- Food & Drink
You may have noticed a lot of Rick Stein in my previous blog post about Padstow. It’s not nicknamed Padstein for nothing. Four restaurants, a cookery school, deli, patisserie, gift shop, fishmongers, 39 rooms and one cottage to rent in the town make for quite a presence. But not the whole.
For a start Paul Ainsworth is busy building his own Cornish empire, with two restaurants and the soon-to-be-opened Townhouse. On the weekend I visited, we stood outside the Townhouse in the rain and admired the frontage (no really, we did. We’re that nerdy). It’s a handsome building, and if there are as many chaise lounges in there as I think there is, it’ll be worth weekending in.
But staring at Paul Ainsworth’s building site was not really part of our minibreak agenda. Padstow Kitchen Gardens very much was. Claiming the gardens as non-Stein is a bit of a cheat, since farmer Ross Geach worked as a chef for Stein for 10 years and supplies his restaurants with veg. The padron peppers and flower sprouts we’d eaten at St Petroc’s the night before had been grown by Ross.
The gardens crept up on Ross. He started off with a corner of the family farm, growing salad to sell to Padstow’s restaurants. That sold out, so he snuck a bit more land and grew more veg. Now he has a couple of acres, a few polytunnels and a shed where he runs gardening courses and pop-up dinners.
November might seem like a terrible time of year to visit a farm, but it’s perfect if, like me, you’re nuts about brassicas. We squelched our way across the fields, the Cornish mizzle coating our faces. Ross’ dad Ron was busy filling a wheelbarrow with cabbages and cauliflowers for the veg box scheme they run. In front of us, in neat rows, was kale. Lots and lots of kale.
Ross tries out new breeds of kale for his seed company, so in amongst the cavolo nero and curly kale, there were stalks of kale with a creamy white heart that looks like a bridal bouquet and little fists of purple tipped kale called buttonhole, so something for the groomsmen. There was kale with leaves that had been nibbled into lace and some that had been beaten down by the weather. Not every variety would prove hardy enough to make it to market, but on Ross’ farm they all got a chance.
After we’d walked along the fields of carrots, onions and beetroots, and put some warmth back into our fingers in the polytunnels (where peppers and chillies were still growing; that Cornish microclimate in action), we took shelter in the breeze block bunker that acts as Padstow Kitchen Gardens’ HQ.
Over strong tea, Ross and Ron talked about the veg they grow and how they farm. I learned how to cook the tap root from a bulb of fennel, the art of moving crops and pigs round to improve the quality of your soil, and how to persuade chefs to take on the weird new veg you’ve decided to grow. In Padstow, that involves going to Rick Stein’s house and refusing to leave until he cooks and eats some of your weird new veg. It all comes back to Stein in the end.
Ross’ flower sprouts were on the menu again the next day at the St Tudy Inn. Tucked away in a village that is kind of on the way to Bodmin from Padstow, we stopped off there for lunch before catching the train back to London.
A ramble of pale wood and pastel rooms, the St Tudy Inn leans more towards being a restaurant than a pub, but there is beer, a real fire and a pub dog called Monty. It’s run by chef Emily Scott and the menu is British with a little French and Italian trimming. It being a Sunday, there was a roast and I thought long and hard about it. To not eat roast beef with a bowl sized Yorkshire pud and gravy lake seemed very wrong, but the chicken and tarragon came with mash. And I do love chicken and mash.
I started with figs baked with thyme, honey and a crumble of Ticklemore cheese. Figs and goat’s cheese are one of those perfect pairings that never disappoints. The pool of sweet, herby dressing married them together and I mopped up the excess with crusty bread.
My chicken sat on a buttery cushion of tarragon sauce with a few sun blushed tomatoes cutting through the richness (I’ve seen sun blush tomatoes on a couple of menus now. They’re clearly about to come back in a big way). A few knots of pea shoots draped over the top echoed the bowl of peas and mash served on the side of the chicken. Having the mash separate meant I scooped up forkfuls of potatoes and then dunked them in the sauce, like a savoury Müller Corner.
We had to leave to catch out train, which meant no time for pudding. I was filled with regret. There was a plum Bakewell tart on the menu that I very, very much wanted to eat. We explained our dilemma to our waitress, who explained it to the kitchen, who then wrapped me a slice of tart with the same level of care and delicacy they’d shown when preparing our meals. I don’t think I’ve had a better train picnic.
They also wrapped up a cheeseboard for Chris to take with him. And to drink with it, we each had a litre and a half of gin, a gift from Southwestern Distillery. I’ve written before about Tarquin’s Gin, a soft and gentle London dry that mixes summer meadows with orange groves to good effect.
We’d been to visit the distillery the day before. The rain had rattled on the roof of the warehouse where two beautiful Portuguese pot stills sat, incongruously, on paella burners. Opposite them was a gleaming new Italian still. Much larger than the other stills combined, Tarquin hoped it’d cut down on the number of 12 hour days he spent stood on cold concrete, monitoring the run. He just needed to get the damn thing to work.
At the other end of the distillery were rows of gin. There were the ordinary wax dipped bottles of Tarquin’s Gin, alongside the last of the Navy Strength that he is planning to sell at the Padstow Christmas Market this weekend. There were miniatures, very dinky and ideal for handbags, and there were magnums. Magnums of gin. I can’t tell you how huge a magnum of gin looks. Especially next to a miniature. Cradling a bottle in my arms, I couldn’t help but laugh.
So we raised a glass to Padstow, Stein and non-Stein. Cornwall, I will be back.
Get your Cornwall on
From the 3rd-6th December the Padstow Christmas Festival will be in full swing. Load up on Cornish gifts and watch chefs wield their knives in the demo theatre. Emily Scott will be taking part, as well as Rick and Jack Stein. Great Western Railways, who kindly trundled me up and down to Cornwall, is still the most civilised way to get to and from Bodmin. Although you will need a car to get around the neighbourhood, especially if you want to go to St Tudy to eat at the Inn.
In spite of the non-Stein nature of this post, I was a guest of Rick Stein’s restaurants. For a more Stein heavy post about Padstow, click here.