I've just returned from a wonderful four day break in Cornwall, half of which was spent walking and exploring beaches, and the other half being a stag weekend was spent mostly in the pub. Not a particularly food orientated trip, but I did manage to eat some decent stuff. I'm going to write a summary post for the rest, but Stein's is getting a review all of its own for two reasons:
1) It's a fish and chip review, so as part of my quest to find the finest fish and chips it deserves a dedicated blog post.
2) It's Rick Stein's fish and chip shop.
Firstly I should say that I'm a big fan of Rick Stein. His TV programmes are some of the best food shows out there. A particular favourite of mine is the Far Eastern Odyssey series, in which his genuine enthusiasm and interest in Asian food really shines through. Every episode left me making mental plans to visit the places he'd been to, even those not exactly on the tourist trail (Bangladesh being the prime example). Contrast this with certain other celebrity chefs, whose output seems to be more about them as a personality and less about the food. Gordon Ramsay's recent Asian series is a case in point, to my mind the whole thing was solely about Gordon Ramsay with the amazing food, people and locations covered playing a largely incidental role.
In common with many other foodies famous from the telly, Rick Stein also has a burgeoning business empire including various restaurants and shops, mostly in Cornwall but also now in Australia. That's fairly extensive coverage for one man, and he obviously can't have a lot of direct involvement with some of the places. That said, all of the businesses are individual and he's hardly gone down the franchise roll-out route like Jamie Oliver.
I mulled these thoughts over as I sat on the harbour wall in Padstow having a pre-dinner pint (a pale ale from St Austell Brewery - good). It boiled down to this: he seems to have a genuine warmth and love for the subject matter (the series on British food are pretty good too), and his food operations seem to have a bit more integrity about them than certain others. Surely he wouldn't put his name above the door of a place churning out crap fish and chips?
In a word, no. It was pretty damn good. Not the best I've had, even this year but very good nontheless. A large, moist crisply battered fillet of very fresh haddock. One major criticism with this though, the skin was left on. Why do chip shops in Southern England not skin the fish? Why? If anyone can come up with a genuinely good reason for leaving the skin on battered fish, I will award them a prize.
The chips were excellent, the best I've had in a long time. The perfect combination of creamy, soft fluffy insides and a bit of both crunch and grease to the exterior. Only achievable with beef dripping to my mind. No complaints with the mushy peas either.
As a little bonus treat I had an oyster fritter, which came served prettily in the half shell. If you think deep frying an oyster sounds weird then don't knock it 'til you've tried it. The thin, crisp batter yields to the soft briney oyster beneath which has a texture a bit like the coral on a scallop. Lovely.
Haddock and chips cost £7.10, which is expensive by Northern standards but would be considered more than reasonable in London. Given the name, location and quality not bad at all really. The oyster, mushy peas and a can of pop bumped this up to just over a tenner. Ideally I'd have liked to dine at the seafood restaurant, but I'm not made of money and Rick's budget alternative didn't let me down.
Recommended if you're in town. Just watch out for attack-minded seagulls!
Stein's Fish and Chips