Belfast Telegraph

Monday 22 September 2014

Why I sold my sole for a taste of something a little more meaty

Fisherman's friend: celebrity chef Rick Stein

When in Rome, do as the Romans do. So when in Cornwall, eat fish. If you're anything of a foodie, you'll know the reputation of this gloriously Celtic corner of England for bountiful, wonderful seafood.

And given that we were recently holidaying just a short boat trip from its culinary heart, Padstow, it would have been a sin not to indulge in a visit to one of the county's best restaurants, indeed one of the best in the whole country, many would argue.

It was very kind of my in-laws to book us a table (six months in advance) at Rick Stein's renowned The Seafood Restaurant to mark our first trip to their beloved Cornwall.

It's near-impossible to get into at the height of the summer – and the highlight of any trip to Padstow (now jokingly called Padstein in a nod to the celebrity chef's presence there).

The only problem is that I don't eat fish. Or seafood of any description. In fact, I can't even look at it, or smell it, and refuse to sit near anyone eating it.

It's a borderline phobia (that's ichthyophobia for your next pub quiz), but it just seemed so rude to complain about being taken to such an expensive restaurant.

So I decided not to embarrass myself by saying, "Actually, I'd rather go to McDonald's" and resigned myself to a night of starvation and suffering from the heebeegeebees.

There was only one thing for it – arrive early, hit the bar and make sure of being in a 'relaxed' mood by the time I had to face the monkfish.

My relaxation mission was going very well by the time the menus arrived and I sped-read down through a list of my worst nightmares to alight on the magic words '30-Day Aged Hereford Rib Eye Steak'.

Oh, thank cod for that. And there was a tomato salad for starter. Never in my puff have I been so excited to see the word salad.

"Steak and more beer, please," I ordered. If the waiter thought I was a bit uncouth, he was kind and didn't say.

Meanwhile, my husband and brother-in-law seemed to be taking too much joy from ordering a Fruits de Mer platter to share, with one of them telling me the last time he had one, it was so fresh some of the ingredients were still moving.

For the record, the Fruits de Mer consists of mussels, clams, lobsters, langoustines, winkles, oyster, scallops, razor clams, whelks, cockles and three different variety of crabs – all presented extravagantly on a large platter in the middle of the table.

Everything was delightfully dead on arrival, but the downside of sitting opposite the pair sharing it is that the backside of a huge lobster, sliced in two, was left pointing in my direction for display purposes.

And so I spent the next 20 minutes staring up the posterior of my worst enemy, while two langoustines looked me straight in the eye and bits of crab claw landed all over the linen as they were cracked open.

But I soon forgot my trauma as I tucked into my great, big, juicy steak, which was quite simply the best thing I've ever been served in a restaurant.

The last thing I was expecting was my meal of torment to turn into a steak utopia, closely followed by a hot chocolate fondant utopia.

So now I know. If you want the best steak there is, go to a seafood restaurant.

Just keep your eyes shut if you're ichthyophobic.

Flagging up our crazy obsession

Still on the subject of my recent jolly to Cornwall, I made the somewhat silly decision to drive the whole way there from Belfast, via north Wales, after getting the ferry from Dublin.

I did an 850-mile round trip through England and Wales, spotting no more than a handful of Union flags along the way and even an Irish tricolour outside a pub in Caernarfon.

So it was with new eyes that I arrived back in Belfast to note our ridiculous explosion of flags where there are literally more on a couple of lamp-posts than long stretches of the British heartland.

Big bother for D-lister Helen

Helen Wood must be wondering what she did so wrong that she was relegated to the 'normal' Big Brother, while White Dee was invited into the celeb version.

The former prostitute, with high-profile clients, would be right to ask why the 'star' of Benefits Street – too depressed to work, but happy enough for high jinx in Magaluf – was deemed famous enough for the tatty Celebrity Big Brother line-up.

No matter. As a Big Brother winner, Wood is now an official D-lister, so in that cannibalistic way reality TV works, she'll no doubt be popping up as a bona fide celeb contestant elsewhere any time now.

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