Welcome to Padstein
The view looks like it has come straight from a tourist brochure. Driving down the steep hill, the estuary shines in the sunlight and Padstow reveals itself as a working Cornish fishing village. Stepping out of the taxi onto the quay the salt smell of the sea, the cries of the gulls and the postcard-perfect vista form the backdrop for one of Britain’s best-known restaurants. Welcome to Rick Stein’s Seafood Restaurant.
Rick Stein came to Padstow 28 years ago, when he bought a rundown nightclub and turned it into waterside bistro. Initially the cooking used only the catch of the day from local fishermen but it soon began to benefit from Stein’s exotic travels for the BBC. He started to create new dishes that embodied cooking techniques and spices from around the world. Nowadays, he also casts a wider net for ingredients, using produce from many parts of the British Isles such as oysters from Colchester, wild smoked salmon from County Cork, and langoustine from Scotland.
As his fame has grown, thanks in part to the success of his restaurants and in part because of his TV appearances, so his Padstow empire has grown. Some locals joke that the place should now be called Padstein. There are three restaurants, a patisserie, a deli, accommodation in four separate buildings and even a fish and chip shop but the Seafood Restaurant is the flagship and the best.
The white-painted dining room is light and airy. Like white bone china it provides the perfect backdrop for the varied colours, textures and flavours on Stein’s bold menu.
Is there another restaurant in Britain that would serve monkfish vindaloo? We doubt it. Luckily, it’s not fiery like a curry house vindaloo and the spot-on spicing makes it work. Stuart’s favourite. Likewise, the stir-fried mussels with black beans, garlic, ginger, coriander and spring onions expose a different inspiration but the same finesse. His signature dish is grilled scallops with hazelnut and coriander butter. Just the thing to reanimate a palate jaded by too much airport coffee and too many in-flight mints.
Alternatively, there’s a five-course tasting menu. This is an aquatic adventure currently involving grilled scallops, Loch Duart gravadlax, fish and shellfish soup, fillet of hake with sauce verte and Spanish butter beans, followed by passion fruit pavlova.
In this temple of seafood, carnivorous blasphemers can choose a steak and there are usually veggie starters on the menu that can be supersized for a main course. The restaurant advises habitual vegetarians to phone ahead; presumably so that the chef can take a mogadon and prepare something suitable.
The wine list is small but well chosen to fit most tastes. A three-course meal for two people and a bottle of house wine will set you back about £100.
The Seafood Restaurant does exactly what it says on the tin. Good fish, well-cooked, with enough imagination and flavour to set it apart from your neighbourhood joint (and justify the price). All circumstance and no pomp, it’s worth the air miles.
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