Rick (Stein) or Treat in Padstow, Cornwall

Cornwall was a week of gastronomic bliss. We dined at one of Rick Stein‘s umpteen million establishments in and around Padstow, which, love him or hate him, have done nothing but bring money, tourism and a good sprucing up to this exquisite little village overlooking a sandy estuary dotted with sailing boats. We chose the Rick Stein Cafe, which is the lower-range priced offering, but still a proper restaurant. The place was informal, cosy and family-friendly with kids enjoying proper grown up food without the stuffy environment and hawk-eyed waiters. A small, shady garden outside can accomodate about 15 people.
Despite the relaxed cafe feel, the menu is serious, making the most of local, ridiculously fresh fish and boasting cornish ales and cider alongside the wines. I started with the salt and pepper prawns which were crispy and spicy on the outside but soft, sweet and fleshy on the inside and although I licked my fingers profusely afterwards, it wasn’t because they were oozing grease. The helping was generous for a starter, eight prawns for a price that usually sees you being served four. We continued with devilled mackerel which was absolutely divine. Mackerel is not a fish that has me slobbering at the gills, like, say a roast monkfish or chargrilled black bream, but this was popping with flavour simply because of how fresh it was and how unfussily it was prepared. Served with a bright red tomato and white onion salad I couldn’t have asked for more.
Francesco got his chops into a lather over a steaming bowl of grilled fillet of haddock with laksa noodles and sambal balacan, a malaysian condiment which contains a large amount of chillies and toasted shrimp paste which created a creamy smooth, sweet curry taste with a pungeant kick right at the end, perfect for fleshy, plump haddock. My wine was nothing spectacular, although I did order the cheapest thing off the menu.
Francesco’s local ale, produced up the road (by Rick Stein, of course!) was a far better choice, especially as he was having curry. Puddings came next. Francesco’sprofiteroles were sadly the one disappointment of the meal. Stodgy and sickly sweet they lacked the lightness of touch an experienced french chef might have brung to it. On the other end of the spectrum, my sunken chocolate cake with excellent cornish cream was the dessert equivalent of Mills and Boon sex. Had I been wearing one, my bodice may have ripped, both from the fat content and the shear excitement. All in all, we paid £53 for two for michelin-quality food in a bright, pretty cafe. Beats a pasty, I’m afraid to say.

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