The pretty fishing port of Padstow is nicknamed “Padstein”,and indeed it is hard to go more than a few yards without bumping into some sort of outlet of TV chef Rick Stein, with a patisserie, café, fish and chip shop and cookery school just some of the premises that he owns. The flagship Seafood Restaurant opened in 1975, and has a light, airy dining room that would overlook the sea if the local council had not put a car-park directly in front of the place. There is a conservatory for drinks, and a central bar area around which the tables are arrayed. There is a £35 three-course lunch menu, while in the evening the a la carte offers starters in the range £10 - £26.50 and main courses £20.50 - £44.
The wine list has a dozen or so pages and includes choices such as Adelaide Hills Chardonnay 2004 at £35 for a wine that costs around £13 to buy in the shops, the basic buy enjoyable Guigal Cotes de Rhone 2005 at a hefty £27 for a wine that can be found for £7 in the shops, and Felton Road Pinot Noir 2005 for £51 compared to a retail price of perhaps £16.
Fish soup arrived in a generous tureen, served with croutons and rouille. It was pleasantly made and properly seasoned, and had decent fish flavour, but this is a dish that can be made really striking if you are prepared to invest in enough seafood ingredients (as Nico Ladenis used to do), but this was merely pleasant bistro standard, with a slightly grainy texture (3/10). The best dish was lemon sole, a fish that can be very dull but here was clearly very fresh, grilled nicely and served with olives, capers and rosemary, a few sun-dried tomatoes, anchovies and a little parsley; simple but good (5/10).
My sea bass was a generous fillet, again palpably fresh and cooked well, served with tomatoes and a vinaigrette flavoured with too much vanilla (4/10). On the side were some distinctly poor vegetables: carrots were seriously overcooked, fine beans barely cooked at all and hard, while new potatoes were fine. However the beans and carrots were real schoolboy errors (0/10).
For dessert, raspberry tart suffered from rock-hard pastry, and raspberries that were merely pleasant in flavour; these were not lovingly selected as far as I could tell (1/10). Panna cotta with cherry compote involved tasteless cherries but a surprisingly delicate tuile garnish (3/10). The waiting staff, at least two of whom were students working over the summer, was well-drilled and friendly. The bill for two was £84 with just a glass of wine each without service.
Overall, while the fish itself was clearly fresh and simply but well-prepared, but there were glaring errors in technique elsewhere that would shame a basic pub. Bearing in mind that the price of the simple lunch here was more than that at several Michelin-starred restaurants in London, it is hard not to conclude that this is a fairly cynical operation to separate tourists who enjoy Rick’s TV programme from their money. It has, in places, decent food, but represents poor value for money my view. This seemed to trouble the other diners not one jot, so I can hardly blame the owner for cashing in.