St Moritz Hotel
A luxury hotel and spa, St Moritz is situated on the north coast of Cornwall, in the village of Trebetherick, near Rock, with such attractions as St Endellion, Boscastle and Tintagel to its east; and Padstow across the Camel Estuary to its west. At first sight, the hotel appears rather austere – tall white apartment blocks with almost glowing dark turquoise windows. “Hmmm, interesting – I’ve never stayed in an ice box before” was my husband’s (perhaps rather unkind) first remark. The reception building is slightly warmer externally in its curves; and one finds that the back of the accommodation block is more attractive – rather like a modern Mediterranean hotel, with the hard lines broken by staggered balconies and terraces looking out over the sea. It’s quite sensibly laid out, actually: the accommodation – which ranges from rooms and suites to apartments – is all in the one, big, shallow-V-shaped block, behind which are the gardens (plenty of grassy areas; a contemporary, easy-maintenance-type of garden) and the outdoor pool and Sea Side Restaurant beyond; whilst the other building houses the reception as well as all the other communal areas – the Cowshed Spa, a coffee lounge, gym, games room, pool area, and the main restaurant and bar. The reception / coffee lounge area is immediately welcoming – in this open plan space there are plenty of comfortable places to sit; the decor is smart, with neutral colours; and the atmosphere is laid back, with leather sofas, chairs and board games scattered around.
After a briefing from the friendly and professional lady who greeted us at the desk, we were taken to our room – a Junior Garden Suite. This large room featured a comfortable and spacious double bed as well pull-down bunks, on one of which Tristan slept, as well as an area for tea and coffee making (pleasingly, they provided fresh milk in the mini-bar fridge), the ubiquitous TV screen (thankfully not as large as one sometimes finds), and a desk. The decor was very contemporary – clean lines; the predominant colour white, with oak flooring and beige-grey curtains and triangular patterning above the sleeping areas. The bathroom was large and extremely clean, with Cowshed toiletries; perhaps the most gratifying aspect of the room, however, was the rather lovely conservatory area. This relaxing area boasted a glimpse of the sea through the French windows, which lead out into the garden and to private seating and sun lounges in one’s own private garden section, with flowering agapanthus plants screening one from other garden users.
That the hotel is child-friendly can be surmised from the pile of buckets, spades and other sea-and sand equipment that are available for guests to use, free of charge, in the entrance to the reception. The pool does have child-free times; regrettably I did not visit during one of these and so was subjected to being bombarded by a small inflatable rugby ball whilst trying to get in a few decent lengths. Thankfully, the sauna and steam room – both unusually spacious – were teenager (and ball)-free. The pool is large, with a white wooden ceiling and glass windows all round, and is kept at a very warm temperature; with different sections for serious swimmers (alas, commandeered by the ball-wielding youths), younger swimmers, toddlers and it boasts a Jacuzzi as well. I felt the lack of an ice fountain, but cold as well as warm showers were a suitable compromise.
The Restaurant, upstairs in the reception building, is screened off from the bar, with its low tables and cosy-looking sofas, by decorated glass panels. The kitchen is open to the back of the restaurant, so that one may watch the chefs at work, with a dividing counter facilitating serving by the waiting staff. The same colours feature here as in the rest of the hotel – clean white walls, oak flooring, and much evidence of white-painted tongue and groove boarding. The room is dimly-lit with a cluster of wide dark brown circles of ceiling lampshades. A profuse array of flowers in the entrance creates the impression of generosity and sophistication. Tables are bare dark wood, but bear appropriate cutlery and glassware, as well as a warming tea light in rather pretty little silver dish.
Menus were brought swiftly, water offered (Cornish spring water, we noted), followed by a board of the most delicious bread – soft, pillowy white sourdough with a crackling crust, and also very good granary full of crunchy seeds, with quite a dark flavour – this immediately set the bar very high. The menu brims with the most tempting dishes; heritage tomatoes with buffalo mozzarella (pity the buffalo was mis-spelt), and treacle-cured salmon were starters that we found it hard to resist; there were steaks, a pork plate (my husband nearly went for this, but baulked when he saw the pressed pig’s head that it included – the hotel clearly keeps with the popular trend of nose-to-tail eating!), and fresh fish dishes amongst the main courses. The wine list focuses fairly heavily on France, Italy and Spain, as well as representing South America fairly well. We asked for a recommendation and went off-list; the suggested beverage was a Tannat from Bodega Garzon in Urguay. Almost black in colour, with purple-ruby hues, the nose was rich and thick with forest thickets hinted at in its tangle of black notes and dark berry aromas. On the palate it was beautifully balanced, with a sweetness as from plums and cherries and even some liquorice tempering the blackness of tamarind and the bite of pepper and chilli. It was a very visceral wine that could be felt all over the tongue – both its full body, and the tingle of the spices. At the back of the throat there was some harshness, but not of an unpleasant nature. Quite a find: a rather special wine.
Both of us started with the pressed smoked ham hock terrine. The terrine itself was less punchy in flavour than I had expected – its presence in terms of texture, too, was more retiring than I had envisaged, and it rather needed the tiny blobs of mustard and mango chutney that adorned the top. It was accompanied by watermelon – which I had raised an enquiring eyebrow at, but which actually complemented the terrine surprisingly well, and scotch egg – a soft quail’s egg coated in a thick blanket of extraordinarily porcine and flavoursome sausagemeat and an excellently crunchy exterior.
The venison took the place of the abjured pork plate for Mr Marshall-Luck. The meat itself was full-flavoured and gamey; a decent piece of meat and well-cooked, that was adorned by blobs, here, of vegetable puree – if it had been my plate I would have wished for more substantial portions of these rather delicious adornments. Splodges, even, perhaps.
In my 12-hour braised lamb I very much felt that the chef was let down by the quality of his ingredients. The meat was meltingly tender, as one would expect – but just rather lacking in flavour – especially for a meat braised that long, which should be singing choral symphonies with character. It was also possibly slightly on the dry side – again, unusual, given the braising time. It was seated atop a rosti – which was as salty as rostis traditionally are, with a crunchy mattress of savoy cabbage beneath, which worked well.
The service was quite slow, but this gave time for one to digest – physically and socially – the courses, and our waitress was amiable without at all lacking professionalism. She passed us on to the manager for the wine recommendation, who was polished and professional (as one would expect), as well as full of knowledge and enthusiasm for his subject. We felt well-looked after; the only criticism we could levy would be that of informality in terms of dress – but it would appear that the whole hotel’s ethos and policy errs towards the informal and relaxed.
The only real problem arose when we wished to take dessert back to our room, as we usually do, due to our toddler becoming more restless at this later point in the meal. Anxious to avoid the – we-felt rather steep – £10 tray charge levied for this service, it was agreed that we could carry these back ourselves. However, it took 40 minutes for the staff to prepare the polystyrene cartons with these in. I then foolishly decided I would like a pot of tea as well; we had then to wait a further 20 minutes for said tea to be brought out to us. When my husband complained about the length of time it took for them to provide the tea, it was intimated to him that it was our fault for wanting a pot of tea – after all, why couldn’t we use the facilities in our room? (Answer: because tea-making facilities in hotel rooms never, ever produce tea that is as nice as properly brewed tea in tea pots.)When we finally got everything back to the room (feeling like students, importing our polystyrene cartons as if of chips) we discovered that no cutlery had been provided, and ended up eating cheese and desserts with just the teaspoons provided for tea and coffee making in the room.
My husband chose the chocolate delice – which I thought really rather good – soft gooey chocolate with a centre of salty caramel, and crunchy dust. I, being idiosyncratic, had reverted to the start of the menu again and chosen another starter whose allure was too strong to resist: the salted beetroot with goats’ cheese mousse. The goats cheese – more of a cream than a mousse – was soft, silky and flavoursome – lovely. The beetroot was beautifully presented – like a deep ruby-purple flowering rose – but I found it a little on the chewy side; the more delicate slices laid beneath the goats’ cheese were more tender. My tea – when it finally arrived – was very good indeed.
Breakfast the following morning (after a good night’s sleep in the comfortable bed) was less impressive than dinner, and steeply priced at £20. The buffet was a collection of cereals, juices, breads and bite-sized pastries and muffins (along with, slightly bizarrely, slices of overly-saccharine lemon drizzle cake). A number of hot options are offered, including classics such as eggs Florentine and hollandaise, as well as the traditional full English. We opted for the smoked salmon and scrambled eggs, which were fine, and the English muffin I had requested mine served with seemed home-made, although it had been allowed to catch the grill too much. Both tea and coffee were rather on the watery and weak side – the coffee especially not measuring up to my husband’s more continental tastes when it comes to this beverage. Tristan ate off the children’s menu (offered at breakfast as well as at dinner. We noted that there were no grammatical errors in the children’s breakfast menu, unlike the “Main’s” that had scandalously been allowed to pass in the dinner menu) – which was good and offers a variety of hot options, sweet and more savoury, designed to appeal to children. Although tempted by soft boiled eggs and soldiers, he chose the crumpets and strawberry jam which he seemed to greatly enjoy; although he pronounced the milk “Weird” (it tasted sweeter and more watery than the usual full-fat organic milk we have at home).
Before departing, I enjoyed a back massage treatment in the Cowshed Spa, which was extremely impressive: let us just say that one knows when one is in the hands (literally) of a professional, and everything here from the efficient and polite attitude and professional attire of the staff, through the relaxing waiting area and clean, smart but cosy treatment room, to the actual treatment itself, were of the very highest standard. I emerged feeling unknotted and both relaxed and invigorated at the same time.
Although it is fair to say that my husband was less impressed than me with the hotel (emotionally scarred, perhaps, by the hour’s wait for dessert and tea); we nevertheless had an enjoyable and relaxing stay; with a very pleasant room, excellent wine and food at dinner and a superb spa treatment. The fact that a variety of rooms and suites are offered at a variety of prices makes staying at this hotel more achievable for those tempted, and it would make a more than adequate base for exploring what is clearly an increasingly popular and glamorous area of the north Cornish coast.
Em Marshall-Luck is QR’s Food and Wine Critic