sure do see a lot more going on around this place than you do in a
restaurant,” groans Nick Barclay as he trudges up the stairwell, toting
all three of my suitcases. On the second floor, he flashes me a
devilish grin. “In fact, sometimes it’s really a bit like Fawlty Towers
“Here” is The Barclay
House, a small hotel carved into the English hillside overlooking the
river valley of Looe, a historic Cornish fishing village that dates
back to the 12th century. From my cozy, bright-blue room with a big bay
window, the refined surroundings appear to be anything but an inn run
Barclay charmed Dallas
for 18 years with his brilliant cuisine. He broke plenty of Dallas
hearts and palates two years ago when he closed his popular modern
Euro-British restaurant, Barclays, at the pinnacle of its success to
move back to the southwestern tip of England (where the cuisine could
use a little modernizing) with his wife Kelli and their three children,
Hannah, Nick, and Lucy. “Not only did I want to be close to my mum,”
says Barclay in his chirpy British accent, “but I’ve always dreamt of
owning a place like this. We wanted to raise our kids in the country,
as far away from the Golden Arches as we could get.”
They purchased a
12-bedroom Victorian hotel originally built in 1890—relatively new by
Cornish standards—about 45 minutes from the closest Big Mac. Barclay
also acquired eight luxury cottages, built of Cornish stone, as well as
three wooded acres that surround the property. Together the Barclays
rolled up their sleeves and started renovating.
The result is a warm,
friendly place that is as elegant as it is casual. There are two
parlors: one beckons you to sit in front of the fireplace with a cuppa
tea and have a good “chinwag” with fellow travelers; the other invites
you to relax with an after-dinner brandy. Between the two parlors, a
hand-carved staircase winds up three floors of guest rooms, each with
all of the comforts of home, including satellite TV, coffee and tea
service, and a deep soaking tub.
We should all have a
home so grand. From the front rooms, the view is breathtaking. The Looe
River runs just beneath the hotel, and with each tide comes a new
spectacle. During high tide, the emerald green waters provide a highway
for sailboats. After the waters recede to the sea, the muddy bottom is
a bird’s (and birder’s) paradise—thousands of curlews, dunlins, and
grey plovers gather swiftly, stabbing at the buffet of crabs and
mussels half-buried in the soft mud.
Not to be outdone by
his feathered friends, Barclay has a “personal fisherman” who calls the
kitchen from his cell phone so the chef can ready the ingredients for
the catch of the day. The local waters are full of sea bass, sole,
brill, turbot, and John Dory. The menu—priced by the course and changed
daily—is familiar to Barclay loyalists. But the tables have turned on
the chef—now the man who taught Dallas about “bubble and squeak” finds
himself educating the Brits on the finer points of pico de gallo.
Besides his valet from
the sea, Barclay has a regular stream of local purveyors who bring him
produce, meats, cheeses, and herbs. The fresh flavors of watercress,
real English peas, and just-picked berries dance in your mouth. Paired
with a bottle of Cornish wine, a meal at Barclay’s Restaurant is
Cornwall on a plate.
From the hotel’s
positioning in Looe, it’s easy to explore the far corners of this
country, which is rich in the heritage of King Arthur and the Knights
of the Roundtable, the Hound of the Baskervilles, and the Pirates of
Penzance. Five thousand years of history hit you at every turn.
On a rare day off,
Barclay and I met under the Texas flag in front of his house and set
out in the green Ford Explorer that he brought with him from Dallas.
(It’s easy to see why the locals fondly refer to him as “Texas
Ted”—he’s the only driver in Looe with a left-hand drive and Texas
plates.) We trundled across the countryside—a picturesque patchwork of
velvety green pastures divided by miles of ancient hedgerows—to
Padstow, a fishing port on the Atlantic coast. We tried to lunch at one
of Britain’s top dining spots, The Seafood Restaurant, owned by Rick
Stein (yes, the one with the famous TV show), but we missed the 2:30 pm
closing time. Instead, we meandered through stone cottages built in the
Middle Ages and opted for traditional fare at a local pub.
From Padstow, we headed
north along a beautiful stretch of classic Cornish fishing villages and
rugged coastline to Boscastle, then on to visit the preserved remains
of Tintagel Castle, the legendary birthplace of King Arthur. After
Texas Ted parked the Explorer, we set out for a nice walk across the
heather- and gorse-clad cliffs.
I devoted the next day
to discovering Looe. From Barclay House it’s just a five-minute walk
along cobblestone streets to the center of this tiny village. I
wandered the curvy alleyways, discovering The Old Hall, a fabulous
bookstore with a large collection from Cornwall’s most famous author,
Daphne du Mauriers; several surprisingly good local art galleries; and
many small antique shops filled with remarkable buys.
I also found foodie
heaven. The small shops of Looe are brimming with locally produced
traditional foods, and samples are readily available. I made a lunch of
a couple of slices of Cornish yarg—a firm, buttery cheese scented from
the nettle leaves wrapped around the mold—stuffed into a bun fresh from
a bakery’s oven.
Dodging the diving sea
gulls, I walked along the sandy beach and past the seafood market,
where lobsters, crabs, mackerel, and sole were displayed on ice. I
crossed the bridge that divides East Looe (the money side) from West
Looe (the sunny side) and wandered up the steep cliffs as I licked a
cone of rich Cornish ice cream.
I managed to get back
to East Looe in time for tea at the Golden Guinea, a small eatery
constructed in 1632. Under the wooden-beamed ceiling (mind your head!),
I had my first formal Cornish tea—a steaming pot of the local brew
accompanied by two fist-sized scones and ramekins of fresh jams and
clotted cream—the thick “double double” delicacy brought tears to my
On my way back up the
hill to The Barclay House, I dashed into a bakery to pick up a little
something for dinner: a meat and potato-stuffed pasty, the food most
often associated with Cornwall. Originally baked as an all-in-one meal
for the miners to take to the depths of the mine, the inceptive pasty
had a savory filling on one end and a sweet one at the other. The
exterior crust was crimped along the edges to make it easy for the
miner to hold with arsenic-stained hands. Come to think of it, the
pasty might be the original convenience food.
Look out, Nick. The McPasty could be sold under the Golden Arches soon.
|Just the Facts
|Where to Stay
The Barclay House, St. Martins Rd., East Looe, Cornwall PL13 1LP 044503262929 or www.barclayhouse.co.uk
Daily rates: from $75 per person, April-October;
from $60 per person, October-March
Weekly rates: one bedroom from $525-$975,
two bedrooms from $675-$1,342, or three bedrooms from $787-$1,495 Rates include a full English breakfast, tax,and newspaper.
|How To Get There
American Airlines, British Airways, and United
all fly nonstop to London Gatwick airport. You can make the
four-and-a-half hour drive southwest or take a connecting flight to
Plymouth. The Barclay House can arrange pick-up from the Plymouth
|What to Do
Padstow, Boscastle, Tintagel:
Rick Stein’s Seafood Restaurant, Padstow, 044841532700 or www.theaa.co/restaurants
Tour of Tintagel Castle, the birthplace of King Arthur, www.cornwall-online.co.uk
From April to October, this holiday destination is hopping with beach-goers. Take tea at the Golden Guinea (Fore St., 044503262780) and dinner at The Moonlight Tandoori Restaurant (Fore St., 044503265372). You can spend a whole afternoon browsing new and used books at The Old Hall Bookshop and Gallery (Shutte Rd., 044503263700).