A meeting place between land and sea
We chatted to Fred Clapperton, head chef of the stunning seaside restaurant, about how he uses what’s around him to tell a sensory story…
It’s a serene winter evening at Coppet Hall beach, the kind where the world feels totally still. The western sky glows golden where the sun has dipped behind the wooded valley banks, leaving a peachy hue blending eastwards, over our heads, into the innumerable pastel tones of dusk. Night is gathering cloudlessly; it will be starry and cold.
The secluded cove has a private feel about it. A sandy beach fills the open end of a horseshoe-shaped alcove in Carmarthen Bay, and after arriving by road over the hill from bustling Saundersfoot, we felt we’d descended into a valley of calm tranquillity. At lowest tide, Coppet Hall bay is connected by sand to its neighbours – Saundersfoot on one side and Wiseman’s Bridge on the other – and at high tide through old railway tunnels used historically to transport coal.
We’ve been soaking in the atmosphere from a bench looking out to sea, watching the colours change above us. On a clear day like this, the Gower peninsular is visible on the eastern horizon, and to the distant right, the headland at Monkstone is cut into pieces by the tide…
And that’s it. No houses, no roads, no sign of built-up life interrupts our peaceful vista. The tinkle of a stream and the gentle hiss of the waterline as the glassy ocean pulls back from the sand are the only audible sounds. A handful of dog walkers make the most of the evening light, a couple of brave, wetsuited swimmers emerge dripping and elated from the cold water, and a distant paddleboarder slips out of sight round the headland to our right.
Though it’s difficult to tear our gaze from the horizon and end our reverie, we’re excited to get inside Coast. Designed to BREEAM standards (the world’s leading sustainability certification system for buildings) by local architects at Acanthus Holden, the restaurant is modern and certainly impressive to look at. Clad in cedar and fronted with glass, its façade curves towards the bay and cups the view, with a large sun terrace along the front and a plant-covered, green roof.
At the top of a sweeping walkway lined with perennial plants and a hedgerow of Sea Buckthorn (whose bitter, tangy berries have no doubt been noted by the chefs inside), the restaurant’s glass door is opened to us by friendly front of house staff who greet us warmly. Our coats are gathered and stowed, drinks offered, and we are taken to a mezzanine table in the upper part of the restaurant.
With elevated views of the bay and sandy beach, no seat lacks a sea view as mirrors reflect the horizon in every direction, bringing an incredible natural light into the space. White wood panelling gives off an unmistakeable beach-house vibe, while dark forest greens, bespoke wooden tables and artsy tree trunks (from the nearby estate of Coast’s sister restaurant, Fernery) are grounding and earthy, creating the perfect blend of woodland and beach, land and sea.
As we are pondering this melding of space, place and décor, head chef Fred Clapperton emerges from the kitchen and joins us for a chat, giving us the opportunity to find out more about his journey to Coast.
Originally hailing from Kent, he worked in Cambridgeshire, the Cotswolds and Surrey before finding us in this quiet corner of Wales. “I started off pot washing in pubs when I was 15 or so,” he tells us. “When I was asked to help out in the kitchen to cover people off sick or on holiday, I discovered I quite liked it.” Naturally artistic and with a flair for drawing, “I was doing a construction course with the aim of working my way towards architecture, but then I realised that architecture is a lot more about numbers than drawing things!” Fred laughs.
After this revelation, he threw himself into kitchen roles to get as creative as he could through food.
Exploring and expanding his horizons in different establishments, including working in a place that was “all about butchery, using offal and unusual cuts”, he quickly “realised fine-dining was the route I wanted to go down”, eventually working at a Michelin-starred restaurant.
“When I took over as head chef there, we lost the Michelin star, and then a year later we got it back again… which was everything I wanted to happen at that point,” Fred admits modestly. “But accolades aren’t everything, and I realised I needed something outside of work, so that was my main reason to move here. We’ve got high ambitions at Coast of course, but now I’m in a place where I can get great enjoyment from what we do at the restaurant and have a better work-life balance as well.”
Here in west Wales, enjoyment is within easy reach and often sought outdoors in the stunning Pembrokeshire scenery. Fred loves his newfound rural life and being able to walk from his home in Tenby to the famous Coast Path, where he enjoys hiking.
The county’s nature has a big influence on his style of cooking; drawing from our outstanding coastline and countryside, there’s always exceptional seafood, good-quality meat and fresh vegetables on the menu, and Fred works closely with local producers as much as possible.
“It’s about working with partners that have the same kind of vision as us, who match us as a business in terms of ethos and attitude to quality. When it comes to seafood, I’m becoming more aware of how things are actually fished, so we use line-caught fish and hand-dived shellfish whenever we can. For example, I work with Berwyn from Albatross Fisheries – he’s a Saundersfoot fisherman who provides us with amazing line-caught seabass”.
When pressed for a favourite Pembrokeshire product, Fred doesn’t hesitate to tell us: “It always comes back to the oysters we get from Angle. Genuinely they are some of the best oysters I have ever, ever had.”
The marine biologist behind Atlantic Edge Oysters uses regenerative farming methods to reintroduce native oysters to Welsh waters, and his work is causing a stir amongst local foodies and chefs alike. “A couple of weeks ago, he got caught out by the tides and couldn’t get us oysters for a week,” Fred continues. “We went back to the oysters I used to use, which are renowned for being some of the best around, and they were just nowhere near as good.”
Though situated beside the sea, in this gorgeous hidden valley flanked by woodland and undulating hills, Coast’s foundations stand firmly rooted on dry ground, so there’s a strong focus on what comes from the land too. Fred is careful to emphasise that it’s not solely a seafood restaurant:
“I want everything to represent where we are, and by that, I mean the county as a whole. Bringing in the seaside location of the restaurant is important because, well, it’s a very special spot, but we also have hills and countryside which deserve equal attention, as well as the shoreline itself. So we incorporate a lot of coastal leaves and vegetables that can be found along this stretch, as well as using things like charcoal”.
Working with a small team, Fred wants to give local people opportunities to grow and develop, “to help people from west Wales build a career in hospitality down here. It’s about attitude, not knowledge sometimes, so bringing young chefs into the kitchen and nurturing their talent is something I love.” This tactic is obviously working, as the food that comes out of the kitchen is exceptional.
Being a chef suits Fred’s artistic nature, and his menu is creative and playful, the food full of artistry yet simple and natural. But how is this achieved? “There’s a saying”, he tells us. “‘What grows together, goes together’, which is how I like to start building dishes. Then comes experimentation, which is my favourite part. You’ve probably seen a couple of unusual things on the menu…”
We have indeed spotted a few intriguing things, but we’re not going to give them away – you’ll have to visit to discover!
Fred’s style, as he describes it, is “precise but natural, and always evolving”, and we can see this in each dish, as well as reflected in the many-mirrored restaurant itself, with its oceanic and woodland hues, thoughtful décor and considerate staff. This is modern British cuisine at its finest, with a talented chef at the helm whose mission is simple:
“I just want people to enjoy what we do. It’s about building the story of place and produce into the menu and making sure that everything has a value, that it’s not just a plate of food. I want to pull everything together into an experience that works on the plate, in the restaurant, with the setting – to create a sensory story of the meeting between land and sea.”
You can visit Coast for lunch and dinner Wednesday to Saturday. Tasting and à la carte menus available.