RICK STEIN MAY have put Padstow on the map, but it has taken more that one celebrity television chef to transform the whole of Cornwall into a foodie destination. That the county should have evolved into a diner’s paradise is hardly surprising, given the plethora of fine fresh fish, bracing, appetite-inducing sea air and beautiful coastal scenery which makes this southwestern-most tip of Britain our most magical holiday-land and worth the long drive which at least is now practically all motorway from London, Birmingham and further north.
Indeed, one can even fly. And the stepping-up of the air service to Newquay may or may not be coincidental with Jamie Oliver opening an outpost near Britain’s surfing capital of Fifteen, his restaurant project created for the benefit of disadvantaged youngsters.
Dining here is a pretty pricey proposition at £50 a head without wine, which can add another £40, but the quality is assured. Fifteen will suit diners who like the idea of tasting menus of several small courses, and do not have too romantic a view of Cornwall. The Newquay area is still short on the charm which makes Padstow — with its long, broad sandy beach fronting the Camel Estuary, buzzy harbour and pretty old seaside houses — that bit special.
Rick’s place has long expanded into Rick’s places, causing locals to drily re-christen the home of his culinary empire Padstein. And with every television series, his flagship Seafood Restaurant seems to put up its prices, so that a plate of seabass almost ceases to be a serious proposition at £28.50 — without the chips.
Many of the cognoscenti are plumping instead for his newest restaurant, Rick Stein’s Fish and Chips on the quay, which is truer to his vision in quality and style than his so-called value establishments, St Petrocs, also a hotel, and Stein’s Cafe — both arguably serving dishes you could get anywhere.
Still in Padstow, defectors from Gordon Ramsay’s kitchen have set up Number Six, their own pricey alternative to Stein’s Seafood Restaurant.
But now there is a new contender in town, with celeb chef provenance which offers superb cuisine at very moderate prices. The restaurant is Custard, manned by Stein’s former sous-chef, Dan Gedge. While the spacious first-floor on the harbour square could do with linen napkins, better lighting and a serious change of music from the ‘70s pop churned out by the resident jukebox, the cooking cannot be faulted — do not miss the fresh mackerel with potatoes or the sublime sticky-toffee pudding with clotted cream. A good choice for brunch or lunch, too — and get there while it is still affordable.
The gloriously-named Nathan Outlaw once cooked in Stein’s Seafood Restaurant kitchen, but has spent the past several years garnering himself Michelin stars in different parts of Cornwall.
Unfortunately, his first two restaurants closed 18 months after the glittering award was bestowed, but that was nothing to do with Nathan’s cooking, and now he is employed at Fowey’s Villa Marina Hotel — one of the prettiest waterfront hotels in the county — he expects to stay put, and is also hopeful of landing a Michelin star for the third time.
Meanwhile, the Good Food Guide has declared his restaurant its Newcomer of the Year.
Nathan’s food is about gutsy flavours, but no more than three in any dish — think whisky-marinated fresh salmon served with beetroot risotto followed by poached pears with gingerbread ice- cream.
The restaurant is attractively modern, and Fowey itself a delightful little village handy for the Eden Project and lovely Lanhydrock house and garden.
For those who wonder how breakfast can possibly live up to lunch and dinner on the Cornwall foodie trail, there are three answers.
First, part of Nathan Outlaw’s deal is to supervise breakfast at the Villa Marina, which guarantees a treat. Second, the Woodlands Country House Hotel on the edge of Padstow serves perhaps the finest breakfast in Cornwall — and probably in Britain.
Owner-chef Hugo Woolley cooks up an inventive feast every single morning; the table is laden with fresh juices and marmalade slices and coffee crumbles to nibble on while waiting for an omelette Arnold Bennett or hue-
Padstow Harbour: the cradle of foodie fabulousness in Cornwall