Friday, June 01, 2007

Rick Stein's Seafood

Months ago, when I told a friend we were going to Cornwall for my partner's birthday, he suggested in awed and hushed tones that I try to make a booking for Rick Stein's restaurant, which was in Cornwall, somewhere. The friend is a gourmand. I like food but I'm a little lax with my celebrity chef knowledge. However, always amenable to suggestions about where to go for good food, I googled Rick Stein and discovered that he has not one, but four, restaurants in Padstow, Cornwall, UK.

That's a bit excessive, thought I.

His website is very good, with pictures and menus; I had a good look around and decided that, for the occasion, I should book Seafood, although the fish&chippery was probably more our style.

I left it a little while but my friend's words reverberated hauntingly in my ears: if you can get a reservation. It was a month and a half before our planned holiday. I had not asked work; we had not booked anything. Oh, how much effort is an email? I berated myself and sent one off.

The reply came back: Why, discerning marm, we do have a reservation - but only at 9:30pm. Would you like to make a booking? If so, please telephone us and provide a credit card number.

I should have known: my instincts are rarely wrong. I really did not like the tone of that email (I've paraphrased). I thought: oh, how ridiculous to have a reservation but only at 21:30, and to require a credit card for the booking. I already feel the restaurant is not for the likes of me - but the recommendation is in place. I telephone and give them my credit card number.

Thereafter, we make our accommodation bookings and it is nowhere near the restaurant but we have a hire car for the weekend, and Padstow is really not very far from our accommodation.

The roads in Cornwall are more twisty and turny then we expect.

I have packed a nice dress to wear. I put it on. I stand in front of the mirror for a while; I walk down into the lounge and sit there, trying to gauge if the dress is okay. I walk outside to ascertain if I will be warm enough. I won't. I return to my room and put on tights. The dress is pale, and my tights are black. It looks all wrong. I remove the dress and put on my jeans, and a black shirt. There. I look fine. Not very elegant but fine. My partner looks lovely and I tell him so. He grimaces at me but the compliment is returned.

On the fateful night of The Booking, it is drizzly. Visibility is poor and I am reading the map. Both things mean that we are bound to get lost. Luckily, we only miss one turn. The journey however has been tense, with both of us craning our necks forward, wary of other cars, wildlife and the wet road. When we finally reach the restaurant 45 minutes later, we discover that the car park requires all-night payment, and we have not brought small change.

Never mind, I say, I will ask the restaurant. We go in and are skeptically greeted at the door. I smile and say that I have a booking. The maitre'd does not smile and looks my name up on his computer. He permits us to enter the restaurant with a disdainful gesture. I smile again and say: "I'm terribly sorry but could I get some change for the car park?" The maitre d' continues to look unimpressed but tells us it is unecessary and that no one will check in the poor weather. I am rule abiding and a little torn, but the maitre d' looks like he has no intention of giving us any change. We go to our table.

Beside us on one side are an interesting couple. I think they are old friends catching up: there is sexual frisson but of the safe kind mixed in with a little jokingly unsubtle innuendo. They also strike me as landed folk and/or country posh. She is beautiful with long dark hair and an aristocratic nose. He is also reasonably attractive but with a weak chin - something I associate with the middle child in a posh family (too many costume dramas for me). He wears a pink shirt, with cuff links; she is wearing a wrap-around dress. They both drink a lot.

On the other side are another couple, who strike me as travellers. I am pleased to see the man is wearing jeans and a t-shirt; the woman travel (quick-dry) trousers and a fleece jumper. They are eating crab and laughing. I like them instantly, and more so when he proffers her a crab claw with the words: "here, have a paw."

I am too self-conscious to take any photographs especially as all the wait staff seem to descend on us. We are served by at least six different staff, only one of whom smiles at us. The maitre d comes to take our drinks order and his top lip remains disdainful as we order only one glass of wine; I ask for water for both of us. Another waiter brings the drinks to us, and places them on the table almost as an afterthought. He flounces off. I wonder where to.

Our order is taken by a surly waitress. We have ascertained that we are both feeling overwhelmed and out of place, so we take the easy option and go for the tasting menu of 6 main dishes, dessert and petit fours. In comparison to the better-than-you attitude of the staff, the tasting menu is on a tatty piece of A4 paper. I think about pocketing it so that I have a list of the dishes for future reference. However, I don't wish to ask the staff if I may take it and have them patronise me further for being a hick. And I don't really want a souvenir of the place.

The meals themselves were reasonably good, but most do not follow Rick Stein's model of "good food, cooked simply", which I see as we leave. No it wasn't! I say to my partner, pointing at the sign. The crab and rocket salad was lovely, and the steamed mackerel was also very good - but a little salty. None of the other dishes stand out but I do recall that the main fish dish of pollock was a bit tough, and drenched in some creamy sauce. That's not what either a good fish or good cooking of that fish should be like; fresh fish is silken and crumples on your tongue and fish should be set off with a sharp, but complementary, flavour.

Dessert - panna cotta - was decidedly disappointing.

To be fair to Seafood, we were a little out of sorts and perhaps did not choose the best dishes for our tastebuds. But rest assured, we won't be dining at Seafood again (especially if I am required to book more than one month in advance). Rick Stein still has three other eateries in Padstow with which to redeem himself, and my vote is on the fish&chippery next.


Kirsty said...

Oh dear, how terribly disappointing. I think there might be no excuse for the maitre d'. They should care that you are comfortable and be welcoming. Was it your Australian accents do you think?

honglien123 said...

Hopefully this post will come up whenever someone searches for Rich Stein. That sucks you had such an awful time. The hubs and I are pretty casual people as well and fancy dining generally isn't our thing. When we do pay more or have to suffer through reserving a seat somewhere, we expect outstanding service. That maitre d' would have garnered the evil eye from me if that were me.

Hedgehog said...

The hubby and I normally steer well away from celebrity chef's restaurants for fear that they will charge you according to how famous they are rather than how good the foods actually are. One exception is a restaurant in South Manchester, called Greens I think, which serves superb foods and staff are super friendly as well. Oh well, at least you know where NOT to go next time you fancy a meal out then :D

Oanh said...

Kirsty: hmm - so far our Aussie accents have been welcomed and liked; I wonder indeed. We probably gave off vibes of being discomfited as we got in the place so it's a kinda chicken and egg situation (that's me being generous).

HongLien: Yes, this experience teaches me that fancy dining does not suit me - which I kinda knew, but every now and then forget. Normally I get quite riled, too, but it just did not feel worth it. I got the feeling from the staff that they really did not give a stuff, even if you kicked up a fuss. "So, what? We work at Rick Stein's" was their attitude...

Hedgehog: I shall keep Greens in mind whenever we're rambling Manchester way ;-)! The pricing at Rick Stein's wasn't too bad - just the staff. bleurg.

Butta Buns said...

I am livid that you were treated so rudely by the waitstaff! I say rude because one does not pay to eat in such an establishment to be greeted by stiff upper lips. That's absurd! It goes against the entire experience of dining out, it destroys the principle of atmosphere.

Who in the hell is managing the place that doesn't instruct and ensure that the waiters, ALL of them especially the bloody maitre d', smile at EVERYBODY who comes through that door????? That's rubbish!

vietK said...

Part of the reason that I've enjoyed reading your posts is just the language itself...reading new words or phrases I don't use or hear myself on a daily basis - like "marm" or "small change" - it just adds to the color of the story...

As far as fine dining experiences are concerned, I think people should experience them when they can for many different reasons; and even if the food and service wasn't what you expected - at least there's always a good story to be told - even if it was a bad and expensive one (sometimes those are the best).

I loved the sidetrack of the couple, and the man and the offering of the "paw" - I guess I like to think of myself and my partner like that as well - although we're probably much clumsier and not as seemingly charming to others in real life - but shhh....

And btw - that is correct - I am neither Australian nor a Queenslander (I know this for a fact because I had to look that last one up....)

Oanh said...

Thanks, ButtaBuns, for your livid support. I was always taught to smile at people, so I find it quite aggravating that people don't smile - especially people who work in service industries.

Hi VietK :-)

- Just ask ButtaBuns: I seem to have a knack for sending people off to google or wiki to look things up. We Australians have lots of colourful phrases to pepper our everyday speech / writing.

I don't know about the necessity of fine dining experiences: good eating - yes (whatever the environs); fine dining: I'm more sceptical of. But bad experiences do indeed make for great blogging inspiration :-)

Anonymous said...

Hello,Just Read Your Comments On The Staff At Stein's! Don't Take The Attitudes Of The Staff Personally, They're Rude To Everyone!! I've Eaten There A Few Times Now And Have Only Once Had A Nice Waiteress! Your Comment About The Amount Of Staff Per Table Is Right To! I Took My Girlfriend There For Our Anniversary And Had 6 Staff Serving Us! Overkill! The Maitre D' You Mentioned, Was He French? Last Time I Went I Had A Rude Maitre D' Who Was This Rude Greasy Frenchman Who Wouldn't Acknowledge My Girlfriend When She Asked Him Anything! I Would Have To Repeat Her Questions And He Would Answer Me!

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