ‘n’ roll, but I still rather like it': The Idle Rocks, St Mawes, restaurant review

Our reviewer had the foresight to book well in advance, but Covid and the British weather had other ideas

The stunning view from the waterside terrace at The Idle Rocks in St Mawes, Cornwall, when it’s not pouring
The stunning view from the waterside terrace at The Idle Rocks in St Mawes, when it’s not pouring Credit: Brian Robinson Photography

I am occasionally so ­extraordinarily perspicacious that I have to congratulate myself, publicly – booking a summer holiday in Cornwall way back in February when Cornwall was still Cornwall rather than the new Provence, for example.

Our first-week-of-August holiday was booked spontaneously while I recovered surprisingly slowly from a tenacious bout of something flu-ey, which had kicked-in in late December and left me feeling very tired, achey, cough-ey and (frustratingly for a restaurant writer) with a greatly reduced sense of taste and smell, even weeks later. (And in case you think I am auditioning for the part of Princess Hindsight in a Christmas 2020 Zoom-Panto, I did mention this in my review of Volta do Mar, back in January).  

Anyway, having nailed the perfect little Roseland Airbnb, I booked a midweek holiday supper for four at the chichi Idle Rocks ­hotel in St Mawes, which a little bird told me had recently recruited a new head chef from Le Manoir. However, “smug” is as un-2020 a word as “mask” is bang-on-trend.

“Hello, I’m just calling from The Idle Rocks to say that we have to cancel your booking for supper next Wednesday. An increase in corona­virus cases means we’re only opening to residents for supper, but you could still come for lunch.”

“Hang on, so there’s only an ­increase in coronavirus cases in the evenings?”

“We really need to keep our residents safe!”

“Sure, but what if they’re also eating at lunchtime?” A pause as, presumably, this logical curveball hit its target, then: “Well, as I say you’re welcome to come for lunch.”

On Wednesday morning, on my personal “Precipitator” scale of 1-10 the rain was registering a six – ie, Welsh – while by lunchtime it was easily an eight – roughly Queensland – and so I fully expected a call from The Idle Rocks asking us to eat in our car.

However, as we scurried from the car park across the road to the attractive hotel, hunkered on the bay in arguably one of ­Cornwall’s most squint-and-you’re-in-Liguria spots, to receive a warm, mask-free welcome at reception with only a lone medium-sized hand sanitiser to remind us that we weren’t back in the Old Normal.

This somewhat contradicted the hotel’s previous stance, though I wasn’t complaining. Anyway, I’d always thought The Idle Rocks was a slightly more rock(s)’n’roll version of the Hotel Tresanton (just up the road), aimed at similarly well-heeled, even slebby, families and couples looking for upscale (if drizzly) escapism.

But no, the pretty, airy dining room was more chic golf clubhouse than it was Soho House manqué, with clientele of a similar demographic. I was quite surprised; where were Jeremy, Jemima and little Otis, Zak and Ruby? Were they surfing near Newquay? Hunkered down, playing Jenga? Or, ­indeed, over at The Tresanton?

At the Idle Rocks it was wall-to-wall septuagenarians, plus, rivetingly, one ­elderly man and his very beautiful and very young Asian wife, busy posting selfies ­in-between laughing at his jokes.

Charred mackerel glazed with dashi, radish, avocado at The Idle Rocks, St Mawes, Cornwall Credit: The Idle Rocks

We were seated with a lovely view of the ­rain-lashed terrace and clouds, however service started off badly; after about 15 minutes I had to ask for menus and though there was no Set, the à la carte was just as short – three dishes per course – with prices very much aimed at those enjoying final-salary pensions.

“ALFRESCO LUNCH” the menu ­announced, optimistically, as the outside carried on working its way through intense permutations on the theme of rain as though it were auditioning for a training video aimed at Met Officers. Implausibly, my 14-year-old son’s favourite meal is a Chicken Caesar – and here it was, with “aged parmesan”. Verdict: “This is very nice. Easily the nicest Caesar ever!”

His guest, meanwhile, seized the opportunity to fill his giant teenage boots with an equally aged medium-rare rib eye, with confit shallot butter, “lizard leaves” (I know the Roseland has its own ecosystem but that “lizard” should’ve been upper case, surely?) as well as reassuringly “real chips” – wow, but teenage boys can eat a lot – and this was pronounced “mmmm!”

Meanwhile, my partner and I both had Catch of the Day: a lovely meaty little piece of salsa verde-slicked turbot – local, I ­assume, given turbot favours sandy ­estuaries – atop a small cumulus of purple cauliflower and butter beans.

So, while I had to keep asking for things from the (friendly, if slightly vague) staff, the food was on-point; if we’d been “ALFRESCO” in blazing sunshine I would have had a couple of glasses of wine instead of a solo Peroni, nonetheless, it felt like being on holiday – and in 2020 that’s enough to constitute a proverbial good time had by all.

Having personally endured a fairly horrible 2019, I had decided at the ­beginning of this year that when my eldest son, in Year 13, had successfully sat his A-levels and embarked on the university course of his dreams, I was going to do a bit more of what I wanted to do. So much for perspicacity, eh?

There has been no logic to 2020 – not even when it comes to algorithms, where you’d reasonably expect there to be quite a lot – however we must continue to congratulate ourselves on our ability to roll with the punches, just as our teenagers have done this week. And the next time I’m in St Mawes I’ll look forward to enjoying a balmy supper on that terrace.