We have a great Bohemian style cafe near us in Penryn which has recently won Gold in the 2009 Cornish Tourism Awards. We usually go there for a coffee after singing, but I had to get down there and check it out officially... in January 2010 Cornwall Today.
When Alice Marston's husband began working on the Jubilee Wharf complex in Penryn, she soon saw that, given the workshops and flats planned, there was an opening for a cafe. In November 2006 Miss Peapods Kitchen Cafe opened and since then has gone from strength to strength. “The cafe reflects my tastes,” Alice explains. “I have a young family but I still like to go out and listen to music, go dancing, watch films and eat nice food. These are all the things we do here.”
Alice set up Miss Peapods on a tiny budget. “I pursued the whole idea of a sustainable project,” she says in her quiet voice. “So the furniture is from the Salvation Army, the crockery from car boot sales, and the kitchen equipment was secondhand. Even the floor came from a London club.”
But the cafe isn't another tourist trap. “We have a very robust trade in the winter – in fact it's better out of season,” she says. “We can't compete with the beach on a sunny day.” Although there is a large decked area outside where visitors can sit and watch the boats moored up in Penryn river. There is also wi-fi and a plentiful supply of newspapers.
Alice, 35, worked as a renal nurse in London for 10 years, but her love of food led her to cater at Glastonbury and other festivals. “I like being in a little merry band of pirates where you all work very hard,” she says. “Nursing training is a real discipline – that's why I'm able to do what I do now. There are a lot of crossover skills: management, working with people and getting things done perfectly.”
The policy at Miss Peapods is that good food shouldn't cost the earth, so it is sourced with priority to local, organic and Fairtrade ingredients. Suppliers include Rosuick farm on the Lizard, and Trevarthen for meat. Organic free range eggs come from Boswin Farm in Penryn, Origin Coffee from Constantine and beer from Skinners. Westcountry Suppliers and Long Close Farm, Flushing supply the fresh fruit and vegetables.
“I'd like to point out that we're not vegetarian and never have been,” says Alice firmly. “I was particularly gratified when we won the award because one of the judges had had a steak sandwich! That spoils the myth that we're veggie, though we do look after the vegetarians very well.”
Like the cafe itself, Miss Peapods' staff are slightly unusual. “The food always looks great because all the staff have art degrees - we have a button maker, an illustrator and a ceramacist!” says Alice.
And their culinary reputation has spread far and wide. “We do a special thing with our mushrooms and beans and someone emigrated to Canada and emailed me asking what we did,” she continues. “I said, 'I want a letter from the Home Office to establish that you've actually emigrated before I tell you!' ” Other popularities are Sunday roasts, toasted ciabattas and home made soups.
“We have a rustic Mediterranean theme that runs through our specials board using Cornish ingredients – so we might have Cornish rabbit with home made gnocchi, or a rabbit ragout.” But Alice's favourites are the cakes: “The Lemon Drizzle is pretty special!”
The menu is selected according to what's in season. “We all went on a foraging course with Fat Hen and learned lots of things and that's filtered through to the menu,” says Alice. “So we now have a Cornish Coastal night, an Autumnal one and one with Stargazy Pie....”
Food and Film evenings have proved very popular, and on Friday and Saturday evenings, Miss Peapods is transformed. “We light all the candles, turn the lights down low and have fairy lights outside,” says Alice. “We get more of the working crowd that live locally and it's a really broad mix – children, grannies, occasionally great grannies, and the shared thing is a love of good food and music. We're not a student haunt though they do come and see what we're doing.”
Miss Peapods has become known for providing an eclectic mix of entertainment. “I know a lot of people who are into music,” says Alice. “If it has merit and good musicianship then there's usually an audience. We can bring very different music to the same audience because people trust us.” She laughs. “There's a really big Rockabilly contingent in the woodwork down here and they come out with their combs and quiffs! We also have electro girl punk and local bands like Three Daft Monkeys and The Eyelids.”
Cabaret is also popular, and in January there will be a Soul/Funk '80s disco evening, a Folk evening and local band The Busketeers playing. “There's a lot of talent in Penryn and we've become a conduit for this type of thing,” explains Alice.
Setting up a cafe in an outpost like Jubliee Wharf was always going to be a gamble, but one that has clearly paid off. “It's special being in Penryn,” Alice observes. “The people who've got the units are very supportive and the barges off the quay have all sorts of artistic activity going on – a film set, theatre costumes etc, so we meet all kinds of interesting people.”
Alice looks out of the window at the Friday afternoon drizzle. “I originally thought that if we did a good thing, people would come – that was the confidence of naivety!” she says with a smile. “Penryn's changed such a lot in the past few years. Now I'll keep on fine tuning: keep the menu fresh, keep looking after the staff and having new ideas. It's been a lot of hard work but receiving an award has consolidated all that.”
Miss Peapods Kitchen Cafe
Jubilee Wharf, Penryn,
Best Cafe 2009 in the Cornish Tourism Awards
Open Tues, Wed, Thurs & Sun 10-4
Fri & Sat 10 – late
Miss Peapods is closed for 2 weeks after Christmas and New Year.