The Idle Rocks, St Mawes, Cornwall: hotel review

November 3, 2013

Under new ownership, the Idle Rocks on St Mawes harbour has reinvented itself as the coolest pad around. Slight pity the restaurant doesn’t match the laid-back vibe

It is 15 years since St Mawes threw its hat into the ring as a bastion of British beach chic. Hotel Tresanton, created by a member of the Forte family, lured parents with country house-on-sea simplicity which eschewed wipe-clean surfaces while welcoming their kids. Tresanton was instrumental, too, in attracting visitors to Cornwall year-round, proving that quality always has a market, whatever the weather.

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Today, a new pretender to the crown of coolest pad in St Mawes has arrived. Well, not arrived, exactly. The Idle Rocks was sitting on St Mawes harbour, hogging the best views, long before I first came in 2001. But the sturdy, whitewash-and-slate hotel is in new hands. David Richards – motorsport supremo and chairman of Aston Martin – and his wife Karen have gutted the place.

I peer from reception through a partition of glass and industrial grey steel. Downstairs is essentially one, long, sea-facing room, which starts with fashionably distressed leather armchairs by the fire, slides effortlessly into the slate expanse of the bar and ends in the restaurant – white napery with your seascape.

Inspired touches include wool wraps on the terrace, David Pearce’s vibrant art and a bloody Mary station at breakfast.

The Hideaway is a mini-suite looking out over cottages and slate roofs rather than the sea, like some of the more expensive rooms. “Sally” is chalked on a slate hanging on the door. No full-length mirror, and the Aromatherapy Associates set doesn’t extend to oil for the gloriously deep bath, but I like it here very much. Something’s disturbing my peace, though. Front desk says it’s a chiller, which will go off. (It does, but after midnight, and I tell them so next day.)

I meet Cornish friends in the restaurant, which, from the press blurb, has a state-of-the-art kitchen. We sip delicious wine (with quite a mark-up), and like the menu section entitled In the Shell, from which one can choose exactly how many scallops to have. What I’d call rustic fare – moules, mackerel (at an un-rustic £16) and Barnsley chop – jostles with fine dining items such as crab-stuffed “heirloom” tomato with blobs of gazpacho on a smear of olive purée, baked cod in a delicate breadcrumb “croute”, and a £30 steak with bone marrow “scotch egg” which still requires vegetable sides at £4 each.

No denying the cooking skills – each pudding is a work of art – but isn’t this menu at odds with the hotel’s relaxed, coastal vibe? Which is a great pity. Because in 2013, that’s a consummate winning style.

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• Accommodation was provided by The Idle Rocks. Travel was provided by First Great Western, (firstgreatwestern.co.uk), which has returns from London Paddington to St Austell from £34.40

Sally Shalam

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