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
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
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

    Recruitment Genius: Group Sales Manager - Field Based

    £21000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Located on the stunning Sandban...

    Guru Careers: Email Marketing Specialist

    £26 - 35k (DOE): Guru Careers: An Email Marketing Specialist is needed to join...

    Recruitment Genius: Tour Drivers - UK & European

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity to join a is a...

    Old Royal Naval College: ORNC Visitor Experience Volunteer

    Unpaid voluntary work: Old Royal Naval College: Join our team of friendly volu...

    Day In a Page

    Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

    Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
    Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
    Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

    Comedians share stories of depression

    The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
    Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

    Has The Archers lost the plot?

    A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
    English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

    14 office buildings added to protected lists

    Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee
    World War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel

    Max Brooks honours Harlem Hellfighters

    The author talks about race, legacy and his Will Smith film option to Tim Walker
    Why the league system no longer measures up

    League system no longer measures up

    Jon Coles, former head of standards at the Department of Education, used to be in charge of school performance rankings. He explains how he would reform the system
    Valentine's Day cards: 5 best online card shops

    Don't leave it to the petrol station: The best online card shops for Valentine's Day

    Can't find a card you like on the high street? Try one of these sites for individual, personalised options, whatever your taste
    Diego Costa: Devil in blue who upsets defences is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

    Devil in blue Costa is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

    The Reds are desperately missing Luis Suarez, says Ian Herbert
    Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

    Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

    Former one-day coach says he will ‘observe’ their World Cup games – but ‘won’t be jumping up and down’
    Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

    Greece elections

    In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
    Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

    Holocaust Memorial Day

    Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
    Fortitude and the Arctic attraction: Our fascination with the last great wilderness

    Magnetic north

    The Arctic has always exerted a pull, from Greek myth to new thriller Fortitude. Gerard Gilbert considers what's behind our fascination with the last great wilderness