Tasting Menus: Padstow, Cornwall

Edible highlights of a mini-break in Padstow, Cornwall. 'Tis a lovely little place by the sea, its size belied by the numerous opportunities for eating and drinking well.

Fifteen Cornwall

Just a few miles down the coast from Padstow is Watergate Bay, a stunning sweep of beach with a Jamie Oliver restaurant/charity tucked into its side. Before any food hits your table you'll already be impressed by the uninterrupted view of sand, sea, and many surfers. I was attracted to this restaurant for its position and lunch offer, a three course set menu for £27.  Seemed a good time and place to try a Jamie joint for the first time. The menu offers a taste of fine-dining in a beachy, bright place, buzzing with happy staff and casually dressed diners. Naturally I was tempted away from the set menu, by a starter not included in the deal — 'Insalata of gooey burrata, St Enodoc asparagus, Buttervilla's funky leaves with orange and poppy seed dressing'. You had me at gooey, Jamie.

Burrata sounds like a cheese forged in a dream — a pocket of solid mozzarella stuffed with tiny shreds of mozzarella and cream. This cool buttery surprise made a perfect accompaniment to lightly charred spears of asparagus. For my main I chose the 'Pan fried fillet of pollock, inzimino di ceci (chickpea stew) with chilli and mint dressing'. Delicious, flaky, zingy.

But I couldn't help poking my fork into Alex's main as well, 'The lightest potato gnocchi, datterini tomatoes, rocket pesto and Rosary goat's cheese'. They were not exaggerating with this description. These fluffy pillows, surrounded by sweet tomato, sharp rocket and creamy goat, put most gnocchi I've had to shame.

We polished off lunch by sharing a Cornish wildflower honey panna cotta, and realised while the view out the window was pretty special, it was what was on our plates that had held our attention most.

Rick Stein's Patisserie

You've probably heard of this prolific Cornwall restaurateur/TV presenter/cookbook author. I say probably as he's one popular British chef who hasn't 'made it' in America, and I'm guessing he's not bothered about that. His empire in Padstow includes the flagship fine dining Seafood Restaurant, two cafes, a fish-and-chip shop, a deli, a pub, and a patisserie. He also has a gift shop which I discovered sells all manner of things including a coffee-table style photography book of big butts. Clearly there are no limits to what this man can peddle. 

Speaking of large derrieres, I would've acquired one easily if I carried on having the lunch I enjoyed twice from Stein's Patisserie: a pasty and a jam doughnut. AKA: fresh baked pockets of heaven. His pasties are just the right size (others can be leaden monsters) and the pastry is light, even on the crease. I rarely eat doughnuts as they are typically so sweet they make me feel sick within minutes of consumption. But I cannot resist puffy fresh baked ones like these, the sweetness coming from the quality jam centre and sugar dusted surface. But be warned — many of these patisserie treasures tend to disappear from the trove early in the day. Go early and get your picnic in the bag!

Woodlands Country House

Buck's Fizz was served to celebrate the royal wedding that day. Cheers!
We stayed at this beautiful B&B, and I admit one of the reasons for choosing it was the breakfast menu. Proprietors Hugo and Pippa Woolley prepare an AM feast you'll start craving the night before. First up, a trip to the sideboard laden with homemade banana bread, marmalade squares, granola, fresh fruit salad, and bread fresh from Stein's Patisserie.

A daily breakfast special is offered in addition to a few regular cooked choices. The two specials I tried were Omelette Arnold Bennett (a fluffy little omelette cooked with locally smoked haddock and Cornish cheese) and Celebration Scottish Smoked Salmon (with creamy scrambled eggs, blinis and chives from the B&B garden).  

Stay tuned for another post on Hugo's breakfast. I bought a copy of his self-published collection, The Book of Breakfast & Brunch and look forward to cooking up some of his recipes and sharing them with you.

Camel Valley Vineyard

I can hardly think of a springtime holiday activity more ideal than this. The Camel Trail is a flat, disused railway line, turned cycling path, which winds by an estuary and river, and through woodland electrified with bluebells. The old rail station platforms remain; a nice nod to the path's origins, and handy travel marker. And perhaps best of all — no it's not a mirage —there is wine rest-stop en route. Camel Valley Vineyard is set on a stunning slope (which you have to cycle up — steep, but the only hill of the day!), and offers a wine shop and spectacular sun terrace ideal for tasting while looking out over the vines that provide your refreshment. Doubters of English wine, go, try, and I guarantee you'll leave converted.

We tasted several varieties, and decided to purchase three bottles to take home: the 2009 'Cornwall' Brut, the 2010 Bacchus Dry, and the 2009 Rose. A souvenir of liquid Cornwall sunshine for us to enjoy this summer in London! 

Margot's Bistro

After a long day of cycling we were hungry and looking forward to our dinner at Margot's. Prior to our trip I'd emailed Observer food critic Jay Rayner and asked where he recommend we eat. Margot's, he suggested, tell the owner Adrian I sent you, but if it's shite it's his fault and you can tell him that as well. As enticing an offer as that was, I didn't get to use it. Every dish, built by a one-man kitchen force that is Adrian Oliver, was superbly anti-shite. Adrian works long hours sourcing ingredients for the daily menu, baking bread, making sauces and chutneys, ordering wine, prepping vegetables, and carrying out many other less glamorous tasks. He clearly cares about the quality and taste of every morsel and it shows. It's a happy little place, where, once the rush of orders dies down the chef pops out of the tiny kitchen to chat round the tables often occupied by faithful regulars (book well in advance!).

If you'd like to know what's in store for you the day you're dining just check Adrian's Twitter feed, he often deliberates about what to serve in real time. You know your fish is going to be fresh when you read about it being delivered hours before you dine! This was the first time I ate Grey Mullet and I was immediately a fan. This fish may have a moniker that brings to mind a senior with unfortunate hair, but wow, what fantastic flavour and texture. The grilled fillets were served with chive butter sauce and new potatoes. I'm definitely going to ask for this fish next time I'm at the fish monger. 

I followed this with the Cornish cheese selection, as I wanted to taste what living in such spectacular setting must do for a dairy cow's potential. First impressions when this slab of Cornish rock hit the table: now that's a generous helping of cheese; the mini-loaves look amazing; I wish I was hungrier at this point! The cheese course alone will give you a taste of what Margot's is all about — from the fresh baked bread to the homemade rhubarb chutney, every element is considered carefully and is a testament to Cornish quality. And they were nice enough to wrap up all the cheese I couldn't finish; a parcel gleefully appreciated the next day. Alex, a connoisseur of British puds, finished with the Sticky Toffee Pudding and declared it the best he's ever had. He fears it may have ruined him for all others. But I say go, get ruined by Adrian's cooking, and soon. He's looking to move on to new premises so he may not be at Margot's for long.

Farewell for now Padstow. My first visit was short but it whet my appetite to return. I'm already looking forward to tasting some more of your menus... perhaps Paul Ainsworth at No. 6, The Chough Bakery one of Stein's restaurants, Nathan Outlaw, or something new that hits your shores in the meantime.

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