Having spent most of his childhood in Cornwall, Guy Owen couldn’t be more at home at the Idle Rocks in St Mawes. Amanda Afiya went to see him
As a child who grew up fly fishing with his grandfather on the Itchen and Test rivers, you’d assume that Guy Owen was always destined to work with fish. But the 32-year-old head chef of the 19-bedroom Idle Rocks, at the tip of the Roseland Peninsula on the south Cornwall coast, never set out to become a chef, despite his mother being one.
“My mum is an event caterer and she was very proactive about teaching us how to cook,” he says. “My grandfather and I would gut trout on the bank and she would show us how to poach it. We had an appreciation of what we were eating.”
Owen’s mother decided to relocate her family from Winchester to Ashton near Portleven in Cornwall when Owen was eight. While he enjoyed cooking at school, he still had no plans to become a chef, but soon after graduating from college found himself working at the Rising Sun, also in St Mawes, which boasted a two-AA-rosette restaurant under Ann Long, the head chef.
Long, an honorary vice-president of the Master Chefs of Great Britain, who still cooks at the pub once a month, was “incredibly classically trained” and, despite being in her 60s at the time, enjoyed being at the stove. “She took me under her wing and pushed me very hard for two or three years before sending me to develop my skills further in London.”
Owen’s formative years were followed by “a baptism of fire” at Gordon Ramsay at Claridge’s, where he received unparalleled training and developed lifelong friendships, along with a stint at French/Japanese fusion restaurant L’etranger on Gloucester Road and a period at La Trompette in Chiswick. “La Trompette was a totally groundbreaking moment for me – seeing a Michelin-starred brasserie sending out stunning food, but not counting how many carrots were going onto the plate – that I had to change my mindset working there.”
Despite loving the brasserie life, Owen headed back to the south west to join Michael Caines at Gidleigh Park in Chagford, Devon – something of a finishing school for Owen – before he was given the opportunity to work alongside chef Chris Eden at the Driftwood in Portscatho, Cornwall. Working as Eden’s sous chef for four years, the pair “pushed for a star” and, in 2011, one was duly awarded.
A surprise phone call from the Idle Rocks’ motorsports owner David Richards and his interior designer wife Karen led to Owen taking over the reins of the kitchen at the boutique hotel in July 2015.
The Idle Rocks’ dining room, which seats 64 (each with a stunning view of the Fal estuary), offers a lunch and dinner menu and an additional five-course tasting menu at £75, with an optional wine flight for £45. While Owen, who heads up a brigade of nine, including junior sous chef Tim Kendall, endeavours to make his menus as accessible as possible – so, foodie or not, diners are in no doubt about what they are eating – his food is striking and elegant.
“We want to use the products around us and we work very closely with the people who actually supply them to us. As a result, we have an amazing range of things that we can use here and we try to be as unique as we can with the style of cooking, with a little bit of Asian and North African influence, and certainly a lot of French influence from my training.” His eclectic style is displayed in teriyaki mackerel, radish, avocado and cucumber; beer and miso short rib, steamed bun, broccoli and charcoal; and a dessert of chocolate delice, almond, kladdkaka (Swedish sticky cake), brandy and yogurt.
Fresh produce comes from the Lost Gardens of Heligan, just 15 miles away from the hotel, which boasts over 300 different varieties of heritage fruit and vegetables, including pineapples. Meat comes from Launceston-based Philip Warren, which has been famously serving the region since 1880.
Desserts showcase the county’s great produce, as illustrated in Owen’s Cornish baked Alaska, comprising a Cornish fairing (a type of traditional ginger biscuit), topped with rhubarb parfait and piped with Italian meringue.
“We use a very old biscuit recipe and fantastic Cornish gin [Tarquin’s], so a huge amount of this dish comes from the region – the eggs, dairy, rhubarb, gin and so on. It really keeps with the Idle Rocks’ mentality of using as much local produce as we can.”
From the menu
Spider crab agnolotti, oyster, massaman sauce
Duck breast, Israeli couscous, lemon, chermoula
Confit carrot, cottage cheese, sea vegetables
Roast brill, mushrooms, mussels, asparagus
Lamb rump, white sprouting broccoli, red onion, mint, broad beans
Gilthead sea bream, smoked aubergine, olive, basil, shellfish bisque
Chocolate crémeux, blood orange, caramel, lemon balm
Passion fruit tart, milk, shortbread
Lemon parfait, pistachio, Earl Grey, prune
Three courses, £58
The Idle Rocks, Harbourside, St Mawes, Cornwall TR2 5AN www.idlerocks.com