The most extraordinary thing. It's baking hot, here in England. Almost like that famous summer of 1976. Day after day of Mediterranean heat. We've just come back from a marvellous holiday staying in a fabulous house in St Mawes, on the south Cornwall coast, with sub-tropical gardens and views stretching out to a blue, blue glittering sea.
I've been coming to St Mawes, on-and-off now for many years. It's the most pretty coastal village- all Treasure Island, thatched smuggler's cottages with lattice windows, harbour inns with creaking signs swaying in the wind. It's like going back to the 1950's. The harbour is full of period varnished sailing yachts (including the 1939 yacht Pinuccia, rumoured to have been the former Olympic yacht of Il Duce).
There was nobody there. No transistors blaring on the beach, no plastic gin palaces, no floating discotheques (instead, a sprinkling of nice old cars, MG's, Mercedes Pagoda Tops and the like, in the harbour car park). Peace reigns. And its very much like the South of France. I kid you not. I really mean it. Palm trees, the scent of trailing rosemary, low stone walls flanking twisting coastal roads, stepped terraces punctuated by tall Scots Pines, steps down to private shingle beaches. If you've seen the 1958 version of Bonjour Tristesse, the one with David Niven lounging around on terraces in silk dressing gowns, you'll get the drift.
On the Monday night, we had dinner at The Tresanton, about a minutes walk from where we were staying, lovingly re-furbished by Olga Polizzi in 1997. And a very good job she has done too. In the 70's The Tresanton was a rather swish- and utterly expensive- hotel. There was a collection of Impressionist paintings. By the 90's it had fallen into that inevitable decline; I remember a rather strange lunch there out on that extraordinary terrace. Now, of course, things are utterly different.
I love it. This is like something out of Agatha Christie: Evil Under the Sun, or Peril at End House. White Star ocean liner railings, staff in brass-buttoned white mess jackets, and with its tiled floor mosaics of Neptune and Trident, and roughly-plastered walls in white, has more than a whiff of the Amalfi Coast about it or, indeed, Clough Williams-Ellis's Italianate fantasy at Portmerion.
Anyway, all this happened to co-incide with the kind arrival of an advance copy of Lindsey Bareham's The Fish Store, published by my friends at Grub Street. This is a new paperback edition. The book first came out in 2006.
I'm a fan of Lindsey Bareham's rather understated and intelligent approach to food writing, The Prawn Cocktail Years, which she co-authored with Simon Hopkinson, being one of those treasured books I would probably try to rescue if, God Forbid, the house burnt down.
The Fish Store is a slightly misleading title for those of you who judge books by their covers. It's actually the name of her Cornish holiday bolt-hole, a former pilchard packing shed in Mousehole, Cornwall (she married into the family of Augustus John) and is a semi-autobiographical and reflective tribute to Cornish holidays, family life and all the food- and associations- that go with it. This is very much my sort of book. It's a literary fest- with a few illustrations here and there (some in black and white); very much the antithesis of those colourful celebrity picture books, heavily promoted and flogged in your local supermarket, all style over content.
Her "Roast Haddock with Barlotti Beans and Tomatoes" went down especially well. It's a very simple dish of unsmoked haddock, balsamic vinegar, cherry tomatoes on the vine, sea salt and lemon juice, served on the beans, which had been simmered very gently with chicken stock and the juices from the pan. Probably one of the best things we've had in a long while; the secret of course, being in that we'd bought some very fresh haddock a few hours before. My nine year old niece, Sammie, formally announced to the table that this was one of the best things she had ever eaten.
And then there was the mackerel. James Brown, a friendly local skipper, took us out to sea, about two miles off the coast for a spot of wreck fishing; we hit a shoal and started reeling in tiny, turquoise zig-zaggy mackerel (flashing in the hot sun) and some larger pinkish whiting.
James gutted the fish on the way back to harbour. About two hours later we filited the mackerel, and my brother in law (no mean cook) fried it in the pan with rosemary, olive oil, lemon juice and flaky Cornish sea salt. I can honestly, say that I think this was one of the most delicious things I have ever eaten. Uber fresh mackerel, eaten on a baking hot, sunny terrace. With the sound of the sea. Happy Memories.
The Fish Store is published by Grub Street, and costs £14.99.