Riverside, Padstow, Cornwall www.rickstein.com
What kind of a person drives two hours for dinner? Mostly, I’m just too damn hungry for that! Since when is even the best supper worthy of hours in a stuffy, snore inducing car? Evidently, this is what some folk -i.e. me and my partner -will resort to for Rick Stein’s Seafood Restaurant in Padstow.
Being lovers of food -seafood in particular- we are partial to trying out new places here and there. However, of late we’ve grown increasingly impatient with frilly restaurants and their stiffly starched pretentions.
You know the sort of place I mean; inevitably they will have a swaggeringly overpriced tasting menu with terms such as jus, gel and foam. These are ‘Designer’ restaurants that serve measly portions of fussed-with-food that you can’t see on your plate with the naked eye. Who wants to eat a lone freshly-shelled pea mounted atop creamed hazelnut foam? The food that Britons love is comforting, honest, most likely to be found in Mum’s kitchen and above all, simple.
So, you may be justified in thinking that with an apparent intolerance for posh designer nosh, celebrity chef Rick Stein’s restaurant was perhaps not the ideal eatery for us; were we just setting ourselves up for disappointment?
Upon arrival, we were swiftly drawn into the dining room by a luminous clustered shoal -a beacon of swirling alabaster fish- and the light, breezy ambience put us at ease almost instantly. Staff swept past us disinterested in snippets of private conversation between two lovers or the joke shared between a jolly group in the corner booth.
Amidst pale woodwork and neutral walls an eclectic collection of fine art weaved around the circular dining room. Each piece distinctive and telling; a melancholic oil-on-canvas alongside a raucous composition bursting with colourful celebration, placed next to a romantically wistful watercolour. Shelves of fine wines covered the walls and the room spoke volumes about Rick Stein’s passion for food, companionship and humour. Far from finding it stuffy or pretentious, we appreciated this enigmatic environment of laissez-faire.
We started with butterflied fillets of sardine, fried in parmesan breadcrumbs and served with a garlic-spiked sauce béarnaise. Each little fingered morsel of sardine was hot, crunchy and delightfully saline.
Next, I sampled my way through my partner’s starter of hot shellfish doused with parsley, chilli, olive oil, garlic and lemon juice. Every moreish mouthful of tender mollusc was distinct and unique yet each subtle with seaside sweetness.
Those briny little beasts were so good that I suppose my sashimi of hand-dived scallop, sea bass, salmon and Albacore tuna may have been slightly eclipsed. Not that it wasn’t beautiful in its delicate simplicity, with that spiky jade Japanese wasabi, sweet pickled ginger and soy sauce. I was expecting it to be slightly more creative than it was, perhaps with a spicy dipping sauce or something to distinguish it from traditional sashimi.
There was no doubt about the freshness of the produce; each piece of flesh was distinctive and fine. Particularly memorable were the scallop which was soft, opalescent and surprisingly creamy and the coral-hued Albacore tuna, smooth, sweet with a gloriously brackish bite.
A mild Indonesian seafood curry with monkfish, squid and tiger prawns came next speckled with little shards of fiery crimson chilli and accompanied by an Asian inspired green bean and coconut salad.
And finally, my favourite; a yummy Padstow lobster steamed to blushing rouge with fines herbes and served with a green salad, freshly shelled broad beans, peas and green beans. With gusto I cracked through mighty claws, exposing pink morsels of flesh and gouged out sweet pieces of white meat from the cavity of this impressive creature.
Trust me; there could never be a more agreeable dining experience – amazing food, friendly staff and above all no gratuitous fluff.
A meal here will set you back around £140 for two people, including wine. Still, even with the expense and that extra-long car journey, The Seafood Restaurant is certainly worth its salt.