We’ve written before about the differences between Michelin-recommended restaurants. Eating in Paul Ainsworth at Number 6 and Rick Stein’s St Petroc’s Bistro on two consecutive days was perfect for comparing restaurants in Padstow; contrasting a Michelin star restaurant with a Michelin plate/recommended.
Comparing Michelin recommended restaurants in Padstow – Arrival
The moment we walked through the door of Number 6 we were made to feel welcome. Coats were taken, birthday greetings were given, and we were led to our table where there was a birthday card in an envelope with an old-fashioned seal. As soon as we settled at the table, two glasses of pre-ordered champagne arrived. It set the scene perfectly.
Walking through the door of St Petroc’s, we waited while two girls on reception concentrated on something in front of them. A few quiet moments passed before we were acknowledged. After the welcome at Number 6 the previous day, it instantly felt less professional. When they did notice us, the reception was friendly, coats were collected, and we were directed to a tiny table squeezed into a small lounge whose antiquated decor had an air of fine dining 1990s style about it. Menus and a drinks list were placed on the table, and the girl was off before we could point out we’d pre-ordered champagne. It was clear, very quickly, the staff were rushed. After 20 minutes, the champagne arrived – 20 minutes of listening to a loud blingy couple try to impress another couple they’d just met. The restaurant wasn’t to blame for the blingy diners, but the initial experience overall wasn’t great.
Number 6 is in a Georgian townhouse in the centre of Padstow. The building may be old, but the dining areas, located in different rooms, are modern and bright, but not stark. With five tables positioned for intimate dining positions (and safe distancing) in the room we were in, it felt romantic and even cosy. A giant letterbox-window view of the kitchen was an added bonus, as was the music. Including Oasis, The Doors, Tracy Chapman, and even the song I was named after, Hit the Road, Jack, it felt as though the playlist could have been prepared specially; it wasn’t. Turns out Paul Ainsworth and his team have the same taste in music as us. Folk who believe Michelin star restaurants are stuffy probably wouldn’t expect to hear Liam Gallagher singing Champagne Supernova as they tucked into the tasting menu. The combination of décor, music, and a quietly buzzing atmosphere created a perfect dining platform for us.
St Petroc’s dining areas are scattered around different rooms. Our table was in a sort of casual library. We were relieved to see the slight oppressiveness of the lounge didn’t extend to the décor elsewhere. The atmosphere was the right side of lively, people enjoying their food, there was a lot of space between tables, and the soundtrack was eclectic, ranging from classic pop and rock to the Gypsy Kings – not quite in the same league as Number 6, but still good. As soon as we were seated at a large, circular table beside the bookcase, I felt what had been a darkening mood lift.
Number 6 is well staffed with people who are friendly, knowledgeable, chatty, and extremely professional. The service was impeccable, with various staff keeping us informed about the food and drink, with dishes arriving at a sensible pacing. From start to finish, around two and a half hours, the service was faultless.
At St Petroc’s, the staff were friendly, but some maybe not as well trained as at Number 6. It took three requests before water finally turned up at our table. Part of the problem seemed to be caused by our reservation being for 9pm (we couldn’t book an earlier table). Despite arriving early, as we’d ordered an aperitif, our starters weren’t served until 10.20pm. We’re used to eating quite late, but after 10 is pushing it. This delay was compounded by the rest of the meal feeling rushed; as soon as the main course was taken away, a dessert menu appeared. By that time, it was too late for desserts anyway, but they did bring a ‘surprise’ birthday dessert, a couple of brownies on a slate with ‘Happy Birthday’ written on it in chocolate. It was a nice touch, or would have been if they hadn’t added 8 years to my age.
We spent a similar amount of time in St Petroc’s as we did Number 6, but the actual meal only accounted for about an hour.
It’s unfair to compare Michelin star with Michelin plate; they are completely different animals. At Number 6, we expected creative food which would surprise and delight our tastebuds. From an amuse-bouche of steak tartare topped by a miniscule oyster to a three-course dessert based around the fairground, that’s exactly what we got. Smile-inducing touches included coasters with artistic depictions of where produce was sourced. Of course it can be theatrical, like making a great show of cutting speciality butter, but that’s part and package of the Michelin star experience. I’d be disappointed if it wasn’t.
Michelin plate, or simply Michelin recommended, denotes an establishment where diners are guaranteed good food. And that’s what we ate at St Petroc’s – devilled kidneys with mushrooms on sourdough toast, mussels with poulette sauce, and turbot with bone marrow gravy were all delicious. One gripe was the turbot was second choice as lobster thermidor, which featured on the online menu, was absent from the ‘real’ menu.
Ultimately, both were enjoyable dining experiences, even if St Petroc’s had flaws which need to be ironed out.
Sometimes people ask what’s special about a Michelin star experience. One simple answer is it is unique. You won’t get the same experience anywhere else. St Petroc’s was a good restaurant, nothing more. Paul Ainsworth at Number 6 was exceptional … memorable, and we’d happily return in an instant. Therein lies the difference.