Today is my 31st birthday, and although I am having some friends over this evening to help me eat my red velvet birthday cake, the real celebration took place on Sunday, when Sasha and I went to Rick Stein's Seafood Restaurant in Padstow. Padstow is just across the estuary from Rock, where we gorged ourselves at Nathan Outlaw's restaurant late last year; clearly, that particular area of the country is an especially good place to get fresh seafood.
I had never heard of Rick Stein until I moved to the UK, but he is a well-known and highly-regarded food celebrity here. He recently opened an upscale "chippy" (a shop serving fish and chips), as well as a deli, in Falmouth--right on our front doorstep in Events Square. We've eaten at those establishments a few times but had never driven up to Padstow to check out Stein's flagship restaurant. My birthday seemed a good opportunity to do so.
When we were seated, we were left with a beautiful bowl of olives to munch on as we perused the menus; a basket of fresh bread soon followed. It was good to have the snacks because it took us a while to work our way through all the options. The list wasn't that long, but it had the kind of complex dishes that make you want to read all the ingredients and think deeply before selecting just one dish per course. Among the appetizers, there was one clear winner for me: oysters in tempura batter with sesame seeds and lime (and a soy dipping sauce).
(My last remaining oyster. The waiter informed us that if you order more than three, they bring them out to you in shifts so that the batter won't go soggy on the last few before you get around to eating them.)
Sasha had the fish and shellfish soup with rouille and parmesan. Neither of us knew what a "rouille" was, but according to Wikipedia it is "a sauce that consists of olive oil with breadcrumbs, garlic, saffron and chili peppers." I don't think Sasha had much with his soup, but to be honest I can't imagine how the rouille could have made the dish taste any better--it was fantastic, which I know because they brought such a large serving that there was plenty available for me to try.
While we waited for our main courses to arrive, we had the opportunity to check out the decor. The whole restaurant felt kind of like someone's study--one wall was fitted with a giant bookcase reaching up to the ceiling, and all the others were sprinkled with a collection of fine art in a variety of styles and featuring a variety of subjects. We were seated next to the bar, above which there was a large wooden panel that acted as a second ceiling; it diffused the colored lights that shifted in hue throughout the evening, from green to blue to red. Predictably, there were nautical/maritime touches wherever you looked:
As good as our appetizers had been, our dinners were off the chart. When examining the menu, I had immediately been attracted to the braised fillet of brill with bianchetti truffle, slivers of potato, mushrooms, and truffle oil; unfortunately, this was also what Sasha wanted, but because he couldn't stand to have us both order the same thing, he switched over to my second choice, the pan-fried monkfish with garlic and fennel. Sasha's meal looked beautiful and was quite tasty; he was especially impressed by the unique, almost chicken-like texture achieved in the fish:
(Sasha's pan-fried monkfish with garlic and fennel. To quote the menu: "The monkfish is rolled in matzo meal--flavoured with fennel herb and garlic, fried then finished in the oven with slow cooked garlic and fennel.")
(Sasha, who couldn't pose seriously for photo if his life depended on it, about to decimate his monkfish.)
However, opting not to get the braised brill was really a bad idea on his part. It was probably the best meal I have ever eaten, and the sauce in which it arrived was certainly the most divine thing that has ever crossed my lips. As I told the waiter, if it wouldn't have looked bad, I would have licked every last drop of it off the plate.
(The piece de resistance--my braised fillet of brill with bianchetti truffle, slivers of potato, mushrooms, and truffle oil. It was rich and full-bodied but not overwhelming. Heavenly! I also ordered a side dish of glazed Chantenay carrots with parsley and tarragon, which were also quite tasty.)
Unsurprisingly, I didn't have a whole lot of room left in my stomach after all that, but how can you do a big night out at a gourmet restaurant and not order dessert? The dessert menu had several enticing options, but when it comes to the end of the evening there are really only two flavors that I ever want: apples and cinnamon, or lemon. In this case, it was the lemon that caught my eye--specifically, a lemon tart with a caramelized, creme-brulee style top, and lemon yogurt sorbet atop a bed of candied lemon slices (which, the waiter informed us, take 25 hours to prepare).
Sasha also ordered a dessert, but dived into it so quickly I didn't have time to take any photos. He received a giant bowl of passionfruit creme brulee with a side of passionfruit jelly (the British word for jello) served in a hollowed passionfruit. Both of us also ordered a small glass of port:
Of the three regional gourmet restaurants that we've been to--Jamie Oliver's Fifteen, Restaurant Nathan Outlaw, and Rick Stein's Seafood Restaurant--I think this was one probably served up the most enjoyable meal (although, for me at least, it is in very close competition with Nathan Outlaw's). It required a less sickening car ride beforehand, was much more affordable, and has an incredible waterfront location--factors that all help tip the scale in favor of Rick Stein. Next time we have out-of-town guests looking for a good meal, this might just have to be the place that we take them.
As for Sasha's and my next eating destination, who knows? We may have to try the Restaurant at Fowey Hall, located inside the building that supposedly inspired Toad Hall in The Wind in the Willows. Or there's always the three-Michelin-starred Black Rock Restaurant in St. Ives, featuring locally raised, caught, and foraged foods, and the newly Michelin-starred Driftwood Hotel right next door in Truro. In all, there are 11 Michelin-rated restaurants in Cornwall and Devon, so we have plenty of options to choose from when we are overwhelmed with a gastronomical wanderlust.
If, however, we are merely interested in some well-made creme brulee, we now need to look no further than home. As of this morning, I am the proud owner of a brand new Master Class blowtorch:
Happy birthday to me!