Pics, BBC copyright. Can’t change the orientation on here, unfortunately
Memories are made of this!
I’ve enjoyed hugely the two-part celebrations of The Food Programme’s 40th birthday (Radio 4) today and last Sunday (#BBCFP40) – already available on BBC Sounds. Both shows prompted so many memories.
Last week’s show included an archive clip of the late great Derek Cooper, whose grilling of food industry junk-pedlars made him a hero of mine years before I finally had a chance to interview him. I wrote about TV, not radio, and on TV he mainly worked as a voice-over artist, his velvet tones most familiar on programmes such as Tomorrow’s World and countless documentaries.
When he finally got a series on Channel 4 examining the food industry (strangely forgotten on his IMDB entry) circa 1985 I seized my chance to arrange an interview and it was marvellous to meet him and to hear his wry, sardonic comments about the junk food giants and dodgy food industry practices.
This week, hearing Rick Stein again on the show reminded me of (a) my six interviews with Rick himself and (b) my last encounter with his long-serving producer/director David Pritchard.
Watching Rick’s latest series, Rick Stein’s Secret France, and seeing David’s name in the credits made me think ‘Crikey, he must be a good age’ as he was no longer young when we last met. So it was sad to hear Rick say that David had died earlier this hear. He was only 74, in fact.
It must have been at the press launch of Far Flung Floyd, Keith’s last series for the BBC, in 1993 that I last saw David. It was my third of four enjoyable encounters with Keith Floyd, another idol, having predicted his rise to stardom (when he was a complete unknown outside Bristol) at the sparsely attended London press launch of Floyd on Fish back in 1985, also produced by David (also strangely missing in David’s IMDB credits).
But almost all I remember of the launch was David Pritchard ranting about how impossible Floydie was to work with and how difficult it had been to make the series. Next thing you know, Floyd is out on his ear to be replaced by the much more collaborative and noticeably less bibulous Rick Stein – who (and nobody else seems to remember this) was visited at his Padstow restaurant by Keith in the very first edition of Floyd on Fish. So, you could argue that Rick owes his entire TV career to Keith Floyd’s tendency to get difficult after the first few glasses of vino rosso, not to mention the whisky chasers. Sustaining that career, mind you, was down to Rick’s talent and tolerant bonhomie, and to his much more harmonious and long-lived association with David Pritchard.
Back at the Food Programme, hats of to Dan Saladino and Sheila Dillon for keeping the faith and being such worth heirs to Derek Cooper. I’ve dug out my syndicated review of Rick Stein’s Seafood Restaurant from 2004 for any foodies dedicated enough to read yet more of my guff, followed by a brief interview with Rick, possibly the only one I still have, written for Total TV magazine in 2006.
Can lunch for three really be worth £140? And can Rick Stein’s Seafood Restaurant really live up to its exalted reputation? Graham Keal reckons it can, even if he did try to do a runner when the bill arrived…
NB: All the prices quoted are now 15 years out of date! And I can’t seem to remove the bold type…
|The Birmingham Post (England); 9/25/2004|
Byline: Graham Keal
Back in 1995 I interviewed an amiable but unknown restaurateur named Rick Stein about his new TV series, Rick Stein’s Taste of the Sea, and idly thought it would be nice to eat at his Padstow restaurant one day.
Then Rick’s reputation grew as fast as his empire. Padstow became Padstein as The Seafood Restaurant went from strength to strength and Rick opened satellite businesses including St Petroc’s Hotel and Bistro, a cafe, a patisserie, a seafood school, a seafood deli, a fish and chip shop and an on-line shop.
Series followed series and interview followed interview and still I kept saying one day I’d bring my family to eat at his restaurant. So, when it came to booking a summer fortnight at a Cornish cottage, proximity to Padstow was essential.
Hearing rumours of the restaurant being booked up a year ahead, I wangled an assurance from Rick last October that we’d get in, and soon after booked a lunchtime table for four for the first Friday of our holiday.
So you could say there was a lot riding on this lunch – continued good relations with Mr Stein, for a start (not that we expected to see him there, and we didn’t). There was also nine years’ anticipation to live up to, and a large bill to justify. I wasn’t expecting change out of pounds 200.
Admittedly we initially legged without having paid a penny, but that was just a mistake Rick, honest. I’ll explain later.
And there were only three of us, because between the booking and the dining my wife had decided she did not want to live with me any more. But that’s another story.
Sons Harry, 16, and Louis, 14, and I had started the day with a jog around the country lanes surrounding our gorgeous cottage at Mayrose Farm in the hamlet of Helstone (not Helston, which is bigger) just outside Camelford, followed by a swim in the shared pool, to sharpen appetites. To wait nine years for a meal and not be hungry enough for pudding was not on the agenda.
Louis is wary of restaurant food and had always maintained that he might not come but, poor chap, he became a conscript instead of a volunteer when his mother opted out.
Walking down from the car park to the harbourside restaurant, it’s not hard to detect the Stein factor in Padstow’s prosperity; the harbour has enough yachts to rival Cannes.
Under the menus outside the restaurant a typed note says they sometimes have vacancies for lunch, so don’t take the ‘book a year ahead’ line too much to heart if you’re flexible on dates and times.
Assistant Manager Edward Rafferty had just the right greeting style – efficient but not officious, friendly but not unctuous – and we were ushered in to the sunny conservatory to order. I assumed that house wine would be up to snuff and their Loire Valley Poitou dry white (pounds 3.55) proved spritzy and delicious, while the boys stuck to lemonade.
Walking through to the spacious, airy restaurant (there are 32 hotel rooms too if you have sufficiently deep pockets), the white walls are relieved by art work including a vibrant impressionist painting of the restaurant by Phil Kelly, who also illustrates the glossy menus that you can take home as a souvenir.
We ordered a communal dish of deep-fried sand eels, not because it was the cheapest option at pounds 7.50 but because I fancied them and persuaded the boys they did too.
The sand-eels, a little longer than whitebait, were fried in the lightest of batters and served with lemon and persillade – a more-ish mix of chopped parsley and garlic – plus bread from the family patisserie. Walnut bread was favourite.
Louis, the pickiest of eaters, enjoyed several sand eels before finding one ‘too fishy’ and rejecting the rest, so Harry and I polished them off. I was already wishing we’d run further and swum harder but was mightily relieved I didn’t have the whole delicious bowl to myself.
Harry’s main course (ordered with a San Miguel beer, pounds 3.30) was char-grilled fillet of sea bass with a tomato, butter and vanilla vinaigrette (pounds 27.50), served on rosti potatoes with a shared dish of crunchy pak choi.
He loved the perfectly cooked, perfectly fresh fish – and that novel vanilla flavour came through brilliantly – but he adored the rosti potatoes. ‘They taste of toffee,’ he kept saying, disbelievingly.
Louis, ever the conservative, had local cod and chips (pounds 17.50). The cod was perfectly cooked but, we agreed, lacked flavour, although he was delighted that Mr. Rafferty had agreed to substitute thin-cut chips for the fat ones on the menu, even if he couldn’t substitute Louis’ preferred garden peas for the mushy peas listed.
I’d have had the seabass and would have been delighted with it, but to offer you a contrast, dear reader, opted instead for seared escalopes of wild Scottish salmon with a warm olive oil, basil and caramelised vinegar dressing.
The salmon was a cut above its farmed cousins, with great flavour, firm texture and a vivid colour that owed everything to nature and nothing to industrial dye.
More lemonade, more wine, a large bottle of mineral water (pounds 2.50), then on to the puddings. My blissfully smooth panna cotta came with three baked purple plum halves, a deliciously tart contrast to the panna cotta’s creamy sweetness.
Harry had crispy crepes filled with cream and surrounded by halved, stoned cherries and a dollop of good vanilla ice cream. He wolfed them down, murmuring approvingly throughout.
Louis found his warm Bakewell tart and raspberries less to his taste than the Bakewell BOGOFF (Buy One, Get One Free) we’d bought in Camelford Co-op, but I found it perfect, moist and nutty. I only tried a small bit, admittedly. He ate all the rest.
Sweets were pounds 8.50 each but my black coffee (pounds 3.10) came with half a dozen more, small pieces of rich, home-made chocolate truffle and crisp slivers of nutty Italian-style biscuits.
Bronwyn, our lovely waitress, brought them all pronto because we were running out of parking time, and after handing her my debit card we ran for it.
It was only after shoving more money in the machine and returning to the town centre that I realised I’d left the card behind, and it was only on returning to the restaurant I realised I hadn’t even signed the bill.
The total, when I finally paid it, was pounds 124.85. I had, at least, already left a cash tip of pounds 15. Cheap? Hardly. Good value? Absolutely. It was not the poshest restaurant I’ve ever been to, just the best. Rick, wife Jill and their staff have got everything right, from the lighting to the decor, from the service (attentive but never in-your-face, friendly but never servile) to the food. The cooking is exemplary and the sourcing of the raw materials shows Rick Stein practices what he preaches.
Rick may no longer fry, roast and poach the fish, but his quality-control is still much in evidence. Oddly enough, it wasn’t the fish the kids kept raving about on the journey home, it was the rosti potatoes and the slim chips.
If Rick ever opens a chain of potato restaurants, Spud-u-Like had better watch out. Reservations – 01841 532700 www.rickstein.com
Mayrose Farm Holiday cottages – 01840 213509, www.mayrosefarmcottages.co.uk
National Seafood Week is October 1st -8th.
Rick Stein’s Seafood Restaurant at Padstow