The Seafood Restaurant, Riverside, Padstow, Cornwall

There's something about Rick Stein that doesn't irritate people as much as other TV cooks and celebrity chefs do. Perhaps it's his looks: that exiguous grey hair, the honest brow and the guileless smile conspire to make him resemble a trustworthy fishmonger. To dwellers of Padstow, he may have become too ubiquitous a presence – four restaurants, a delicatessen, a patisserie, a gift shop, a seafood cookery school and 40 hotel bedrooms make up his phenomenal gastronomic/catering empire – but he's managed to retain the image of a basically decent cove with a charming obsession about all things fishy and crustacean.

The Seafood Restaurant was once a nightclub when Stein opened it in the early 1970s after he left Oxford. Inexplicably, not enough Cornish glam-rockers showed up to make it a moneyspinner, so it was reinvented as a seafront bistro in 1975. Over the past 35 years it's become a shrine to piscine perfection, while acquiring a deserved reputation as one of the most jaw-droppingly expensive eating-houses in the country.

It's been refitted since I was there last, and very handsome it looks too. On a cold and rainy Friday night in January, it looked gorgeous from outside, its name picked out in lights on the big glass conservatory. Inside, a well-stocked circular bar dominates the room, with a suspended ceiling of wood slats to match the pale, limed-oak floor. You sit at the zinc counter sipping Chablis and watching the waiters arrange huge platefuls of langoustines and fruits de mer. The walls are hung with random but appealing paintings of fish being eaten or prepared. There's a happy buzz among the diners in their Big Night Out blazers and sequinned décolletage.

The menus are enormous documents, the size and texture of public decrees that were once yelled at the locals by town criers. They reveal that Stein's current strategy is to offer both sturdily traditional Victorian dishes and subtly tweaked, spiced and gussied-up Asian treats as a contrast. For every classic fish soup or potted shrimps there's a sashimi of hand-dived scallops or a shangurro (crab stuffed in the Basque style with tomato, garlic and olive oil baked on the shell). Of course you can have local cod and chips – at £17.50 the cheapest main course by a mile – but you know you really want to try the hugely flavoured Singapore chilli crab.

I felt duty-bound to try the oysters Charentaise, a dish (and a concept) new to me: you eat a Carlingford Lough oyster, briny-cold and creamy, then a forkful of hot spicy sausage, then a slug of cold white wine to seal the experience. This tequila/salt/lemon routine sounded fun but was strangely pointless. If you eat the oyster first and the Merguez sausage second, the spices cancel the taste of the oyster. If the other way round, the oyster obliterates the sausage. They didn't go together at all: different textures, tastes and temperatures, sea and land. It seemed to me like a dish invented one evening when the staff were a teensy bit plastered.

Angie, my date, keen to support the local fauna, chose the Cornish crab with wakame salad and wasabi mayonnaise. "The wakame seaweed is fine," she said, "but it needs a citric punch. Hand me a wedge of lemon..." The crab was yummy, the cucumber crunchy and the horseradishy mayo a heavenly tease on the tastebuds.

It takes a bit of nerve to charge £34 for a Dover sole, even if it has just been bought in Padstow harbour that day and is lepping fresh. You know you're not paying for sophisticated cooking, since the whole point of sole is to do as little as possible to it. Angie's sole was char-grilled with sea salt and lime. It was fat and full of roe, and looked fantastic in its charry brown shroud. "The first mouthful," said Angie, "is firm, fat, hot, succulent – but just not very interesting." Then she tried the butter sauce, which was "transforming and absolutely gorgeous". It was a harmony of chicken-and-fish stock, shallots, parsley and butter, and lifted the sole to spiritual heights. My Indonesian seafood curry featured three of my favourite things, monkfish, squid and tiger prawns and coated them in a subtle sauce involving cumin, ginger and lemongrass. I absolutely loved it. It was a fish-curry dream from which I hoped not to awake.

From a limited pudding menu, we shared a wonderful pavlova: the meringue so sticky it clung to my teeth like a ravening pit bull, while the crème anglaise and little pools of passionfruit left us both feeling cleansed and healed. How good it was to return to an old friend of a restaurant and find her in rude good health, refreshed and keen to try a few exotic new things. If only she hadn't developed a taste for idiotic prices in the ensuing period, we might all visit her more often...

The Seafood Restaurant, Riverside, Padstow, Cornwall (01841-532700)

Food 4 stars
Ambience 4 stars
Service 4 stars

About £160 for two, with wine

Tipping policy: "No service charge; all tips go to the staff"

Side Orders: Sea of love

The Seahorse

5 South Embankment, Dartmouth (01803 835147)

The super-fresh fish dishes here include grigliata mista di pesce – char-grilled John Dory, prawns, squid and dab.

The Stein Inn

Waternish, Isle of Skye (01470 592 362)

This atmospheric inn on the Skye shoreline serves sublimely fresh local scallops, West Coast mussels and langoustines.

36 on the Quay

47 South Street, Emsworth, Hampshire (01243 375592)

Try the lemon sole paupiettes accompanied by a crab and leek lasagne at this one-star Michelin restaurant.

Suggested Topics
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    Guru Careers: MI Developer

    £35 - 45k: Guru Careers: An MI Developer is needed to join the leading provide...

    Recruitment Genius: Fitness Manager

    £20000 - £22500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This leisure organisation manag...

    Recruitment Genius: Visitor Experience Manager

    £25000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Delivering an inspiring, engagi...

    Recruitment Genius: Learning Team Administrator

    £17500 - £20500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are looking for a great te...

    Day In a Page

    Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions
    Major medical journal Lancet under attack for 'extremist hate propaganda' over its coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict

    Lancet accused of 'anti-Israel hate propaganda' over coverage of Gaza conflict

    Threat to free speech as publishers of renowned medical journal are accused of inciting hatred and violence
    General Election 2015: Tories and Lib Dems throw their star names west to grab votes

    All noisy on the Lib Dems' western front

    The party has deployed its big guns in Cornwall to save its seats there. Simon Usborne heads to the heart of the battle
    How Etsy became a crafty little earner: The online market has been floated for £1.2bn, but can craft and capitalism coexist?

    How Etsy became a crafty little earner

    The online market has been floated for £1.2bn, but can craft and capitalism coexist?
    Guy Ritchie is the latest filmmaker to tackle King Arthur - one of our most versatile heroes

    King Arthur is inspiring Guy Ritchie

    Raluca Radulescu explains why his many permutations - from folk hero to chick-lit hunk - never cease to fascinate
    Apple Watch: Will it live up to expectations for the man or woman on the street?

    Apple Watch: Will it live up to expectations?

    The Apple Watch has apparently sold millions even before its launch tomorrow
    Don't fear the artichoke: it's a good cook's staple, with more choice than you'd think

    Don't fear the artichoke

    Artichokes are scary - they've got spikes and hairy bits, and British cooks tend to give them a wide berth. But they're an essential and delicious part of Italian cuisine
    11 best men's socks

    11 best men's socks

    Make a statement with your accessories, starting from the bottom up
    Paul Scholes column: Eden Hazard would be my Player of the Year – but I wonder if he has that appetite for goals of Messi or Ronaldo

    Paul Scholes column

    Hazard would be my Player of the Year – but I wonder if he has that appetite for goals of Messi or Ronaldo
    Frank Warren: Tyson Fury will be closely watching Wladimir Klitschko... when he wins it'll be time to do a deal

    Frank Warren's Ringside

    Tyson Fury will be closely watching Wladimir Klitschko... when he wins it'll be time to do a deal
    London Marathon 2015: Kenya's brothers in arms Wilson Kipsang and Dennis Kimetto ready to take on world

    Kenya's brothers in arms take on world

    Last year Wilson Kipsang had his marathon record taken off him by training partner and friend Dennis Kimetto. They talk about facing off in the London Marathon
    Natalie Bennett interview: I've lost track of the last time I saw my Dad but it's not because I refuse to fly

    Natalie Bennett interview: I've lost track of the last time I saw my Dad

    Green leader prefers to stay clear of her 'painful' family memories but is more open about 'utterly unreasonable' personal attacks
    Syria conflict: Khorasan return with a fresh influx of fighters awaiting the order to start 'shooting the birds'

    Khorasan is back in Syria

    America said these al-Qaeda militants were bombed out of the country last year - but Kim Sengupta hears a different story
    General Election 2015: Is William Cash the man to woo Warwickshire North for Ukip?

    On the campaign trail with Ukip

    Is William Cash the man to woo Warwickshire North?
    Four rival Robin Hood movies get Hollywood go-head - and Friar Tuck will become a superhero

    Expect a rush on men's tights

    Studios line up four Robin Hoods productions