A Gloriously Fishy Business
London is buzzing with the news that, in the last few days, just in time for the Oxford and Cambridge boat race, celebrity seafood chef Rick Stein has opened a restaurant in Barnes. How convenient then that it’s located just a few steps from my home, in historic Tideway Yard, occupying the premises that, for 30 years, housed its much loved predecessor, The Depot.
Rick Stein OBE, is, of course, well known to us from his shows on TV and the cookery books he has written. In 1975 he opened his first restaurant in Padstow, Cornwall, The Seafood Restaurant, a brave move at the time, since Cornwall was not exactly known for its culinary clout. Still, this small fishing village on the North coast, almost 300 miles away from the gastropolis of London, had fresh fish to offer in abundance, landed daily right on Stein’s doorstep, and the rest, as they say, is history. Padstow is now affectionately known as Padstein and the man himself has gone on to expand his business to Cornwall, Dorset, Wiltshire and even Australia and now also here to the shores of the Thames in Southwest London.
Stein and his team have been clever at refurbishing the site. They have maintained the general look of The Depot, which was wildly popular in the area for 30 years, so that the locals still feel entirely comfortable and at home here, while at the same time, once again, creating a destination restaurant for visitors from other parts.
Its location is hugely attractive, with panoramic views over the sparkling Thames, a pretty cobbled courtyard seating area and, indoors, a very generously laid out, convivial space. Despite its new upmarket moniker, it remains unpretentious, casual and easy going. Needless to say, the menu promises endless fishy delights, but there are also a few splendid alternatives to entice non-fish eaters and vegetarians.
The Lovely Husband and I are here for the fish though, and reading through the list of yummy options our eyes almost pop out of our heads. It’s incredibly difficult to make a choice; there is so much that appeals. While we consider, already salivating, we are presented with warm homemade sourdough bread and a pair of tiny delicious salmon mousse canapés. It’s an excellent start.
We decide on a shared Crispy Mackerel Salad with Green Mango, Shallots, Carrot, Peanuts, Thai Basil and Birds Eye Chilli. It’s mindblowing, the smoked mackerel pieces deboned and juicy, the salad fresh, crunchy and spicy. Perfect, refreshing and tasty.
I’m surprised at the Lovely Husband’s main course choice of Cod and Chips served with Thick Cut Chips. Surely it seems a little pedestrian to eat this kind of food in in a restaurant renowned for its mastery of seafood? How wrong can you be? The fish is well seasoned and succulent, lightly, crisply battered and not remotely greasy, the chips well cooked, the mushy peas more of a hearty pea mousse, the tartare sauce just right in its creamy acidity. This is a million miles away from your corner shop takeaway fish and chips and yet, it still boasts all those traditional qualities that make it one of Britain’s favourite meals.
I’m seriously torn as to what to order. I really, really fancy the Singapore Chilli Crab, which is Stir Fried Crab in the Shell with Garlic, Ginger, Chilli and Coriander but the menu states that this is ‘very much for those who love eating with their hands and getting gloriously messy’. Yes well, that is absolutely me. I love the sensuality of getting down and dirty with my food but, ahem, my satiny silk shirt is only on its second outing and I’d quite like to wear it again. Eeek, should I chose something more ladylike to eat? Sod it, you only live once! Fortunately, I’ve brought a little cardi with me which, for splash protection, I proceed to wear back to front, a bit like a staightjacket, apart from the fact that I can still move my arms because those I will need to wield the crackers, the pickers, the finger bowl and all the other implements. Stomach wins over elegance any day!
A humongous bowl of crab arrives and the twisting, ripping, biting, cracking, slurping fest commences. I’m in my element! The crab shell, and very soon my arms up to the elbows too, are lightly coated in a sublimely spiced sauce, which gives the crab meat a magnificent punchy swagger. By the time the Lovely Husband finishes his cod, I’m two thirds down and bursting at the seams. This may not be the ideal dish for a first date, since not everyone would appreciate looking at a partner with rolled up sleeves and a chilli sauce smeared mouth and chin, but as we’ve been married for just over a decade, and there is the compensation of seeing me so thoroughly enjoying myself, with more than enough left for him, he merrily gets stuck in as well. Glorious indeed!
Almost exhausted from all these pleasures, there is just enough space left to share a dessert. It’s a toss up between Cheesecake with Salted Peanut Butter and Chocolate, the unusual sounding Smashed Liquorice Meringue, Berries and Chocolate Mousse or Sticky Toffee Pudding with Cornish Clotted Cream. After careful consideration and a long process of assessing the pros and cons of each, we settle on the Sticky Toffee Pudding. Mmmmh, and what a good choice this is! It’s sweet, of course, but not too sweet, luxuriantly spongey and the clotted cream gives it a cooling, calming counter balance. Christ on a bike, this has been one good meal!
We expect a fairly hefty bill, this is the famous Rick Stein’s after all, but are pleasantly surprised when it comes to a very acceptable £90.90, including a bottle of wine, a coffee and service charge. We certainly don’t feel underfed, the food has been awesome and the staff have looked after us very well. This one’s a winner and there’s no doubt that we’ll be back soon!
Rick Stein’s is open seven days a week for lunch from noon to 3pm, and for dinner from 6pm to 10pm. Monday to Friday, there is a set lunch menu at £20 for two courses and £25 for three.
What I wore
Black on black damask vintage Scott Crolla trousers, caramel satin shirt by Pure, black silk belt with bow, L.K. Bennett nude sling backs, black Chanel bag.
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