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.
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