Imagine a world where we share, socialise and savour our food, perhaps with a glass of decent wine, ideally with those we love best, our family and friends.
Well, that un-rushed world where people have time for each other has opened its doors to Bude, in the shape of The Surfin’ Frog on Queen Street. Yes, of course there is a touch of gentle wordplay. Bude is a surfing mecca and the owners of this delightful bistro/restaurant on Queen Street have spent 20 years in central Brittany, not far from the quiet market town of Pontivy, where they have worked in various guises but also owned and ran their own bistro.
It’s a family affair for the chef, Arthur, and his wife, dessert-creator, Linda, who learned her craft working in her mother’s Cornish tea-room. Passionate about good food, they are now joined by their daughter Jo, who has been living in Australia and New Zealand but was ready to return to Cornwall to add her cheffing expertise to the family business.
Is it a French restaurant? No, but there are definite influences, not least in providing a small range of some very decent wines at reasonable prices. If a chilled dry Provençal pink is your bag (it is mine) then you will get it right here, and they also offer a French night on Sunday evenings where you can indulge in steak, moules marinière, or a vegetarian option, between 6 pm and 10 pm. A simple, straightforward menu for the evening, offering superb home cooked food.
If pushed to describe their cuisine, I’d call it international. There are toasties, hot baguettes and skewers on the lunchtime menu, while weekend brunches offer frittatas, bacon butties, tortilla wraps, sexy mushrooms (I’m in) or kedgeree. Dinner includes Thai fish cakes, Moroccan chicken skewers, vegetable spring rolls, baked Camembert, and a veritable feast of offerings on sharing plates, large or small.
We Brits do struggle with sharing food, so you don’t have to share here, but it is part of the slow, sociable eating sensation to share items with others, something the family is keen to develop. It is the antidote of fast food, the culinary equivalent of ‘dreckly’ as yes, you may need to wait a short time for your meal to be freshly cooked, and yes, you can take as long as you like eating it. Isn’t that wonderful?
Let’s face it, sharing platters are rather what we do a version of at home. Anyone who doesn’t ‘plate up’ or eat a ready-meal for one, is likely to share, with items passed around the table so people can eat what they want when they want it, meaning they can also leave food they don’t want for others to enjoy. Think Christmas with the sociability but without the stress!
The food focus is on taste and texture of seasonal (local or appropriately-sourced) fresh ingredients. This is not the place for processed foods or ready-made sauces. Freshly-cooked means it can also be bespoke. If there is some ingredient you are allergic to, for example, it can be left out or replaced. Dietary purists need not worry. Head Chef, Jo, is vegan, yet she cooks meat and fish as she is professionally trained and experienced. She knows what vegetarians, vegans and gluten-free dietary requirements are, will avoid using the same equipment for meat, fish and vegetables, and will cook accordingly, so don’t be afraid to ask for bespoke variations.
Do we need another restaurant in Bude? The answer is a resounding yes if it is different, and this is. Arthur and Linda see it as semi-retirement, so for them, the business has to work at a personal level, being enjoyable and fun, too. Although they lived in France for many years, Linda loves Cornwall and Bude. When we met shortly after 9 am, she was just back from a morning walk on the downs, while Arthur and Jo go for a daily dip in the sea pool (Arthur has been known to take a midnight dip, too). As Linda says, it is easy when you live here to forget why you came, so they take a daily reminder.
Their return to Cornwall started with a visit to Fowey for Linda’s birthday. While Arthur is a ‘never look back’ person, believing you can only move forward, so he had retained an element of resistance. The Fowey visit included a journey back to Bude visiting old haunts. That journey plus a wake-up call health scare, which was all fine after a worrying time, meant a life-reassessment that many of us know only too well. They were thrilled when their daughter, Jo, was also keen to return to Cornwall to work en famille. They checked out a few places but Bude kept pulling them back. As Linda said: “We couldn’t find anywhere better”.
Inside, the restaurant looks good though they say they haven’t changed much. Some tables have been removed as they don’t want to crowd people in, and they refitted the kitchen, including new floors and sinks, while moving around the equipment already there. They wanted a clean environment they felt happy to work in, and feel it is vital to have a chef rather than a manager on the premises, so either Jo or Arthur will be hard at work when you visit. They’re friendly folk, too, so will warmly welcome you. Jo is taking the lead on the business, with Linda working front of house and Arthur doing all the other bits along with his cheffing, as he makes the final transition from life in France. Their aim is to create a relaxed, comfortable ambience in a lovely space where people can feel equally at home having drinks and nibbles as a full-blown meal. Sociable eating translates to arriving at 6 pm and keeping your table until 10 pm if you want to. The family believes that the longer people stay, the more they are enjoying themselves.
The Frog, as I am starting to call it in my head, is focusing on local trade, and being a part of the community. The holiday trade is a bonus but there is no ‘fast food’ nor a special children’s menu, no chicken nuggets, though they can offer smaller portions. They believe there is a place for all kinds of food but they are serving the kind of food they are happy to eat.
Linda believes the energy from within the place is already attracting the clientele who will enjoy the food and be happy there. They are not the cheapest but nor are they the most expensive, but everything is made on the premises, including key flavour items like sauces which are all home-made. Local supplies include mussels from the River Exe, though the saucisson appropriately comes from France, but they aim to source foods locally wherever possible. While in France, Linda and Arthur were shocked to find that 80% of kitchens have no chef, and not even a cooker, as things are regularly cooked in the microwave. Alas, like the rest of western Europe, France has taken to the ready meal! Powdered items are regularly used, and they were once appalled to order turbot in champagne, costing around £25, which turned out to be boil in the bag!
By comparison, their passion is for real food, home cooked, which their customers enjoy eating, and which they enjoy making.
So what will you get at The Surfin’ Frog?
- A convivial, friendly atmosphere
- Fabulous home-cooked food
- Sociable sharing platters
- Excellent wines with your food
- Nibbles and appetisers
- No ready ingredients, sauces, etc.
- Vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free options
- Phone-free zone, so you can live in the moment
- Owners on the premises for a special dining experience