While returning to the British Isles for Christmas festivities and New Year celebrations, I was fortunate enough to be surprised with a trip to the beautiful Cornish seaside town of St Ives. Cornwall is home to many a good thing, Cornish Pasties, Clotted Cream, Saffron Buns and good old Fish & Chips, to name a handful. Having never been to this particular region of Cornwall we decided to try our luck booking a table at Paul Ainsworth at No.6 Restaurant in Padstow. As luck would have it we managed to book the last table for lunch service on our chosen date. Perfect. The following morning we awoke early and started our drive to St Ives, via Padstow.
Padstow is a quaint fishing town on the northern coast of Cornwall. Probably most famously known for being the (former) home of celebrity British chef, Rick Stein. Now I like my fair share of Rick Stein, I attended a book talk by him last year and he proved to be most amusing, but his self endorsement in Padstow boarders the grotesque, The Seafood Restaurant, Stein’s Fish & Chips, Rick Stein’s Cafe, Stein’s this, Stein’s that, you get the point. Luckily, a chef I’ve admired for a number of years, Paul Ainsworth, has been working his culinary magic in Padstow and helping to detract attention away from all this Rick Stein malarkey.
Upon entry to No.6 it’s apparent the restaurant is set within a converted 18th Century seaside townhouse with low ceilings and barely room for two to pass in the corridors. Although this isn’t a negative, to the contrary we found it added charm and character to the restaurant, and enabled the diner to imagine times gone by in this historic building. The dining rooms are elegantly decorated with modern furnishings and local artwork hanging on the walls, no stuffy white table clothes here. Brought to us promptly upon seating were two freshly baked breads, an olive baguette and an onion loaf. The breads were served alongside freshly whipped Cornish butter and what was described to us as “cod roe dip with crumbled pork crackling”, or in other words taramasalata topped with pork scratching. Although forget about what it’s called, this dip was some form of fish crack! We polished the whole bowl off in no time at all. So good in fact that we would later regret eating all that bread before we had even looked at the menu. Incidentally I opted for a local brew to start my meal (Sharp’s Brewery Single Brew Reserve 2012) and Lucy chose a 2010 Rosso della Puglia (Italy) served in the largest wine glass known to man.
Moving on we made our selections from the list of starters, which was not an easy task, as everything sounded divine. We eventually settled on what we were told was a signature dish (and rightly so) of the restaurant, “torched cornish mackerel, celeriac remoulade, parma ham, cucumber”. The mackerel tasted beautifully fresh and slightly smoky from the blowtorch cooking, while the celeriac added a sense of luxury and decadence to this humble fish with its creamy dressing. The gently pickled cucumber retained a nice bite, adding texture and flavour that brought the whole dish together. This was Lucy’s starter and I’m not going to lie, I had serious food envy.
Not that my starter was bad by any stretch of the imagination. On the menu my dish read, “smoked haddock, coronation egg, charles macleod black pudding”, which sounded intriguing enough for me to place an order. Essentially a scotch-egg with a twist. Flakes of subtly smoked white haddock and lightly whipped potato encased a perfectly cooked egg (quails I believe), before being coated in crumbs and deep-fried until the exterior was golden and crisp. This was accompanied with slices of locally made black pudding and a deeply flavourful coronation puree. Unpretentious British food at its best.
For mains I stuck with the fish theme (I was in Cornwall after all) and chose, “day boat monkfish, bone marrow, parsley, sour cream, veal shin salad”. This dish tasted as good as it looked, the presentation was clean and concise. The monkfish was firm, almost as if it had been salted briefly before service to draw out liquid and give it a denser, meatier texture. The fish was glazed in a sticky veal jus reduction (I presume using said veal from the accompanying shin salad) and sat beside chunks of gelatinous, melt in the mouth bone marrow, slightly tart sour cream and almost bitter parsley puree. Garnished with crisp parsley leaves for texture this dish was sublime. The veal shin salad was tender, juicy and intensely rich in flavour, a gesture of lettuce leaves with the veal shin hardly made this a salad but I wasn’t complaining.
The other main we chose was, “malt glazed duck, salt leg pie, cabbage and smoked bacon, celeriac”. Blushing pink duck breast was tender and juicy with crisp skin and a savoury, slightly sweet malt glaze. The accompanying salt leg pie was served in a separate dish alongside a jug of sticky duck jus. Both were rich with robust flavours and the pie was topped with potato puree, resembling a posh shepherd’s pie.
It’s safe to say the Cornish folks like to eat well, and eat plenty. We both felt that the main courses were ample enough in size without the additional veal shin salad and salt leg pie, although both were delicious and we didn’t leave a morsel on our plates. But unfortunately due to our expanded waistlines we were unable to entertain the notion of browsing the dessert menu. Even more unfortunate as Paul Ainsworth was the winning chef for the dessert course on the 2011 series of Great British Menu, with his witty dish, “a trip to the fairground”. Complete with playful fairground cart prop, toffee apples and marshmallows on sticks, raspberry curd doughnuts, honeycomb lollipops and coconut custard topped with chocolatey peanut popcorn. This dessert for two really is a sight to behold and I’m sure would have mainlined enough sugar into my veins to block my arteries for the remainder of our Cornwall trip. On this occasion it wasn’t to be, but the silver lining is we’re already plotting our return trip to sample more of Paul’s exquisite food and of course that elusive “a trip to the fairground” desert.
Paul Ainsworth at No.6 Restaurant – 6 Middle Street, Padstow, Cornwall (1 Michelin Star)