Porthmeor Beach Cafe, St Ives
If indeed the much-bandied-about concept of "cool Cornwall" exists, the Porthmeor is a good place to come looking for it. This beachside terrace in front of Tate St Ives offers a kind of casual eating that fills the gap between the seriously priced offerings of Fifteen, Porthminster Beach Cafe et al, and the cheap but not always terribly cheerful fish 'n' chip shops of old. Breakfasts are big here – scrambled eggs with Cornish crab and creme fraiche, buttermilk pancakes, toasted artisan Vicky's Bread.
Lunches are nicely presented croques, simple grilled local fish and a selection of 20 tapas that steer clear of Cornish cliche (courgette, sweetcorn and dill fritters with chilli jam and whipped feta, say, or local duck breast with apple, fennel and beetroot caramel). The dessert tapas (?3 each) are a stroke of genius in the setting – who wants a heap of sticky toffee pudding on a sunny beach day? Not many. Who, on the other hand, wants a mini strawberry tart and a petite rhubarb fool with ginger crumbs? Most of the beach, it turns out.
• Mains ?4.25-?9.95, tapas ?2-?7. Open Easter until beginning Nov, 8am-last food orders 9pm daily, no bookings for outside seating. 01736 793366, porthmeor-beach.co.uk/cafe
All of Cornwall likes clotted cream but nowhere consumes it with quite the determination of this open-air cafe near Chapel Porth beach (pictured), where you'll even find it subtly worked into your sandwich. It's not much to look at – a small hatch with prosaic picnic tables in a beachside car park – but it has found fame beyond its dimensions for its long-standing speciality, the "Hedgehog": a cone of clotted cream ice-cream, slathered in clotted cream, then rolled in a bowl of chopped honey-roasted hazelnuts (?2.95).
There's also a family of "croques" for under a fiver – large toasted granary baguettes oozing melted cheese that are devoured in urgent silence by the post-surf crew. Our croque rosemary was piled high with chunky-cut mushrooms cooked in clotted cream and garlic, and topped with hot cheese and flecks of rosemary – not subtle but certainly satisfying. Join the wetsuited and booted at the benches or take your food a few paces to the beach – a pristine, undeveloped spot cut between high, heather-hued cliffs.
• Open Fri, Sat, Sun 10am-5pm year-round, daily Easter-end Oct. 01872 552487
A double-act with the chic deli next door, this cheery independent cafe occupies a quiet courtyard in Wadebridge. The menu is peppered with desirable deli items – apple and mustard seed chutney, fig balsamic vinegar on salads, an array of fine cheeses and charcuterie – plus miniature tins of slow-rise, organic Vicky's Bread, Cornwall's best artisan baker. One look at the monthly changing coffee board will clue you into this cafe's raison d'etre – the purveyance of exceptional coffee.
Owner-barista Hugo, one-time champion in the UK Barista Championships, works the espresso machine, turning out strong, smooth, complex coffees (from ?1.40). Ideal for a jump-start espresso and peanut butter cookie before tackling the Camel Trail to Padstow, which you can pick up from just around the corner.
• Breakfasts ?2.50-?10.95, lunch ?4.95-?8.95, open 9am-5pm Tue-Sat. Foundry Court, 01208 814214, relishwadebridge.co.uk
A few years back when Rick Stein took over tenancy of this village pub in St Merryn – several miles from the Stein HQ of Padstow – it could have seemed incongruous. But the Stein brand keeps a surprisingly low profile here and the Cornish Arms, licensed by the St Austell Brewery, still feels like a proper pub, albeit a very busy one with unusually good food. Getting your hands on a decent main course for under a tenner in and around the gastronomically ascendant Camel Estuary is usually an exercise in restrictive ordering but here the menu has ample pub classics in this price range: sausages and mash, 5oz real beef burger, scampi basket with chips, ham, egg and chips, a pint of prawns.
Black and white photos of drinkers of yore, curry nights, a pool table and bottles of Sarson's vinegar also keep things moderately real but this is still Stein, which means that your crab salad will be super fresh and dressed with respect, staff are on the case, and the wine list is well above average village pub standards.
• Open 11.30am-11pm daily. No bookings. 01841 520288, rickstein.com
Food awareness is high on the agenda at this farm shop and cafe, and all sourcing has been painstakingly undertaken. Most of the dairy products come from Helsett Farm, the only single-farm organic dairy in Cornwall; beef is from the particularly tasty miniature Dexter cow; and veg, in season, is plucked from the garden outside. The owners are also keen proponents of the Real Bread Campaign, whose "Loaf Mark" denotes the use of all-natural ingredients and a fermentation process of at least four hours (here it's more like 12).
The low-key cafe, which looks out over the market garden and roaming ducks, is reopening at Easter with the addition of a new wood-fired oven, which will be taking care of all the baked goods, including a range of pizzas (from ?7.50), scones for the cream teas (?4.75 with tea or coffee), ciabattas and even meringues. The moist, rich gluten-free brownie (?2.25), made with almond flour, is worthy of note (other gluten-free options available but not from a gluten-free kitchen). Conveniently located on the Atlantic Highway, AKA the A39, leading to Bude.
• Cafe open 11am-4pm Mon-Sat. 01208 841818
Arguably Cornwall's best cheap eat can be had at this gourmet burger company occupying the tiniest of premises in St Ives – and setting an example of how to do one thing (well, five if you count the chicken burger, tofu burger, halloumi stack and black bean burgers) and do it very well. The ?10 "real deal" gets you a juicy, smoky char-grilled burger, chips and a drink (including beer or wine) – you can't go wrong. Seating is at communal tables but fret not – everyone's far too busy negotiating the burgers to worry about making conversation.
Intent on reinventing the maligned burger van, Blas is hitting the road this summer with Blas STREET, inspired by the gourmet food-trucking movement in the US. Look out for Blas at festivals and events around Cornwall, as well as campsites, beaches and car parks. Blas recently became the only restaurant in Cornwall to gain a three-star rating from the Sustainable Restaurant Association (SRA).
• Open 6pm-9.30pm Mon-Sat year-round, noon-9.30pm daily school holidays, no bookings for groups under six. 01736 797272, blasburgerworks.co.uk
Few concessions are made to the nation's new-found foodie fetishism here – it's all about the post-walk mug of tea, simple slabs of cake, rustic toasties, rolls, jackets and cream teas. Considering it is but a small, simple room on top of a Cornish cliff, this is just as it should be. The scones are baked daily in the little open kitchen – pleasingly fresh and light on our visit – and served with strawberry jam and clotted cream for a mere ?2 (?4.80 with a pot of tea for one). In all but the most challenging of conditions, walkers keep hats on and take their tray out to the tea garden to make the most of the Atlantic breezes and open views.
There is, we have to admit, another major motivation to visit: the tea garden is a minute's walk away from Cornwall's most terrific panorama (pictured): the jagged stacks of the Bedruthan Steps from above, with the headlands of the north coast layering up scenically beyond.
• Rolls and toasties ?3.90-?5.45, jacket potatoes from ?4.70. Open 10.30am-5.30pm daily Easter-end Oct, hours vary in winter; call for details. 01637 860701
The owner of this independent wine merchant-cum-deli-cafe is on a crusade to steer people away from boring supermarket wine to discover small producers and lesser-known wine regions (Lebanese viticulture was in focus on our last visit). The same principles apply to the food in the adjoining cafe, which appears on a short but carefully considered menu. The half a dozen light lunches – edging out of the ?10 bracket – might feature leeky Welsh rarebit with toasted walnuts and pickled mushrooms, crispy squid with lemon, chilli and garlic, or a rump steak sandwich with blue cheese and mushroom sauce. Quality takes precedent over quantity – you won't get a mound of salad but your collection of leaves will be perky and beautifully dressed.
A thorough exploration of the wine shop (any bottle bought in the shop can be consumed in the cafe for a fee of ?5) may require more elasticity in the wallet but owner Jon remains passionate about the wares at the cheaper end. The wood burner is sparked on colder days, which, combined with the hot-red walls and the inevitable consumption of fine wines, should ensure you leave with a warm glow.
• Breakfast 9am-11.30am daily, lunch noon-3pm, dinner 6-9pm Fri and Sat in winter plus other days in summer. 01736 753696, scarlet-wines.co.uk
Discussion over the best pasties in Cornwall has always been impassioned. And the establishment of the Cornish Pasty Association – the body that applied for and, in 2011, won PGI (Protected Geographical Indication) status for the Cornish pasty in Europe – plus the proliferation of awards, festivals and ultimately pasties, has served to widen the debate. In Cornwall, we all like the neat idea of finding the finest possible exemplar – D-shaped and crimped on the side but also perfectly peppered and evenly filled with meat (not less than 12.5% to be specific).
If you've even a passing appetite for the debate, make a pasty pilgrimage to Philp's Famous Pasties in Hayle, a historic family bakery shifting thousands on a daily basis. Join the queue snaking out the door and, hot paper bag secured, head for a bench on the quay. Attack the absurdly abundant "large" only if you have no further plans for the day; the "standard" is amply proportioned. And whatever you do, don't forget a drink – pasties are thirsty work.
• Steak pasties ?2.45-?4.95. Open 8.30am-6pm daily. 1 East Quay, 01736 753343/755661, philpsbakery.co.uk
The food at this beach chalet in the dunes hits all the right notes for its location: simple, fresh, attractive, affordable. Beloved of locals for those reasons, it is often packed, so prepare to wait both to order at the counter and to receive your food. But when it arrives, it's always vibrant, generously sized and lovingly prepared in the tiny kitchen. Our Mexican wrap (?7.65) was a pleasure from beginning to end: the chunks of chicken had been thoroughly marinated, the salad was crispy, the home-made salsa tangy. The cake cabinet courts you while you wait in the queue with thickly layered apricot flapjacks, impeccable victoria sponge, brownies, pastries and outsized cookies (from ?2) – resistance is futile. There are seats indoors and out but the sweet spot is undoubtedly the top deck with views over the swell and the grassy dunes.
• Brunches from ?6, lunches from ?5.10. Open 10am-5pm daily winter (weekends only in Jan), longer hours in summer, no bookings. 01736 757999, godrevycafe.co.uk. Located in a chargeable National Trust car park
Ismay Atkins blogs about Cornwall at pastiesandcream.com
Know any great affordable places to eat in north Cornwall? Add your recommendation in the comments below