South Cornwall's best budget eats

With one eye on the half-term hols, Lesley Gillilan digs out the best Cornish food - from a child-friendly caff in Penryn to a proper seaside pub and the best pasties in the county

Wheel House reastaurant, Falmouth
Mussel power ... a great shellfish menu has turned The Wheel House into a Falmouth institution

1. The Wheel House

This modest, back-street shellfish cafe has been open less than a year and already it's a Falmouth institution (the monthly paella nights are booked up until February). The decor is retro living room with stripped floors, junk-shop tables, candles and fairy lights; and the menu is beautifully simple: mussels, scallops, crab or prawns (and lobster and native oysters when available). All the fish is Cornish, all harbour-fresh and served in a Portuguese-style cataplama (a clam-like metal dish) with chive butter, lemon, skinny chips, a side salad and a choice of two house wines (red or white). Dishes are designed to share (mussels for two come at £10.95). The scallops (six for £8.50) are to die for. And you get a pinny and a set of crackers with your make-a-mess whole crab.

• Open Wed-Sat, evenings only – booking essential. Upton Slip, Falmouth, +44 (0)1326 318 050.

2. Harbour Lights

Harbour Lights, Falmouth, Cornwall

The ubiquitous Mr Stein recently brought his fish and chip formula to Falmouth harbour, but can he compete with local favourite Harbour Lights? The award-winning chippy not only does a fine fish fry-up, but also uses sustainable fish, cooked in sustainable palm oil (or, in the near future, British rape-seed), served in bio-degradable packaging, with Cornish-spud chips. Cod roe was recently struck off the menu ("fish eggs are the ocean's future," explains owner Pete Fraser); ditto endangered skate. What you can eat, with a free conscience, is Icelandic cod, haddock from the north-east Arctic or Cornish mackerel, pollock and whiting. Five pence from all restaurant hot-drink prices goes to the Marine Conservation Society. A sister takeaway in Truro opened last year.

• Takeaway cod and chips, £5.25. Arwenack Street, Falmouth, +44 (0)1326 316934; Back Quay, Truro, +44 (0)1872 242426);

3. Miss Peapod's Kitchen Cafe

Miss Peapod's Kitchen Cafe, Penryn, Cornwall

Under the wind turbines of Penryn's Jubilee Wharf (one of the UK's greenest buildings), this breezy waterfront cafe is part coffee bar, part creche, part social club (there's free wi-fi, newspapers, a children's play area and the occasional meditation class). The decor is light wood and lime green Formica and the food is fresh (sometimes foraged), wholesome, organic, mostly local and served on retro crockery. Try a homemade beefburger (or beanburger) with focaccia roll, beef tomato salad, herb yogurt and chips (£8.75), spicy free-range chicken wrap with salsa and salad (£5.95) or a dahl stuffed red pepper (£7.25). There's a decent kids' menu, sticky cakes and, outside, a generous deck with views of Falmouth harbour from the Penryn River.

• Doorstep sandwiches from £3.95; breakfast (bacon, vegan or veggie) from £3.65; daily specials from £5.95. Open Tue-Thurs and Sun 10am-4pm and Fri-Sat 10am-12.30am (live music in the evenings). Closed on Mondays. Jubilee Wharf, Penryn, +44 (0)1326 374 424;

4. Sarah's Pasty Shop

Sarah's Pasty Shop, Falmouth, Cornwall

Hard to pick a winner among the butchers and bakers that turn out the county's best "oggies", but this tiny Looe harbour favourite gets my vote. After 20 years behind the counter, Sarah is now retired, but daughter Lucy Taylor continues to run the family bakery – turning out deliciously fattening oven-fresh pies and pasties, packed with flavour and good quality ingredients (like juicy chunks of Cornish beef). I haven't tried the veggie pasties (spiced chick-pea and lentil), the gluten-free, the lamb, the 'breakfast pasty' (bacon, sausage, egg, bean and mushroom at £2.50). But the more familiar traditionals (small, medium or large) are made, as they should be, with beef skirt and a bit of peppery swede, and wrapped in a rich lardy pastry with a side crimp. I ate mine on the beach – alone. Nothing else mattered. Worth noting, perhaps, that Dawn French ordered 50 of them for her 50th birthday party.

• Pasties from £1.55. Buller Street, Looe, +44 (0)1503 263 973. Other pasties worth queuing for include the Horse and Jockey in Helston (41 Meneage Street, +44 (0)1326 563 534) and the Village Butcher at Mylor Bridge (Trevellan Road, near Falmouth, +44 (0)1326 373 713).

5. Polpeor Cafe

It looks like a standard greasy spoon, but this steamy little tea room perched on the cliff-top at Lizard Point has A-list views and a terrace where you can sit on plastic chairs in a salty wind watching boats rock around the headland into Falmouth Bay; plus a big, hearty menu of home-cooked food. Main courses include standard cafe fare (egg and chips, lasagne, steak and kidney pie), local-crab salads, a "luxury" fish pie (with vegetables, at £7.80) and fish of the day; plus home-made puddings, cream teas and cakes. Work up an appetite with a brisk walk – it's half a mile from Lizard village and 500 metres to Lizard Lighthouse.
• Main dishes from £7.50. Off season, it's open on Sundays only (and from Boxing Day to New Year), but it's back full-time from March. Lizard Point, +44 (0)1326 290 939.

6. Sam's

Sam's On The Beach cafe, Fowey, Cornwall

The decor is not what you'd expect of a 13th-century merchant's house (loud concoction of pink flock wallpaper, green paint and 1960s pop memorabilia), but this veteran bistro-cafe-bar has a loyal following among Fowey River folk. The main attractions are the good-value Samburgers (chargrilled ground beef with toasted bun, salad and fries) and the chilled, anything goes vibe. The menu also includes "Captain Fish's speciality" (basically fish, chips and mushy peas) and a choice of fishburgers (all at £9.95). They don't take bookings, so get there early (or be prepared to hang out in the upstairs lounge bar while you wait for a table). In a former lifeboat station at nearby Polkerris, Sam's much younger sister, On the Beach, serves wood-fired pizzas (from £7.50) plus pricier seafood dishes and steaks (eat in or take away).

• Burgers, from £7.95. Open daily 12pm until late. Fore Street, Fowey, +44 (0)1726 832 273;

7. Muffins Tea Room

Muffin's Tea Room, Lostwithiel, Cornwall

In the so-called antiques capital of Cornwall, Lostwithiel, Muffins is part tea room, part Slow Food deli. Run by hands-on Keith and Lindsay Southgate, it specialises in proper Cornish produce - from Crellow chutneys and wildflower honey to Cornish apple juice, ales, sardines, sea salt, cheeses and Tregothnan teas (the Tregothnan Estate overlooks Falmouth Bay). Breakfast on Mr Kittow's bacon and free-range scrambled eggs (£6); lunch on ham and salami from Deli Farm Charcuterie (at Camelford) served with olives and crusty bread; or treat yourself to a classic cream tea: fresh-made scones, Boddington's jams (from Mevagissey) and Trewithen Dairy clotted cream. There's a pretty walled garden for warm days. Plus, Muffins is running a Souper Soup Week (26-30 October) in tandem with the Lostwithiel Food Festival.

• Cream teas from £5 per person; Muffins tasting plate, £6.95. 32 Fore Street, Lostwithiel, +44 (0)1208 872 278;

8. Pandora Inn

Pandora Inn, Falmouth, Cornwall

You can't beat a proper Cornish seaside pub: flagstones, creaking timbers, tar-and-nicotine paintwork, log fires, a faint whiff of smugglers, brine and pilchards. For atmosphere, good food and Cornish ales, head for the Blue Peter in Polperro (+44 (0)1503 272 743) or the Ship Inn at Porthleven (+44 (0)1326 564 204). For great food, sail into the Pandora Inn – a thatched 13th-century St Austell Ales pub right on the water at Restronguet Creek (an inlet off Carrick Road and the Fal Estuary). The dinner menu is hardly budget, but you can eat lunches (sautéed rump steak, wild mushroom and caramelised onion in a baked ciabatta) or tapas (grilled pesto sardines; scallops, parma ham and hog's pudding) for under a tenner, and good, fresh fish and chips for just a shade over (£11).

• Tapas from £3; lunches from £5, Sunday carvery, £10.50 per head. Restronguet Creek, Mylor Bridge, Falmouth, +44 (0)1326 372 678;

9. Lemon Street Market

Lemon street Market, Truro, Cornwall

In a modern building in the centre of Truro this place looks more shopping centre than indoor market. It has nothing to do with fruit (it's named after 19th-century Truro merchant, William Lemon), but it smells so good (roasted coffee, grills, fresh-baked bread); and though there's a mix of retailers (a barbers, an eco florist, a couple of crafty gift shops), food is the thing. Upstairs, the Lander Gallery café (+44 (0)1872 275 578); downstairs the Explorers café (+44 (0)1872 271 733), the Larder deli (sandwiches, salad bar, gourmet picnics), Baker Tom (for artisan breads, as supplied to Fifteen Cornwall), and Halzephron Farm shop's herbs, potions and "living foods" (with lots of try-it samples). All in all, a great place to source Cornish goodies, and it's just around the corner from the Pannier Market on Lemon Quay.

• Lemon Street, Truro,

10. The Croust House

In a former milking parlour at Tregellast Barton Farm (home to Roskilly's yummy ice-cream), this rustic restaurant-cafe is just one element of an all-singing Cornish farm experience (40 acres, herds of Jersey cattle, cats, ducks, donkeys, chutneys, fudge, nature walks through the gentle Lizard Peninsula greenbelt). You can watch the milking, visit the ice-cream lab (during holidays only), or, better still, sit down to a big scoop of, say, Chocolate Brownie and Marshmallow (from £1.70). The pasties are home-cooked using Tregellast's own beef and the cream teas come with farmhouse jam and big dollops of the dairy's own clotted cream. Lunches include quiches, salads, daily specials (like balsamic-roasted vegetable lasagne) and beefy Sunday roasts (from £6.50). It looks a bit cafeteria, but you can eat outside or indoors by a cosy winter fire. Even the furniture is hand-made on the farm.

• Hot pasties, £3.20; specials, £7.99. Open daily 9am-6pm. Tregellast Barton, St. Keverne, Helston, +44 (0)1326 281924,

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