Out of Soho: Weekend on the Camel Estuary

Travelling in convoy with good friends W and J, I was excited in anticipation of both the weather forecast for the weekend, and the bookings we had with Nathan Outlaw at his restaurant in Rock and with Rick Stein in Padstow.  I had forgotten how far away it is, all the way past Exeter and west, west, west, even with the light traffic of October.

The reservation in Rock on Saturday night was for 7.30 and sadly the ferry stopped running at ten to six, so we resorted to driving round and taxiing back.  Nathan was not there, due to a family commitment but you could not have known.  The service was wonderful: attentive but not fawning.  Dinner was £85 for his nine course tasting menu, a price inconceivable for value and quality in London. For a further £70 we could have had complementary wines.  Instead, we started with straight up Ketel One Martinis, almost New York standard, and a bottle of Jurancon which was exquisite, followed by a Guigal- Rhone Blanc, distinct and enticing.

The restaurant is in the St Enodoc Hotel, where you could avoid the haute cuisine for the Grill, but why would you, except to avoid eating some of the best food in Britain on consecutive nights. This was the closest I have ever come to a Kaseki banquet outside Japan.  Each dish was a gem of flavour and colour and were served, one by one, at the right pace.  It was impossible to identify the best because, almost unbelievably, each of the nine dishes was startling in its seafood wonder. I have never eaten better Scallops, Red Mullet or Cod, each given their own dish and treated to deserved respect and attention, a paean of love to the fruits of the sea.  If you like fish and shellfood you must eat here.  You will never do better, but then you will not meet its match so everywhere else must disappoint  ever after.  Finally, two puddings, and I was worried whether they could match all that had gone before.  They did both.  The Burnt Lemon Cream, Blackberries, Apple and Cider Sorbet, then the Fig Tart, with Orange and Yoghurt surpassed the imagination of any pudding addict.   How can you burn a lemon cream, and equally how can a fig tart be both so light and lip-smacking?  Nathan knows.

I wondered if, after this eating fest, and the lunchtime pleasure of a (medium) pasty from the legendary Hough’s, I would or could be impressed by the ubiquitous Sea Food Restaurant of Rick Stein.  It had been remodelled since my previous visit many years before.  Now there is a big, too big, circular bar in the centre which has improved the overall ambience but other guests waiting for their companions stood on my shoulder through one of my courses despite our waitress’ attempts to move them away.  Still the space is much improved.  It was an evening of crustacean joy. I began with Deep Fried Helford River Prawns with Aioli and followed with Singapore Chili Crab.  Both were wonderful: the prawns were about an inch and half long lightly battered and served devoid of oil; so succulent you neither peeled nor beheaded them.  The plateful was enough for a main and the aioli, garlicky as it should be.  The Crab was served with Asian noodles and took half an hour to eat: one’s own piece of restaurant theatre.  Again the portion was truly substantial with at least one and a half delicious local crabs per portion sitting in its broth, full of the flavour’s of the East’s Holy Trinity, garlic, ginger and coriander.  I hardly knew what to eat from my bowl first, or next.

My companions ate across the menu and every dish was delicious from the Jamon Iberico de Bellotta, to Indonesian Seafood Curry, and Fillet of Hake en Papillote with Fennel and Tomatoes. All dishes were trencherman sized, with massive flavour and sophistication to match. Then the wines: two of Steiny’s own, a Sauvignon Blanc, Banduc, a white flinty white Bordeaux, followed by his Spanish white made with a wonderful grape I did not previously know, Verdejo.

I cannot wait to return, even though, understandably, you have to book long in advance for tables at both temples.  I missed Paul Ainsworth’s no.6 now crowned with a Michelin Rosette, but won’t next time.

It’s so far away, but so worth it, rain or shine.

Johnny

 

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