Padstow now seems perpetually busy and Rick must surely take some of the credit. The main harbour car park is already full at 11:30am on a late March Monday morning where the thermometer never rises above two degrees. At 11:45am, families are already queuing for Stein's fish and chip shop to open at midday. The fish and chip shop is my back up plan if I can't get into The Seafood Restaurant that night, though fortunately, with the help of local friends, I am able to score a booking. When I enter The Seafood Restaurant at 7:30pm, it's buzzing, can't really see an empty seat in the house and you can only be impressed with the strength of the brand he has created here in Padstow. I can only imagine that in July-August, it's more difficult to get a table here than it is at The Fat Duck.
The restaurant is definitely a place to relax and enjoy a night out. It's not about 'airs and graces' or hushed tones, recognising that its customer base is drawn from people on holiday who want to let their hair down a little, even if in midweek March that hair tends toward blue rinse. The room is vibrant, there's a central seafood bar (with unreserved seating) and the art work on the wall is modern, even sometimes challenging.
The menu is substantial and clearly influenced from the travel Rick has undertaken that formed the backbone of his TV work. There's a choice of 17 starters and over a dozen mains and I do really like the menu's range, for there's fish and chips with mushy peas if you don't want to be challenged, all the way through to Singapore Chilli Crab, Indonesian Seafood Curry and Lobster Thermidor.
There are however two things you must know and appreciate before eating there. First, don't expect Rick to be in the kitchen. The guy is 66 years old now and has built an empire (which Wikipedia values at £32million), so he's not behind a hot stove flipping your fish. Second, it is expensive to eat there. Lobster Thermidor (with local Padstow lobster) will set you back £45.50; in Scott's of Mayfair, one of London's most expensive seafood restaurants, the same dish (lobster origin unknown) costs £42. Realistically, you are looking at £100pp while it would be quite easy to push this even higher with only modest drinks with the meal. That however is the power of brand and he's got a full restaurant in March, so good luck to him really.
I feel obliged to start the meal with local oysters (Porthilly) taking two fresh ones, as well at two tempura batter rock oysters which are deep fried sympathetically leaving oyster flavours relatively intact but with a nice crisp batter. Someone else's plate of langoustines sits on the bar and it does look amazing but they are from the Scottish coast and it seems to me wrong to visit Cornwall, have a seat with a view of the harbour (almost) and order Scottish seafood.
Padstow is a small town and a complimentary Jerusalem Artichoke Soup with foie gras, bacon and chives arrives for me: it is decadent and creamy and possibly the best use of artichokes I have come across. My other ordered starter is Shangurro - Basque Stuffed Crab. Fortunately they provide a further explanation: spider crab meat, tomato, garlic, and olive oil, baked in the shell with parsley and bread crumbs and again, I like that they are doing more than just obvious dishes - the other crab starter is Cornish Crab with a wakame (seaweed), cucumber and dashi salad with wasabi mayonnaise, so no ordinary dressed crab here then.
My main is simply a classic: roast troncon of turbot with Hollandaise sauce. Menu notes (given for all dishes) say 'Turbot in the English style, simple and probably a nicer way of eating this wonderful fish than anything more elaborate'. I'm also impressed they've eschewed the fillet, respecting the customer's ability to deal with the bones. It's a handsomely large cut with good crispy chips (thin and thick are both available) and a tangy Hollandaise and is the kind of dish that satisfies. There's more complex stuff on the menu for sure, with Rick's Mediterranean and Asian influences evident, but for me, sitting in Cornwall, I wanted and was hoping for simplicity in the English style, and I got just that.
I would love to spend more time exploring the menu at The Seafood Restaurant though my bank manager might be somewhat less keen about that. There is a huge amount of variety: sole, turbot, hake, John Dory, brill, and that's just the top half of the mains menu, all cooked in a wide variety of non obvious ways; it's a restaurant that could easily withstand repeat visits. I like too that it's not a 'dumbed down' menu, and while the restaurant facilitates those on holiday, it respects them with the food and it does feel a sort of personal expression of Rick Stein's love of the sea (from what I've seen of him on TV) which makes it too a differentiated experience. With Paul Ainsworth and Nathan Outlaw also now flying the flag for great food in Padstow and Rock, there's no doubt that this is now a food town, and all these years on, Rick Stein's The Seafood Restaurant continues to pull its weight in the heart of Padstow.
Location map for The Seafood Restaurant