Fancy a dining experience, which is more like a food adventure, where you journey through everything Cornwall – and, in particular, Falmouth – has to offer without leaving your seat, with a guarantee of tasting at least one dish you’ve never experienced before?
If the answer is yes, then you need to book a table at Culture at Custom House Quay in Falmouth, which opened earlier this month. The brainchild of South African chef Hylton Espey and his wife Petronella, the pared-back restaurant with 30 covers is doing something bold, new and exciting.
Culture offers nature-inspired cuisine, much of it taken from small farms, lone fishermen, vegetable patches and foraging sites in and around Falmouth. The carbon footstep is low but the flavours in a series of ingenious dishes are high.
Hylton’s well-known in Falmouth for the six years he was head chef at Rastella, the restaurant at Merchants Manor hotel, where he gained a reputation for inventive cooking as well as 3 AA rosettes. Before making the move to Cornwall from his native South Africa, Hylton was executive chef at the renowned sustainability-focused Cavalli Estate in Helderberg. Previously he trained under some of South Africa’s best-known chefs and worked at the country’s top restaurants including the award-winning Ginja in Cape Town.
It was always his and Petronella’s dream to open their own place, where the food is ethical and all about the local suppliers. If their Journey menu is anything to go by, they are on to a winner. An overseas diner near me said he’d experienced at least two orgasms while traversing the taster menu. I think I may have had a third thanks to Hylton’s reinvention of the simple potato.
Based just below the popular South African restaurant Amanzi (what is it with South Africans and Falmouth?), down the slipway to Custom House Quay, Culture has a cool, spare design featuring raw wood, open masonry and blackened steel countertops giving it an industrial yet welcoming feel. There’s the sort of wine cellar in the corner you expect to see in some New York arthouse movie, while Hylton cooks alone in the small open kitchen – explaining the dishes and answering questions as he goes.
The two young waiting staff, knowledgeable of the food’s provenance, add to this wholly pleasurable experience, which is basically all about some extraordinary dishes. Anyone wanting a straightforward menu may need to dine elsewhere. This is where it gets intriguing as the seven-course Journey Menu pretty much says nothing about the food you’ll be eating.
You have to wait until it’s brought to your table, before you discover what it is you’re about to eat. Exciting or frustrating? I found it a refreshingly new and thrilling experience, but you decide.
Get the best stories about the things you love most curated by us and delivered to your inbox every day. Choose what you love here.
So the first course is ‘Flurry’ – this is what the menu says: “As you leave the A30 behind you and descend into Falmouth there is an amazing view of the harbour and fields behind, this is our inspiration behind a flurry of snacks as unwind and settle into your experience.”
What that actually means is three tapas-style dishes – pork crackling, smoked mackerel pâté on a sourdough crumpet finished with a wild garlic caper and, a real winner this, Cornish gouda churros. Yes, a ridiculously light doughnut filled with sweet, creamy cheese – so light it’s like biting into a cloud.
Next was ‘Golden Grains’ – “William grows ancient varieties of wheat for flavour, nutrition and soil health. Our Lady Killigrew sourdough starter has been with us since March 2016, finding her way into our freshly baked bread ever since”. That means lovely, crumbly wholewheat bread, using grains from the Golden Grains farm at Grampound Road, milled by Hylton, with a wonderful piquant miso butter, using the same wheat.
‘Patrick’s Patch’ is a course dedicated to a small holding, based at nearby Budock. The menu states: “Patrick arrives at the door caked in soil, bringing in pure delights from his field down the road. He grows pure flavour-driven vegetables with surprises throughout the seasons.”
What arrived at the table is a dish unlike anything I’ve ever seen or tasted before. It looked beautiful – sunflower petals, chive petals, cornflower petals and pickled onion flower petals on a chive custard. It tasted better – the flowers (picked by Culture’s front of house staff) all have distinctive peppery flavours while the chive custard will forever banish thoughts that custard needs to be sweet and poured over a pud.
Ingenious as was the ‘Rob’s Harvest’ course – “This is a story of one farm, Rob grows some magic vegetables for us, some of which appear elsewhere on the menu” – what Rob from Stithians actually helped produce was another dish which blew my mind and taste buds.
Who knew the humble spud could produce something so astounding? This all-in-one potato dish sees a potato skin and sage crumb sit on top of an aerated potato velouté with sautéed potato hidden in the ‘soup’. Whatever wizard-like powers Hylton possesses meant this was as surprising a dish as I’ve ever tasted (and one of the causes of the Spaniard’s orgasm).
A quick mention for the wines here – Hylton studies viticulture and works with two South African vineyards – Remhoogte Wine Estate and Alheit Vineyards – both of which feature on the Culture wine list. The list of new and old world wines, featuring some South West varieties, is different – our Susanna Balbo signature rose from Argentina (not a country you’d expect to produce a rose) was light and fragrant, luckily matching all the dishes. You can pay a further £35 for a wine flight alongside the Journey menu.
Next up was ‘Nansidwell’. Back to the menu: “Wandering down the woodland path, the forest gives way to the sea, this is one of our favourite destinations for inspiration”. Obviously, a seafood dish then – scallops from Mylor, with the roes used to make a smoked butter sauce with farmer Rob’s cauliflower and foraged samphire. Blissful, particularly that heady sauce.
Expectantly guessing what had to come next, thanks to the descriptions, ‘Pasture’ had to be the meat course. “Crossing the Tamar bridge into Cornwall you are greeted with the vista that is Bodmin Moor. This is where some of our favourite farms raise ethical venison, pork, dairy and chickens.”
So it was grass-fed venison combined with every part of a beetroot from Rob’s farm, including the stalk, which has been roasted, pickled and made into a roulade, finished with a jus made from the venison and peppery Alexander seeds. The deep red of the ingredients makes this a prize for the eyes, while the deep fruitiness of the beetroot is a perfect match for the bold venison.
The adventure ended with ‘Tregoniggie’ (though there’s an extra dish of Cornish blue with biscuits and a fantastic rhubarb pickle if you have room). The menu says: “Walking through these pine woods you will stumble upon Chocolarder – Falmouth-based bean to bar chocolate, sailed from South America to Falmouth, zero carbon, sustainable and maximum flavour.”
That means a chocolate dessert with hidden depths. The 72% dark chocolate is wild-foraged by the Ashaninka rainforest tribe in Peru and sailed to Falmouth. Its dried fruit flavour with a hint of bitterness is beautiful and a perfect end to a faultless meal.
The Journey menu costs £65 per person, which for a taster menu of seven courses cooked by a top chef, is pretty reasonable and definitely should be at the top of your list for that special dining experience, whether it’s a birthday or anniversary, or maybe you don’t need an excuse and just want to try a great new restaurant.
Culture is undoubtedly already up there as one of the best restaurants not just in Falmouth but Cornwall as a whole. Its Cornish journey is definitely worth experiencing.
For bookings, visit the Culture website.