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Medieval Cuisine Is Saving the UK's Biggest Party Town

Captain Jack’s, a medieval-themed restaurant in the Cornish town of Newquay has one rule: “You can swear. You can shout. But you can’t do both.”

by Gareth May
Dec 15 2014, 7:30pm

This was a mistake. I've got to eat a two-ounce cheeseburger, a portion of chicken strips, cheesy garlic bread, 20 onions rings, a portion of fries, and a quarter rack of ribs. All in half an hour.

A hundred men have tried. Nine have succeeded. No one has died. Until tonight.

This is the Captain's Challenge. It's not the only pirate-themed thing in Captain Jack's, a meadery in the Cornish town of Newquay, revered and reviled—depending on where you stand—for its nightlife. It's also famously known in the UK papers and beyond as stag and hen do central.

the-author-at-medieval-times

The author at Captain Jacks.

Before I attempt the challenge, Captain Jack's manager Megan brings me over a selection of meads. In the background, medieval music plays. It's hypnotic in a weird sort of way, reminding me of the soundtrack you hear when you're in a pub in Skyrim.

"Mead is the oldest alcohol ever known to be invented," Megan tells me. "It's where the phrase 'honeymoon' comes from. After you got married, for the next lunar month you drank mead because it increased fertility and that was your honeymoon. It was very big in medieval times because it was easy to make."

medieval-atmosphere

It's also pretty big in modern times, too. Megan says they get stag dos coming in asking for mead all the time. What's its appeal, I wonder? It tastes good, there's no denying that. But it's so sweet I can't quite see why a group of full-grown men clamber to Captain Jack's to sample the stuff. But Megan assures me that the stags love it and get into the whole theme. "We always get a guy in a dress," she says.

But it's not just stag dos that flock to Captain Jack's in summer season. Families with kids also turn up in full Pirates of the Caribbean regalia. Megan reckons the popularity of a themed bar and restaurant in Newquay has largely to do with the "time-capsuled" nature of Cornwall in general, where tin mines loom large on the horizon and the place names sounds like a reading from Moonfleet.

Captain Jack's might be unique for its decor but it's also unique for its straddling of two lucrative markets—the stag dos that come to Newquay for the girls and booze, and the young families that come to north Cornwall for the beaches and sunshine.

knight-in-shining-armor

It does help that the restaurant is divided into two. Upstairs is for stag dos, downstairs for families. Captain Jack's has one rule: "You can swear. You can shout. But you can't do both."

In the summer, appealing to both markets means that Captain Jack's is packed with costumers. Open seven days a week, they knock out 150 covers a night and their tiny bar serves the most rum in the Southwest—an achievement which has won them sponsorship from The Kraken rum.

But it wasn't always this way. "When the recession hit, everyone was tightening their belts. Prices were going down to get the people in, and eventually Newquay imploded," head chef Jos tells me. "There are some of us building it back up, but there are so many limitations now. After the recession, one local council and mayor were welcoming towards stag parties and they gave away a lot of licenses. Now this new council have come in with the votes of the older Newquay crowd—pensioners who want the old Newquay back and they're trying to force stag dos out with a high police presence—and they're not tactful, they're just thuggish. There isn't a crossover [between the two markets] so I don't know why the council have to get involved."

Over the years there's always been this dichotomy to Newquay. On the one hand, the drunken madness of the stag and hen dos and on the other the young families coming for the ice cream and inflatable animals. From local "uproar" when a strip club license was permitted in 2012 to a 'mankini' ban later that year—it's always been a case of push-me-pull-me.

finished-plate

Evidence that the author failed the eating challenge.

Jos says it doesn't have to be this way. "This place could be a total metaphor for Newquay. You have your family environment downstairs and then there's this big divide for the stag dos. It's very easy to do—you've just got to have some clever people at the top."

As if to prove his point, Jos tells me they're up 20 percent from last year, while other restaurants are down or going under. "Maybe the council should follow us?"

It does seem that they've moved with the times and accepted the stag dos and also the families. In fact, Megan says that the way most businesses that thrive in the town work is by catering to both markets. Jos tells me that the only councillor who gives a hoot about the stag and hen do economy—which, if pushed out, will result in job loses—is Lyndon Harrison, a taxi driver by trade who ships families and kids around in the day time and stag and hen dos into town at night.

It's a position Megan also finds herself in. When she's not managing Captain Jack's, she working in Wild Cherry, Newquay's last standing strip club and one that the council have been trying to shut all year.

I can't help but notice I've developed the meat sweats—the predictable knock-on effects from trying to consume an entire farm yard of meat and honey pot of mead in 30 minutes flat.

"The council just don't like us. We have a three-foot rule and we're not allowed to advertise or leaflet," she says, telling me that the council believe that leaflets could be picked up by children, even though they only say "Gentleman's Club" alongside a logo of a bird with a cherry in its mouth. "The council think if they push us hard enough we'll close. Could you imagine the uproar if we decided to be a stag party town with no more families? If businesses want to make a market for stag and hens, let them. If others want to do a family thing, so be it. Both will bring work to the place. You don't have to push it either way."

As I listen to the young couple I can't help but notice I've developed the meat sweats—the predictable knock-on effects from trying to consume an entire farm yard of meat and honey pot of mead in 30 minutes flat.

Stomach suitably churning as the gastric juices get to work on all that cow, it's time to head home. As I leave, carefully making my way down the stone steps like a man with a glass dick, as they say in these parts, I tell Jos that out of all seven food challenges I've attempted (including six in the home of competitive eating, the US), his ranks in the top two regarding taste and achievability.

That said, it was a challenge that I failed at miserably. Let's hope the Newquay Town Council fare a little better at theirs.

Tagged:
Munchies
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Ribs
Alcohol
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mead
Captain Jack’s
chicken strips
onions rings