Being in the wine trade one is lucky enough to be able to taste and evaluate wines on a regular basis, and whilst on a recent holiday in the Padstow area, I was enthused enough to book a table at a restaurant that had been mentioned in glowing terms from several of our customers and trade contacts alike - Paul Ainsworth at No. 6 in Padstow, Cornwall. I booked online, where you can select your eating time in half-hour increments and mentioned that one of my party was a vegetarian. Within minutes, I received an e-mail confirming my reservation, noting that we had a vegetarian dining on the evening, and sending through a list of over 25 different flavours and seasonal vegetables. The customer is then invited to choose 5 of these for a starter and 5 for a main course - the chef will then create the dishes from your favourite ingredients. Impressive!
After a glass of the excellent Camel Valley Sparkling rose at Bin 2 (Padstow shop/wine bar) we made our way to Number 6, located just off the picturesque harbourside. We were given a friendly welcome and shown to our table. The restaurant is a converted town house and is made up of four separate downstairs rooms with large adjoining doorways, giving a feeling of intimacy whilst still enjoying the "buzz" of the whole restaurant. Decor is modern, small black and white tiled floor, adding to the clean, square lines with tasteful seafaring themed carvings adorning the recesses, with a main bar area the focal point. Subdued lighting - a perfect ambiance. "Rooms" would seat between 8 - 20 covers and there is a further upstairs room for larger parties.
Warm, mini bread-shaped rolls were served with Cornish butter and salmon paste as an amuse-bouche. There a decent selection of wines by the glass to account for most customers' tastes and several more by the bottle. I chose a white Burgundy and my partner a red Bordeaux, but if you are unsure, do ask the charismatic restaurant manager Alex, and he will happily recommend a glass and share his wealth of knowledge and experience.
My starter was Cornish duck with soft herb pasta ragu, fettle (ewes milk cheese - I had to ask!) and smoked almonds. The duck was full of incredibly concentrated flavours and complemented by the delicacy of the pasta and the smoky bite of the almonds. Pinot Noir would be the apposite wine match, but my white Macon Prisse was excellent - appley with balanced oak influence and enough weight and freshness to stand up to the variety of tastes on offer.
I'm in Padstow with fresh fish on the doorstep, so of course, I choose the pork for my main meal! Three of the six main dish selections were Piscean in nature (Salmon and Lobster, Cornish Salt Cod and Thornback Ray) but the interesting combination of the Cornish Saddle back pork, turnips, crackling, scallops and cider apple intrigued me. I asked Alex to select a glass for the meal and he returned with a Sauvignon from Touraine and probably detected my "that's interesting" reaction. He explained the reasoning behind his choice thoroughly, and he was proved quite correct. The pork was cooked to perfection, again concentrated flavours, but with the crackling, scallops and apple providing a lively and fresh combination. This vivacity was ideally matched by the wine choice - the Sauvignon was light, fruity, vibrant and zingy and enhanced the flavours perfectly. Alex later mentioned that not only do all the restaurant staff know and taste all the meals, they have regular meetings with the chef who explains why certain ingredients go so well with each other and where they come from. Simple really, but it ensures that they have knowledgeable staff who are up-to-date with the ever-changing seasonal menu.
The dessert option was another flavour explosion of richness - chocolate "cake" with pistachio, caramac and dark chocolate sorbet, perfectly accompanied by a very unusual, delicately sparkling, demi-sec wine which was made with Canadian ice-wine. A new experience for me, and proved very refreshing.
The evening and meal was certainly one of the best I've had. The food was superb, and the service casually attentive (if that isn't an oxymoron). The relaxed, cozy, atmosphere is due to the friendliness of the staff, but also backed up by excellent organization, giving a seamless transition from kitchen to customer.
A thoroughly enjoyable experience, and certainly one I'd recommend. I dined on September 25th 2012 and two days later the restaurant was awarded their first Michelin star! Great news for Paul Ainsworth and his team, and deserved recognition for all their hard work. After my experience there, I’m not surprised.
(This article by Meirion Williams first appeared in Country Calling).