A visit to Cornwall may take many guises. For some it will be seeking the best and most luxurious hospitality the region has on offer in quality and variety, others may put a higher preference on tasting and experiencing true local commodities and culture. For us it will always be a bit of both, so we were fortunate to find accommodation available at Rick Stein’s Seafood Restaurant Hotel by Padstow Harbour. Greeted outside by a genuinely welcoming and jovial member of staff, we were guided to the tucked away car park around the corner where our Jaguar F-Pace found its well-earned resting place after carrying us safe-and-sound from London.
When Rick and Jill Stein opened a small seafood bistro on the harbour side in Padstow in 1975 with red checked tablecloths and candles in Verdicchio bottles it may have been a small step, but little did they know that the business would grow to where it is today. The Seafood Restaurant has established an international reputation for imaginative cooking of the very freshest fish and shellfish, attracting customer from far-and-wide.
There are 16 lovely guest rooms available above the flagship restaurant, located in the centre of Padstow, and ours had all the hallmarks of a first-class accommodation, but without any pretentious luxury. Opening the delightful corner window, we felt the fresh sea air from the harbour already setting the scene for our much-anticipated dinner at The Seafood Restaurant. Head chef, Stephane Delourme and his team create simple seafood dishes with classic flavours using Rick’s recipes and we managed to get a taste of the classics, lobster thermidor, Singapore chilli crab and turbot hollandaise.
For a more informal experience the seafood bar right in the middle of the restaurant gives you a glimpse of the chefs assembling platters of oysters, langoustines and sashimi. No reservations are required for the bar and you can order anything from the à la carte menu. Using quality and local produce seems to be at the heart of this eatery, giving guests the opportunity to meet some of the Cornish food heroes represented.
After a restful night in the most comfortable of beds, breakfast was served in the restaurant with a choice of speciality dishes, including smoked haddock kedgeree, poached kippers, grilled fish of the day or a classic English breakfast with the option, if you prefer, to enjoy a continental breakfast in your room.
Traditionally a fishing port, Padstow is now a popular tourist destination, which quickly became apparent when strolling by the harbour side in the late morning, albeit a far cry from the reported hurly burly clientele of local fishermen who came to the original nightclub preceding the famous restaurant on the premises of Riverside in Padstow. Although some of its former fishing fleet remains, it is mainly a yachting haven on a dramatic coastline with few easily navigable harbours. The influence of our host was evident in the port, and tourists travel from long distances to eat at his restaurant and cafés.
The travel is well worth it. You feel welcome, as if you have been invited to a person’s home. You enjoy the comfort of first-class accommodation and food but there is more. Rick Stein captures that when saying: “I love Padstow for its strong sense of identity. There are Cornish coastal towns that seem to exist almost solely for the summer season, and all but die at the end of October, but Padstow is very different. There’s a year-round community here, which makes the town feel very much alive, even in the depths of winter. A big part of this is that Padstow is not a seaside town, but a working fishing port – it’s a beautiful place to come for a holiday, but it has a purpose that is distinct from tourism, giving the town a defined character rooted in the traditions of the fishing industry.” Somehow, the Icelander and the Italian felt there wouldn’t be a long wait for a return visit.