Friday, 18 May 2012
Margot's Bistro, Padstow, Cornwall
As has been proven time and again the world over, from Leicester Square to Times Square, from the Champs-Élysées to the Ramblas of Barcelona, tourist hot spots and good restaurants do not go together. If you find yourself able to fill every seat no matter what kind of garbage you're serving, then why bother to actually be any good? Why go to the extra effort of using nice ingredients when you can make a fortune marking up cheap crap? Why have friendly, knowledgeable and engaged waiting staff when most of the people you're serving are only in town for a couple of days, and you'll never see them again?
Which is why Margot's in Padstow is so extraordinary. It doesn't have to be this good - it's sat in the middle of one of the prettiest and tourist-trodden villages in Cornwall, and I'm sure they could double their prices and start microwaving Asda ready meals and still turn a healthy profit. Admittedly they have some competition from Rick Stein (who appears to own half the town) and Paul Ainsworth who each run very well-regarded (if pricey) restaurants, but from a cursory glance at some of the other menus in town, there appear to be plenty of places happy to charge the best part of £20 for a semolina-flour pizza and glass of coke. Clearly there is money to be made in mediocrity in this town.
Fortunately, wonderfully, there's nothing mediocre about Margot's. A golden roast skate (sorry - ray, it specifically said on the menu) wing, topped with anchovies and doused in a silky herb butter sat on top of a generous pile of creamy mash. The flesh drew off the bones with happy ease, and had a thick, meaty texture of perfectly cooked Dover Sole. I can barely remember having a better seafood dish anywhere.
A slab of Silver Mullet, encased in a perfect crispy skin, came balanced on some new potatoes and a some juicy fat mussels. Another lovely thick butter sauce, shot through with tarragon I think, held all the ingredients in its warm embrace, and the flesh of the fish itself was declared "perfect". And you can't improve on perfect.
You'll notice from the pictures that this isn't fancy, foamy, Michelin-starred gastronomy - it's comfort food, unpretentious and homely but using top-notch ingredients and cooked properly. Even a basket of steamed vegetables were timed well, retaining just the right amount of bite and keeping the flavours of each element distinct.
There was only one dessert - the Sticky Toffee Pudding. Actually, that's not true - there probably were other desserts, but I'm afraid I only got as far as the first item on the menu before making up my mind. It was fantastic - a massive slab of treacly goodness, but surprisingly light and dangerously easy to eat. We had one each.
The bill, with a bottle of Picpoul de Pinet, a nice dessert wine and (charming) service added, came to just under £45 a head. A not insignificant amount I suppose, but we probably could have gone easier on the booze if we'd really wanted to keep the costs down. Which, spirits fuelled by lovely fresh seafood and a bracing walk around Padstow harbour to look forward to, we didn't really. So yes, I thoroughly enjoyed Margot's, and you will too, if you can ever get a table - befitting the honeypot location and reasonable prices, even in early May the place was booked up, and in season scoring a dinner here is nigh on impossible. So why am I making things even worse by lavishing yet more praise on somewhere that is already comfortably oversubscribed? Well, because it's so much better than it needs to be, it doesn't charge the earth and it doesn't compromise on quality in the face of hordes of undemanding tourists. And for those reasons, Margot's deserves all the attention it can get.