And then there was his appearance on Great British Menu earlier this year where not only every dish he prepared looked blow away brilliant, but Paul himself seemed just so, well, likeable: always smiling, always enthusiastic and totally genuine. So when we planned the shortest of trips to Cornwall, time only for one lunch and one dinner, Nathan Outlaw and Paul Ainsworth were the two chefs that we knew we had to visit. As luck would have it, they're just one mile apart as the crow flies, or rather fish swims, for it requires a ferry crossing of the Camel Estuary to travel from Rock to Padstow.
The restaurant is located in a renovated 18th century town house, and despite keeping some grandeur of the old house, they have opted for a contemporary look and eschewed formality for a lively buzz helped by the excellent front of house staff. Alex Tozer, assistant manager was wonderfully amiable throughout the meal while Michael Rzasa looked after us also very well. They fit the bill perfectly.
We had intended to try as much of Paul's food as possible while we were there as Padstow is hardly in our back yard, and we were delighted when presented with the menu that so much sounded so good; it's not of course always the case.
We set to it with gusto.
We were also already loving the bread which is made on site and we could have easily eaten more but wanted to save ourselves for the treats to come. First out we ordered fried Porthilly oysters with fennel, apple salad and salami and were surprised when they arrived on a plate together with the goose and pickles, one of the few starters we didn't order: Paul thought we should really try it and we're glad he did. Too often in restaurants the parfait seems just a little dull but here, as well as being a really awesome goose liver parfait, dressing it with piccalilli added that something extra in taste and texture to make it a really good appetiser. The oysters were fried to perfection and again we're loving the use of local seafood, more of which we'll have in due course.
And it's not to take away anything from the venison carpaccio which was also a remarkable plate in every way, again, gripping your senses with its looks, taste and texture, sound too with the parsnip and Parmesan crisp crunch. But the mackerel does win in this particular heads up.
And here we go again, the haddock and vichyssoise is also unbelievably brilliant, with layers of meaty haddock and, a black pudding that is second to none, it formed a really clever combination of opposites, so seen on the plate, pure black and white, bound together by the excellent vichyssoise.
We thought the wings might be a knockout dish but the other main, unlike John Lewis, is knowingly undersold. Termed simply 'day boat pollock' with purple sprouting, brown crab, shrimps and Cornish new, you initially think, okay, fish, shrimp and veg; turns out that's like saying a Formula 1 Ferrari is 'just a car'. When they say 'day boat', that's exactly what they mean, the boat leaves first thing in the morning (and we mean very first thing, from Looe), lands back at 4am, and the fish arrives at the restaurant by 11am. It's about 3pm now, the fish is 12 hours from sea to plate. Seasoned with a little Madras, so it's light and aromatic, not fiery and hot, it's a fish revelation, like discovering something entirely new. Add to the mix the brown crab, crème fraiche, a little lemon juice, and again, this 'simple' dish is elevated to a wonder of the food world.
We swapped plates back and forth, tasting each, utterly torn trying to decide which is best, impossible to say for love is love, and we absolutely loved them both.
The chocolate plate though was thoroughly brilliant and naughty: mousse, fondant and ice cream (and loved the frosted peanuts), cutting into that fondant delivered every fondant dream you've ever had. That could be enough, that should be enough, but coming to Number 6 there's a dessert you absolutely must have...
Okay, to talk through the plate, in the middle there are cinnamon beignets, and a raspberry curd for dipping, char-grilled strawberry marshmallows with tarte tartin style apple (think toffee apple here), coconut custard (think coconut shy) with popping popcorn, while candyfloss has morphed to honeycomb. I love this dessert, I love every picture of this dessert (hence I've included so many below) and I love the way this makes you feel about food. To eat it is to smile outside and in, it's food theatre that can literally make your day. And I love grazing a cart stall rather than having a plate.
So this is where we have our quick rant. We've held back till now, we didn't want to bring the mood down but something has to be said. That Paul Ainsworth at Number 6 Restaurant hasn't got a Michelin star (or two) brings shame on the heads of Michelin and all their children.
Okay, so we've been accused of being pampered, lucky and spoiled (and maybe we are) but we have eaten (and posted to the blog on) 17 of the top 20 in this year's National Restaurant Awards, and have no hesitation in saying that Number 6 stands eye to eye with any of them, in fact, pounding most of them into the ground on flavours, technical merit and creativity. Great British Menu recognised his outstanding talents awarding him a place in the final, it's a disgrace that the food world 'great and the good' have not, perhaps they're too lazy to make the journey from Chelsea. Rant over.
To summarise, if you haven't got it so far, we really liked Number 6 and you should go out of your way to eat there. Utterly brilliant.
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Paul Ainsworth at number 6 website
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