Despite Rick Stein not being born in Padstow (he’s originally from Oxfordshire), the locals appear to treat him like one of their own. During our stay, everyone we meet has a story about the celebrity chef, from him swimming in the harbour in the middle of winter to doing book signings at a local beer festival that weekend. Sadly, we don’t actually meet him during our stay, but he’s omnipresent – from his face on the gifts and cookery books in the shops to his numerous ventures in the pretty harbour town, including a cooking school, fish and chip shop, seafood restaurant, cafe, bistro and four guest houses.
As big seafood fans, we endeavoured to eat our way around as many of his enterprises as we could, starting with St Petroc’s Hotel. Situated on a hill, a minute’s walk from Padstow’s harbour, we could hear the gentle sound of clinking masts in the wind, and the building was suitably atmospheric. Apparently, St Petroc’s is the fifth oldest building in Padstow and its charm and character remain throughout. Tasteful floral prints douse statement walls in a selection of the 10 bedrooms, while others are complete with exposed brickwork or rustic beams, off-set by light tones. Wall-hangings include shipping scenes and historic maps of the area, reminding you where you are in the world. Our room had no view at all, but it wasn’t windowless – behind an electronically controlled celling blind was a giant skylight that let in reams of light. Meanwhile, ‘Estuary view rooms’ look onto the nearby Camel Estuary, stretching from Wadebridge to Padstow. The adjacent Camel Trail is a beautiful place to cycle and take in the countryside and sea air, if you’re lucky you may even spot an otter or two.
Our bedroom also came with an ensuite full wet room (with Molton Brown toiletries) and a stand-alone bath in the actual bedroom. Curiously, there were spotlights in the floor surrounding the bath (we never felt the need for a disco bath, so we left them off). Also around the room were Stein’s cookbooks, a menu for the nearby Seafood Restaurant and information about the chef’s cookery courses – our next point of call.
Naturally, we signed up for the Fish and Shellfish course (from £95) at Rick’s school, and what excellent fun it was. Ten budding chefs listened and watched a live demonstration from the extremely knowledgeable head chef Mark Pucky, then it was our turn to try cooking the dish. The day’s techniques included humanely killing and cooking a giant crab, battering the perfect fish burger and learning some very handy knife skills. Techniques vary from lesson to lesson (depending on what questions are asked), but one thing’s for sure, you’ll be waddling out of the door after the amount of food and wine consumed during the day.
A stone’s throw from the school, seafood enthusiasts can learn how ocean creatures are being protected, and sustainable fishing is promoted by the local community. The visitors’ centre at the National Lobster Hatchery offers a chance to meet Herman, a giant lobster, and see where the centre keeps baby lobsters until they are ready to be released into the sea, up to 30,000 a year.
For us, a rest was in order, we had a dinner reservation at Rick Stein’s Seafood Restaurant later that evening.
Food and drink
The Seafood Restaurant has to be visited on any trip to Padstow, it’s even advisable to make your reservation before you book your stay, as the place is always full (especially in the summer months). However, if you do find yourself without a reservation, enquire about space at the circular oyster bar, seated on a first come first serve basis. Inside, the decor is light and open plan, with statement art on the wall. There’s a great atmosphere in the room, and the guests are as diverse as the sea food options. Families, professionals and couples sit table to table tucking into seared hand dived scallop, Cornish crab with wasabi mayonnaise and shellfish soup. I choose oysters charentaise (with spicy sausages) to start, followed by an Indonesian seafood curry with monkfish, pollock, squid and prawns. The food was everything I’d hope it would be, and brought our Stein-filled stay (minus the man himself) to a wonderful close. The final tasting treat was at breakfast the following day, served in St Petroc’s bistro, where decorative fish-print plates, bright modern art and chunky wooden furniture combine. Breakfast is a hearty affair (if you want it to be); expect chunky slices of local bacon and perfectly poached free-range eggs. As you would expect, there’s also fish on the menu, this time in the form of smoked salmon and scrambled eggs. While a continental breakfast is also up for grabs.
Price: Cosy doubles from £112 per night (including breakfast), Generous doubles from £165 per night (including breakfast).
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