A town councillor for Falmouth, reacting to the news that Rick Stein has applied to extend his foodie empire to the Cornish town, states "we don't want this town becoming 'Falstein'." Oh really? Padstow (where the chef has several outlets already) has been nicknamed Padstein because it's, er, a pun – which doesn't work for Falmouth, as the more quick-witted of you will have worked out. If it was Gordon Ramsay, maybe Foulmouth might be appropriate, or Bigmouth for Jamie Oliver (who's also making inroads into Cornwall). But Falstein? Nah.
A punning name for the town may or may not be necessary, depending on whether approval – signed by town councillors – is ratified by Cornwall Council. Local businesspeople are already lining up either to complain of unfair competition and raised prices or to welcome invigorating rivalry and raised awareness.
The homogenisation of towns and cities is a real enough threat: who wants to spend a weekend away ambling along a high street identical to the one they've got at home? But a second branch of a fish restaurant is hardly McDonald's or Starbucks.
(Interesting to note that newly opened in central London is a stealth Starbucks, with the disguise of rough-hewn benches, leather stools and "conversation caves", whatever they are. When I visited I wasn't entirely surprised to see that it couldn't pull off the trick. Those ghastly plate-glass fronts are a real giveaway.)
If Rick Stein does open his fish-and-chip restaurant, takeaway and oyster bar in Falmouth, they will join several already thriving piscatorial businesses in the town. Which seems a shame, because for those long months when the tourists (surely Stein's overwhelming target audience) are away, the Falmouth residents might fancy something other than the same old, same old fishy fare.
As restaurant critic for The Independent on Sunday I'm perplexed by the tendency for similar restaurants to open cheek by jowl. Where there's one vegetarian Indian café, another one or two pop up on the same street. The logic that punters, if they can't get into choice A, will happily eat in choice B, is surely daft. I'd rather do what I heard one enterprising fan of a particular north-west London curry house does: since leaving the area, he makes the most of his occasional forays into town and books a table, then bulk-orders his favourite dishes, and transports them home to the 'burbs to freeze until he fancies a cochin chicken. He would not be happy to make do at the other curry house on the opposite corner.
And Rick Stein's customers probably won't want to eat at Harbour Lights, fantastic though it may be (in fact, I prefer the sound of fish fried in their vegetable fat rather than Stein's beef dripping). If I was a Falmouth restaurateur, I'd see Stein's arrival as the opportunity to open something unexpected – Italian, Thai, steakhouse. Because, along with the locals, even the most ardent of tourists will be bored with the battered catch of the day by day two of their mini-break.