Chef and restaurateur Ben Tunnicliffe has a string of accolades and a succession of high-profile positions under his belt, yet he hasn’t lost sight of the basics of great food and warm hospitality; qualities which have made his restaurants some of Cornwall’s most popular dining destinations.
Ben’s early career was spent in country house hotels – significantly Wooley Grange, where Head Chef Colin White had a formative influence. Colin focused on seasonality, instilling the idea of menus dictated by ingredients and only lightly shaped by the hand of the chef. “We used produce when it was freshest, and combined key flavours in a simple and straightforward way. The ingredients we were working with were so good they only needed the slightest touch to make them sing,” recalls Ben.
After a series of other senior positions in large and small luxury hotels, Ben was drawn to Cornwall in 2000 by the opportunity to run The Abbey in Penzance. Owned by Jean and Michael Shrimpton, this ex-nightclub soon became a well-regarded fine-dining restaurant, with Ben and his wife Kinga at the helm. It was at The Abbey that Ben achieved a Michelin Star – a great achievement for this ambitious chef.
Leaving The Abbey on a high, Ben moved on to other projects. He was asked to help launch The Scarlet Hotel – part of Red Hotels. In designing the kitchen and putting together a team for the launch, Ben set a high standard for the food offering at Cornwall’s most luxurious eco-hotel. However, he increasingly hankered after a place he could call his own; and a personal project was next on the horizon.
“I was never that keen on the fine-dining label, so I decided to look for a pub,” explains Ben. “Great food in an unpretentious setting was what I aspired to, a place where you could exceed expectations, keep prices affordable and allow people to relax and enjoy themselves.”
Eventually he discovered The Tolcarne – a humble pub directly next to the sea wall in Newlyn, which incidentally is Cornwall’s major fishing port. “It seemed an obvious choice to me. I could be close to my fishmonger, serving the freshest seafood in a welcoming atmosphere, and appealing to local people and visitors alike.” The Tolcarne opened in July 2012 and was immediately well-received, winning and retaining a Michelin Bib Gourmand for good food at affordable prices.
In 2015, Ben and his team took charge of their second venue – Ben Tunnicliffe Sennen Cove – creating a buzzing year-round dining destination in the far west of Cornwall.
The wood-framed building with a large terrace enjoys spectacular views over a rugged and unspoilt cove. In summer, guests watch over people basking in the sun and surf from the decking, and in winter day-trippers nestle by the fire with a hot chocolate, as pro-surfers wrestle the waves below. The menu blends family favourites and Ben’s signature seafood dishes, which reflect the catch of the day.
Sourcing and seasonality are all-important to Ben. A good relationship with small producers who are passionate about what they do is essential, and helps him offer evolving menus packed with fresh flavours, featuring the best produce from land and sea.
Ben also strives to set a new standard when it comes to hospitality. “Real hospitality is so important to us. Ultimately we want to make people smile; both the guests and the people we work with – suppliers and staff. We have an opportunity to bring a little sunshine into your day when you visit one of our restaurants; we hope we succeed.”