How to hold a Lobster Massacre dinner party in 10 easy steps.

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I write about food but as I get more and more jaded with food trends (local and seasonal, eat the whole pig, oh you’re making gourmet burgers, how unusual, everyone but probably not their dog are making them, and you say that you make your own bread, well that is wholesome yes yes yes, stab me now), I am becoming increasingly aware that I am not necessarily a great cook. Or host come to think of it.

Every weekend I trawl through the Sunday supplements and feed on bird’s eye views of impossible salads (impossible because I can’t be bothered to make them), I leer at close ups of the insides of pies marvelling at the architecture and crave the lightness of cakes, wafted with icing sugar that haven’t felt the back of my wooden spoon.

Yet looking at food, talking about and even reviewing it, does not a good cook make. I have roasted pheasants dry for New Year, melted cheese on a radiator when a fondue heater failed and made chocolate mousses that had all the lightness of a truffle thrown hard at the pavement. My Victoria sandwiches are so shy they barely peak over the side of the tin and I recently made 2 kilograms of liquid marmalade which had been on the boil for about 2 hours.

It is with such honesty and boredom for the perfect photo of the perfect dish, and a sneaky stifled yawn at British food trends (yawn), that I wish to share with you the story of The Great Lobster Massacre.

  1. Invite some friends round. Lovely ones from up the road, who you have only just recently met. Make sure one of them is a vegetarian.
  2. Order some lobsters from another friend, pick them up on the way back from work and put them, still in their polystyrene box, in the freezer. Fail to even think about inviting friend to partake of lobsters he has just provided.
  3. Ignore the stacks of cookbooks from ‘experts’ that line your study wall, in particular, the new Nathan Outlaw in blue entitled British Seafood, foreword by Rick Stein. What do they know?
  4. Text a friend who once cooked you some nice lobster. Receive reply: hot until done = red = yum.
  5. Explain to very patient husband and polite dinner guest that lobsters are best cut in half (alive but quietened by the freezer) and put straight in the oven, temperature and time, um, negligible.
  6. Realise too late that the polystyrene box containing the lobsters has actually insulated them against the cold in the freezer. Tails are flapping and claws still moving.
  7. Give big sharp knife to husband while guest insists on watching and look away into the oven door (nothing in there) while jumpy lobsters are ‘dispatched’.
  8. Overcook aforementioned lobsters so that tails are slightly chewy. Provide no sauces, no garlic butter, no oils, no lubrication to the already dried flesh.
  9. Drop large (ugly) baking tray of once delicious chips, made from local potatoes in front of lobster-massacre-spectating guest. Ensure that chips have been cooked about an hour before guests are due to arrive so that once re-heated they are chewy and soft and a little cold and very un-chip-like.
  10. And finally: make sure it’s a Friday so you are too tired to give CPR to the lobsters, consult an actual cookbook, consider the timing of your vegetables or even maximising the pleasure of your guests.


Rafferty’s Café and Wine Bar St Merryn: open for business

2012-10-05 19.46.35You could be forgiven for thinking that Padstow is the foodie capital of Cornwall but you would be 1) narrow-minded and 2) missing out. Head just a few miles south and you reach the village of St Merryn where food presents itself three ways: Stein’s Cornish Arms (good quality simple pub food), the Farmers Arms (local pub) and Rafferty’s, which replaced the very popular Rosel & Co. and opened on 5 November for food. Read More


Paul Ainsworth at No. 6 Padstow finally gets his Michelin star

Whenever I talk to people about the slate-roofed Grade II-listed house sandwiched between Stein outlets that is Paul Ainsworth’s No. 6, the response has always been the same. Until now. The question, “Why hasn’t he got a Michelin star yet?” in incredulous tones has finally been answered. As of yesterday, the team at No.6 found out ahead of time that they have nailed their first Michelin star.

Read More




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Cooking with Paul Ainsworth

I say cooking with very optimistically, this was more me watching, enthralled and then eating; being cooked for would be more accurate. But what a privilege, be it with or for. Paul Ainsworth At No. 6, Padstow has shot to recent fame after Paul got through to the final in BBC2’s Great British Menu, winning the dessert category with his spectacular showpiece, Taste Of The Fairground.

Fight your way past the Stein establishments (two next door and one over the road) and you’ll find a little slate roofed cottage, subtley signed No. 6, set back from the bustling harbor. So intimate is the homely entrance that I feel I should ring a bell, announce my presence, rather than just wander in. I catch the attention of a tablecloth ironer, who shouts, “Paul!” into the depths of the bustling kitchen and there he is, all warm smiles and a firm handshake before melting back into the kitchen. I am swiftly picked up by a suited front of house and whisked out to the diminutive terrace with drink, awaiting TV’s latest food personality.

Paul soon takes me into the bustling warm noise of the kitchen, the engine room driving the restaurant, filled with a young, mainly male team, eyes down and intent on the task in hand, concentration cut with the occasional outburst of song (Fat Boy Slim, Michael Jackson) or witty line of banter. If Paul asked, he got, and even if he didn’t, he still got: “I just turned the doughnuts over for you,” while we were making the toffee apple or a double dose of efficiency which saw a little copper pan brought out twice, one pre-empted, the other requested.

So why was I stalking Paul Ainsworth in his own kitchen? Good question. Why not? He’s a fun, talented bloke but the real reason was to get to the bottom of his award-winning dessert: Taste Of The Fairground, a model cart laden with fairground inspired treats to be shared between two. Like abstract art, it is a concept rather than just a bowl of pudding, a sharing, consensual experience rather than a one-spoon wonder, a trip down nostalgia lane not a nouveau tower with a dip, dab or a smear. This is fun to look at, fun to eat, fun to share while showcasing complex processes and ideas.

The dessert is a sevenfold affair presented on a mini fairground cart: doughnuts, coconut custard, chocolate popcorn, honeycomb lollies, raspberry curd, marshmallows and toffee apples, each made from scratch: “Basically it was practise, practise, practise to get to this point; my head chef John and I spent a lot of Sundays and Mondays getting it right.” The result is an altar to sweetness and childhood memory, Paul describes it as: “the ultimate Charlie And The Chocolate Factory experience.” Augustus Gloop wouldn’t have stood a chance and grown women will become weak at the knees when this thing is rolled out in Paul’s restaurant this week. The method in the sugar madness is loosely set out below.

Marshmallow rippled with strawberry purée is cut into neat cubes and singed with a hot knife to create a crisscross of scorch marks, the smell of which transports me right back to childhood campfires and burnt sticky blobs on twigs. Paul explains that the next part required the most tinkering: the toffee apple, which sits on the marshmallow and is more a distillation of the idea rather than an entire apple. The flesh (Braeburn or Pink Lady) is cut into a circle and bathed in a cidery (Cornish Orchards) buttery caramel so that the fruit, in Paul’s words: “laps up” the golden syrup, finally sprinkled with a few thyme leaves. Next to this, a little copper pan filled with a splodge of raspberry curd accompanies the delicate lengths of doughnut, more Spanish churros than your typical British cricket ball, rolled in sugar and cinnamon. The dough mix is a beignet, hence the lightness captured in a delicate grasp of batter.

To the side of these are glass bowls filled with a creamy golden coconut custard, a clever (and delicious) reference to coconut shys on top of which are clusters of chocolate popcorn studded with peanuts and a little salt to cut the sweetness. Finally, the honeycomb backdrop, or as it’s known in Cornwall, hokey pokey. This is homemade by boiling honey from The Lizard with glucose and water to which bicarbonate of soda is added, injecting that all-essential lift to the caramel. Left to set on a sheet, cut into ‘lolly’ shapes (complete with sticks) and coated with milk chocolate on one side, white on the other and sprinkled with gold edible almonds and popping candy, two of these are positioned at the back of the trolley. The stage is now set and the show begins.

I follow Paul out to the courtyard with the trolley of beautiful sin in various guises and he leaves me to sample, gorge, taste and come to a verdict. What verdict? Other than severe sugar rush, I had all the fun of a fairground in that corner, dipping the doughnut in the raspberry one minute, switching to the honeycomb the next, pushing the popcorn into the custard to get a good coating and cramming a marshmallow/toffee apple stack into my mouth, all to the echo of popping candy. The man is a conjuror, a lion tamer and an acrobat all in one and I take off my big top to him. So roll up ladies and gentlemen for an entirely new dessert experience. And you thought Padstow was famous for its fish. How passé.

Paul is planning to recreate his Great British Menu at the eponymous Number 6 in Padstow over a series of four evenings: October 19 and 20; November 9 and 10. For more information about availability and pricing, go to number6inpadstow.co.uk or call 01841 532 093.

Other articles you may be interested in:

www.bbc.co.uk/food/chefs/paul_ainsworth