Review by Fiona Duncan, published 21st June 2010.
I reckon I last ate at the Seafood Restaurant in 1983. We left our babies with a sitter at the holiday house we were sharing with friends and took the ferry to Padstow from Rock, having saved up to go there. It was a huge treat and we loved it.
Twenty-seven years later, I return with one of those babies. The restaurant itself is unrecognisable, having been through several major changes, but it still feels as fresh as the fish it serves: quite an achievement for a place into its third decade.
Rick and Jill Stein may be divorced, but they continue to look after their octopus-like empire together; he concentrates on the restaurant, she on the many tentacles that have spread from it, from fish and chip shop to cookery school to over 40 guest bedrooms. It's an extraordinary, evergreen success story.
It's as much of a treat for the "baby" to dine at the Seafood Restaurant as it was for his parents all those years ago. "I love it already," he declares before we've even entered.
Standing outside, we can sense the buzz, catching flashes of vermilion as the red-aproned waiters whisk among the tables in the airy, colourful dining room, while the chandelier in reception, made of a great shoal of bobbing white fish, creates an eye-catching start to the proceedings.
The place is packed; for summer reservations you have to book months in advance, but at least there's now the central, circular, no-reservation Oyster Bar to mop up on-spec customers who can't get a table.
Our glasses of muscadet and Rick Stein's Semillon Sauvignon Blanc slip down a treat and while our fish curry and lobster thermidor aren't memorable, they are very enjoyable. Haute cuisine is not the point.
"We never thought of our restaurants as temples of gastronomy," the Steins say. "They're just places where the fish is fresh and exhilarating and the atmosphere is alive and full of fun." Too right. They're also expensive. Prepare for a whopping bill.
A hefty bill also awaits you if you stay the night in Steinworld. You can choose from a variety of lodgings and room rates, all stylish, all easy-going, just like the restaurant, and all, just like the restaurant, on the pricey side. The cheapest are those above Rick Stein's Café, and most expensive are in St Edmund's House. No one seems to mind about price though: they are all hugely popular and often full.
We are staying at yet another of Stein's Padstow places: St Petroc's Hotel & Bistro. Here we are brought tea in its secluded, elevated garden (uncomfortable seating) overlooking the grey roofs of Padstow. Our rooms are simple and effective, with wooden shutters. Mine has a free-standing bath in the spacious bathroom, but even so you wouldn't be happy to pay £210 for it anywhere else.