|Tim Wildman MW blogs about profitability and opportunity|
|Tuesday, 08 May 2012 12:05|
An Easter cycling trip to Cornwall gave me the excuse I needed to finally visit the Eden Project.
It was midweek but the place was mobbed. Despite having to fight through the usual mix of French school kids and pasty munching day trippers, nothing could detract from the surreal thrill of being inside a tropical rain forest in the middle of a Cornish clay pit. There seemed to be a café, bakery or restaurant around the corner of every "biome", and with over a million visitors a year that's a hell of a lot of very profitable cakes and coffees.
My companion remarked that they probably make more money on catering to the people who visit than on the entry ticket itself. Could there be a lesson for the hospitality industry – when you think of how many major UK tourist attractions lack a decent eatery next door? I'm not just thinking of remote places like Stonehenge here, who's catering for the millions of visitors to the Houses of Parliament or the London Eye?
One of the great pleasures of the Cornish cycling holiday was being hungry at the day's end. And I mean properly hungry, like when you were a kid in the summer holidays and you forgot to come in for lunch. We almost came unstuck on the first night by not being aware of a local bylaw that clearly decrees pubs in Wadebridge must stop serving food at 8pm during the tourist season.
We collapsed gratefully into the Molesworth Arms (kitchen closes at 8.30pm) and the plate of gammon, egg and chips tasted so good to my calorie-depleted body that I almost cried. The next night we ate at Rick Stein's Seafood Restaurant in Padstow. The service was superb, they barely batted an eyelid at our muddy cycling clobber, and the food is as good as you'd expect, although the wine list is a missed opportunity, being a curious mixture of supermarket labels and "mates'" wines. I appreciate the attempt at a personal touch, but I'm sure Rick doesn't source his fish from some bloke he met on holiday, so why the wine?
The langoustine and velvet crab were superb, and matched surprisingly well with a Viña Gravonia 2001, the richness of the old school white Rioja acting as a complementary side dressing rather than a contrasting foil. But did I enjoy my meal more than the previous nights gammon and eggs, when my appetite was sharpened to near unbearable levels of pleasure/pain? Probably not. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy fine dining frou-frou as much as the next man, but to paraphrase Don Quixote, a large appetite, sharpened by fresh air and exercise, is the best sauce in the world.
Most advances in cooking in the past generation have taken place behind the kitchen door by chefs pushing the boundaries of molecular science. But have Ferran and Heston ever paid any attention to the appetite of the diner walking in the front door? Could hunger be the last unexplored frontier for the gastronomy experience? I'd welcome working with a curious cook on this idea, perhaps a pop-up called "The Hunger Games"?
Tim Wildman MW