Ravioli of scallops with leaf salad (serves four)
For the pasta
550g pasta flour
Pinch of salt
1tsp olive oil
4 whole eggs
6 egg yolks
For the vinaigrette
100ml Noilly Prat
100ml ruby port
150ml white truffle oil
1 summer truffle
Salt and pepper
12 large Cornish scallops
Mix the flour, salt and olive oil together well. Add the eggs and egg yolks and form a dough. Leave to rest in the fridge for two hours.
Divide the dough into four and roll out on a pasta machine. Cut out 24 discs roughly twice the size of the scallops.
Pour all the alcohol into a pan and reduce until almost a syrup. Add 100ml of the truffle oil and and leave to cool.
Pour the remaining truffle oil into a small, hot pan. Slice the truffle thinly and add to the pan with some salt and pepper. Cook, keeping the truffle moving at all times. Leave to cool.
Place one slice of truffle on each scallop and make up into ravioli. Cook in boiling salted water for two-and-a-half to four minutes, depending on the size of the scallops.
Reheat the vinaigrette and dress the salad. Place the salad in the middle of the plate, surround with three ravioli and pour over the vinaigrette.
IT’S 6.30am and Jock Zonfrillo, head chef of Cornwall’s Hotel Tresanton, is driving at 60 miles per hour down a tiny Cornish lane flanked by towering hedgerows. He is still 20 miles away from his meat supplier, Ralph Michell. “I’ll do it in 15 minutes,” he grins.
He makes this journey, from his hotel kitchen at St Mawes, three times a week. It’s far from a chore, because Zonfrillo loves to get out and chat with his suppliers, looking on while his produce is bagged up and packed into the boot of his car. When the task is done, he returns at similar breakneck speed to his kitchen by the sea.
Hotel Tresanton clings to the side of a steep hill on the coast road, with views of Falmouth to the right and an emerald-green headland, complete with lighthouse, straight ahead.
The hotel is owned by Lord Forte’s daughter, interior designer Olga Polizzi. Her husband’s family had a holiday cottage a few doors down, and she could see it was in need of rescuing. With some cash in her pocket after the Granada takeover of Forte, she bought the hotel, then set about transforming it.
Polizzi reopened the hotel last June, after a major refurbishment. Now there is not a floral print in sight, much to the delight of the design press, which has splashed the hotel over its pages.
Zonfrillo, who owes his surname to an Italian grandfather, was cooking in London until the spring of 1998 – at Aubergine, with Gordon Ramsay, Les Saveurs, and then the Pharmacy. But he decided he had had enough. “I thought, yeah, it would be nice to get out of London, and it’s only four hours away,” he says, ignoring the fact that most people would take five hours to drive the same distance.
He has a difficult task at Tresanton. On the one hand, he has to cater for the London crowd – half of Chelsea decamps here at the weekend during the summer months – who are well-versed in the latest culinary trends. But he also has to please the well-to-do locals who stare with incomprehension at the word couscous on the menu, and would do an about-turn if they saw harissa: “I’ve stopped writing it on now,” he confesses.
In one of Zonfrillo’s dishes a small portion of couscous, seasoned with a delicate version of the spicy Tunisian condiment, is hidden under lamb, and there are no complaints, just murmurs of approval, he reports. “If I started doing anything too wild, it would be rejected. I have to keep it simple.”
Red meat doesn’t go down well here either. Polizzi’s light, elegant dining room and the view over the sea doesn’t inspire the carnivore. And even though Zonfrillo has access to some of the country’s best venison, when he tried it out on the menu, it went mostly unordered.
The richness of the meat didn’t fit well with the rest of the menu, which is crammed with dew-fresh crunchy vegetables and a line-up of firm, super-fresh fish such as sautéd sea bream with braised fennel and sauce tapenade, fricassée of Dover sole with new potatoes and artichokes, or roast Cornish lobster with shaved vegetables and rocket salad.
The 18-choice set price menu is a steal at £30 for three courses for dinner, or £24.50 for a more limited menu du jour. Lunch is £20, or £15 for two courses. There’s always an amuse bouche – it could be a silky cappuccino of chicken and foie gras, or a pure-tasting watercress soup.
Broths and vegetable extractions replace heavy reductions and cream sauces, and “fiddled-about” food is at a minimum. “The country house approach is not what we’re about,” he says. “Tresanton is not just about the decor, or the atmosphere, or the food. It’s the whole thing. Our customers want a high standard, but informal. They’re stressed out and they want to relax.”
In the warmer months, the terrace adds another 50 covers to the 50 in the restaurant. There’s a private dining room too, which doubles as a private cinema, with room for 60 more. “That’s when we start climbing the walls,” laughs Zonfrillo.
The kitchen is happy at 100 covers. “Any more and we start losing it,” he admits. He has a brigade of four at the moment – “it should be 12,” he moans – but getting staff is a headache. However, his “backbone”, as he calls it, is in place – namely sous chef Simon Spackman and pastry chef Gerard Chouvet.
The job is Zonfrillo’s first head-chef position, and considering his youth – just 22 years old – his position and his past employers makes impressive reading. After an apprenticeship at the Turnberry hotel, South Ayrshire, he hopped on a train to Chester to work under Simon Radley at the Chester Grosvenor’s Michelin-starred Arkle restaurant.
One year on saw him heading to London and the Hyde Park Hotel to work for Marco Pierre White. “I’d read about Marco for so long, I couldn’t believe it when I actually got a job,” he says.
Another year later, Zonfrillo was busy planning a trip to Australia. To get some money together, he worked by night with David Cavalier on the opening of Chapter One, in Locksbottom, near Farnborough, and by day on the grill at Quaglino’s in London. At the same time, he did his homework by flicking through Vogue Entertaining, making a list of top Australian restaurants to whom he wrote when he finally arrived in Sydney. Dietmar Sawyere at Restaurant 41 was the only one to respond. “The rest wouldn’t accept travellers,” he says.
It didn’t take Zonfrillo long to make his mark. After two months he was promoted to sous chef and proceeded to learn all about Japanese, Thai, Malaysian, pan-Asian and fusion food. “It’s not just a case of lashing a load of ginger and chillies together, putting a bit of chopped coriander on top, then thinking you’re smart. There’s so much more to it than that,” he explains.
Unsurprisingly, Zonfrillo uses Asian spices in the menu at Tresanton, “but only as a background flavour”, he says. Restaurant 41 also provided the inspiration for Tresanton’s “menu degustation”. He offers the eight-course tasting menu for between £30 and £40, “depending on what’s available”. A typical course would include a Sawyere-inspired blue cheese (in this case, Exmoor) and mascarpone (home-made) with Heligan honey, paired with a glass of Royal Tokaji.
The tasting menu is not exactly advertised, says Zonfrillo, but when he knows he has foodies coming in for dinner, he will offer it to them beforehand. He changes both the lunch and dinner menu every day anyway, so it’s just a matter of juggling what he has in the fridge.
During the summer, there’s a “fruits de mer” tasting menu too, for a slightly higher price. Diners order up to five of these a week. “The fish I can get hold of is just fantastic,” he marvels. The one supplier he spends most of his time talking to is Rob Wing, based in Newlyn market.
“I like cooking fish more than anything else,” says Zonfrillo. “Sea bass with a fennel purée – blinding. And prepping fish – what a sexy thing to do. I know the suppliers can do it quicker, but I want to do it and see how fresh it is. Opening scallops? It’s such therapy. I always get them delivered in their shells. They all think I’m mad standing there with a pile of scallops, but it’s quite sensual, really.”
Zonfrillo likes to search out suppliers for himself: “There’s a lot of good stuff down here that hides itself away,” he says, citing Chris Rowe, his herb and salad supplier in Padstow. He meets Rowe half-way, at Michell’s farm shop, to pick up the day’s order. “People like him don’t advertise, it’s all word of mouth,” whispers Zonfrillo, picking through some mizuna leaves and black spider fennel.
He’s happy to pass on the supplier’s details, when a diner comments on the quality of the ingredients. Many of Tresanton’s guests make a detour to visit Michell’s farm shop, in Calenick, before returning home. They particularly like the steak, and the suckling pig, which makes a regular appearance on the hotel menu, served with apples and potatoes (see recipe on page 44).
Michell uses two-month-old Tamworths for his suckling pig, though he has Gloucester Old Spots as well. As Zonfrillo watches Michell tending to his British Longhorns in the field alongside the shop, he says: “He’s great, isn’t he? This is what it’s all about.” n