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.
The news was accidentally published a week before the official release date and after a barrage of tweets, Paul phoned Michelin who confirmed the award. Known as ‘the ultimate accolade’ in the food world, the Michelin system originates from France and restaurants can receive up to three stars which signifies ‘exceptional food that is worth a special journey’. Previous experience has taught me however that the food at No. 6 is a special journey every time.
But it’s not just about the food. Yes, it’s exceptional. On a review visit earlier this year I was treated to a menu that bulges with bold flavours and rearranges food combinations: deep-fried oysters on top of Cornish Deli Farm Charcuterie salami; a coiled ray wing accompanying confit duck skin; a rib eye of beef partnered with truffle and egg yolk. For dedicated meat eaters there was Tongue ‘n’ Cheek: a melting parcel of cooked tongue wrapped in bresaola alongside a bread-crumbed chunk of cheek. It’s one of the best dishes I’ve ever eaten from an I-love-offal angle as well as for depth and delicacy combined.
His menus have all the breathless narrative pace of Fifty Shades peopled by characters from a Dickens’ novel: real, earthy and entertaining. I could have chosen anything and been happy.
No. 6 is however, as much about the people as it is about the food. I managed to wangle some time both with Paul, who re-created his 2011 Great British Menu winning dessert: Trip To The Fairground for me, and also with John Walton, head chef and Padstonian who displayed not only muscular tattooed arms but his prowess at stock making. Each time I visited, the ambience and sense of teamwork was both warming and inspiring, quietly choreographed to the tunes of mutual respect among the team and dedication to the sweaty world of knives and music, pots and pans, plates and aprons.
Paul’s own reaction to the award has been typically humble: “Padstow is such a foodie-orientated area but the town has never had a star, and for it to be with John [Walton], who has been with us since day one and is a Padstonian lad, it’s incredible. I’m so proud of all my team here at Number 6 who are just brilliant, it’s been seven years of really hard work and it’s amazing to be recognised in this way.”
He even recognises the influence of Rick Stein, not so much as a competitor but as a colleague: “Lots of people assume there’s a big rivalry between me and Rick but there’s not, I’ve always thought Rick Stein is an absolute legend and what he’s done for Padstow has been absolutely brilliant… I’ve tried to complement him and offer something different – showcase Cornwall’s game and the shellfish and the meat, and the great artisan producers that we have here in Cornwall.”
The new accolade at No.6 brings years of Padstow debate to an end and Cornwall’s total of Michelin-starred establishments to three alongside Nathan Outlaw’s two stars and the Driftwood at Portscatho, where last year chef Chris Eden became the first Cornishman to receive a star.