“It’s about bringing people together”: in conversation with Simon Stallard, MD and Founder of the Hidden Hut and the Standard Inn

I have been visiting Cornwall for my summer holiday for the past few years now. We love the dramatic coastlines and the fishing villages of times gone by, and the fact that you don’t have to navigate a busy airport to get there is definitely part of the magic. Each summer, we pack the car full to bursting and head down for a week of reading, swimming, and eating fish and chips on the beach. A visit to the post office to buy a bucket and a net for crabbing is a must.

This year, we spent every day on Porthcurnick Beach near Portscatho. Although it was not our closest beach, we went there to eat our lunch at The Hidden Hut, the iconic food destination set up by legendary chef Simon Stallard and Jemma Little and written about by Moira in August 2021. It has become our favourite ritual: a bracing swim in the freezing sea followed by a bowl of steaming tomato soup with hunks of warm bread and butter. Even in the rain, we still made it to the beach with layers of towels to keep us warm.

“That’s what it’s really all about,” said Simon Stallard when I caught up with him this week. “It’s bringing people together, rain or shine, and offering wholesome, no-nonsense food and an experience they’ll remember.”

Simon Stallard moved to Cornwall in 2006, and founded The Hidden Hut four years later.

Simon moved down to Cornwall in 2006. After years in management consultancy in big cities around the world, he sought a change of scene. “I totally fell in love with this part of the world,” he told me. “Cornwall has so many micro-industries, so much varied produce, and there are so many people here who do one thing – be it cheese, beer or coffee – really well. I think lots of people come here to find space, and to find peace.”

“Cornwall has so many micro-industries, so much varied produce, and there are so many people here who do one thing.” – Simon Stallard, Founder.

In 2010, Simon called up the National Trust and asked if he could tender for the ramshackle hut on Porthcurnick beach, which at that point sold inflatable dolphins and postcards. “The National Trust were thrilled, but it came with a plethora of problems,” he recalled, “it didn’t have electricity, it didn’t have running water and it didn’t have a phone line. But I saw that there was demand to create something that really celebrated this area.”

The Hidden Hut was born, and after a tough first year, the Hut has grown into one of Cornwall’s most popular eateries – known for its rustic local food and evening Feasts. “The Feasts really put us on the map,” Simon told me. “The first time we did it, I bought enough fish for 100 people, and 200 people showed up. The next time, I bought enough for 200, and 300 came!” This year, thousands of tickets for the experience sold out in less than a minute. The Hut still looks like a hut, but today Simon runs a sophisticated operation, preparing up to 700 meals a day and using AI to help predict demand.

Last year, Simon and Jemma began renovations on the derelict building that is now the Standard Inn.

Last year, Simon and Jemma took up a new challenge: a pub. Set in the village of Portscatho, the Standard Inn shares the Hidden Hut’s commitment to simple food done well, but has a more grown-up feel. “We never felt like the kind of people who could run a pub,” Simon reflected, “it’s such a huge job. But the building had been on the market for seven years, and there are so few freehold pubs in the area, so we thought – let’s just go for it. We knew we had a loyal customer base, a solid following online, and buy-in from the local community.”

Much like the Hidden Hut, refurbishing the Standard Inn was a huge endeavour. The building was completely derelict, with no heating and no insulation. It needed a total transformation, which was realised with the help of local interiors brands, and sponsorship from the likes of Farrow & Ball.

Today, the Standard Inn has built a buzzy, cool vibe while still feeling cozy. Inside, the bar boasts a great array of drinks arranged beautifully on the wall, and there’s a corner of pub reserved for walk-in customers who just fancy a drink. Outside, a beautiful pub garden looks over the village green.

But what really stands out is the food, showcasing the best of Cornwall’s produce in an ever-evolving menu of simple dishes.

The Standard Inn showcases the best of Cornwall’s produce in an ever-evolving menu of simple dishes.

“We change up our offering every day, depending on what’s been grown or caught,” explained Simon. “I love this way of working, but it does come with its challenges. Every morning we have a bit of a ‘ready steady cook’ moment when we have to work out how to cook and combine the ingredients we’ve got.” Grilled fish, steamed vegetables, sharing platters of salads, and sumptuous deserts are menu staples. The chocolate brownie pudding was the best I’ve ever tasted.

While visitors come from all over the country to visit the pub, it has also become integral to the local community. The Standard Inn sponsors the local cricket team, providing post-match pizzas to hungry players. There are crafts sessions, in which Cornish artisans can showcase their skills, like weaving and whittling wooden spoons. Every Monday, they bring in a local cheesemaker to put on a spread of fifteen cheeses from the area. Customers grab a plate and enjoy the cheese with a glass of wine. “We’re doing what we love, and celebrating others doing what they love,” reflected Simon.

The Standard Inn and the Hidden Hut are very special places, and true examples of brilliant British initiatives reviving local community and business. I’d love to hear about other spots like this – please do get in touch!

Helen.Benigson@thembsgroup.co.uk | @TheMBSGroup