On the celebration of our 20th Wedding Anniversary, I booked a special trip away for Sharon and myself. We’d enjoyed the Rick Stein “Food Odyssey Live” show at the Opera House last year and I’d heard about a fabulous event staged at Bannisters down in Mollymook. A couple of times each year, over two days, they host an exclusive “Evening with Rick Stein” event with accommodation, a dinner hosted by Rick and a demonstration cooking class. We eagerly registered.
This special event was everything we expected, and more.. and I had the privilege of interviewing Rick himself. I’d like to share the experience of this “must do” event, one to add to the “bucket list” for foodies and fans of Rick Stein.
An Evening with Rick Stein
A leisurely drive down the South Coast, a stop in Berry for lunch, brings us to Mollymook. We arrive at Bannisters mid afternoon and check into our exquisite accommodation (more about that later). The event is exclusive, reserved for Bannisters guests only.
The evening commences with Champagne and Canapés in the garden room of the Rick Stein at Bannisters Restaurant. Rick, and his publicist wife, Sarah Stein (Sas) circle through the crowd, chatting with guests, happily taking photos.
Moving into the dining room, we take our tables, greeting our fellow foodies and fans of Mr Stein. Rick, our host for the evening, welcomes us and introduces the menu, which, of course, is a celebration of seafood.
Bannisters sommelier, Toby Evans, son of the late Len Evans, and an absolute character, rolls out some excellent wine matches and entertains us through the dinner, including a fun ‘wine options’ game.
First course up is a Salad of Lobster, Avocado, Green Beans and Foie Gras. An old school dish, taken from Rick’s 1995 Taste of the Sea series, the lobster and avocado combination, the crunch of the beans, the luxury of the Foie-Gras.. that’s why it’s a timeless classic.
Second course, Grilled Hervey Bay Scallops in the Shell with Toasted Hazelnut and Coriander Butter. Savoured by all, the flavours and textural contrasts work well.
How good were they ? Well, when we dine in the restaurant the following night I overhear a lady diner on the next table, when asked what she wanted for dessert, reply “I’ll have a second serving of those wonderful scallops thanks !”
Our main arrives, Meurette of Bass Groper and Scampi with caramelised garlic, bacon and mushrooms. The robust red wine sauce, the bacon, the mushrooms make for a full flavoured seafood dish. I’ve not eaten fish served this way before, but I’d definitely have it again.
As we continue to dine, Rick circulates around the various tables, chatting with each of the guests. Everyone gets a chance to meet Rick and have a photo snapped.
For dessert, it’s a colourful Vanilla Panna Cotta with roasted rhubarb, strawberry sorbet and almond crumble. Vanilla, sweet and tart fruits, it’s a traditional combination and a winner on our table.
Coffee and Petit Fours round off a memorable meal.. and there’s a last little piece of the Pistachio Nougat for me !
Concluding a leisurely breakfast the next morning, we join the other keen guests assembled at the Bannisters reception for the short stroll down to Rick’s Beach House and our cooking demonstration. It’s a lovely sunny day and there’s excited chatter as the group gets closer to the beachfront house. Rick’s Beach House, a Californian style bungalow from the mid 1960′s, is situated on the cliff top overlooking the ocean (the house is actually available to let when Rick and Sara are away).
We’re ushered up the stairs and take our seats facing the all-white kitchen.
The Bannister’s team is on hand, sommelier Toby offering guests an early morning sparkling white to kick off the day and the class. No complaints here.
Rick is joined by Executive Chef, Julian Lloyd, as they showcase some beautiful fresh seafood, some of it caught on the line by the enthusiastic Bannisters staffers themselves.
Our first dish is a Kingfish Carpaccio with a Miso Dressing, Shiso and Coriander, a fresh Asian style sashimi recipe devised by Executive Chef Julian Lloyd and his offsider, Head Chef Alex Dawkins.
The result, a pretty dish, fresh and tasty. The oven cooked crispy fish skin, almost like pork scratchings, adds a contrasting crunch.
Moving on from Asian fusion, the next demonstration dish comes straight from Rick’s latest series Rick Stein’s Spain (now showing on ABC TV), it’s Crisp- Fried Fish Malanga-Style. Lightly seasoned, dusted in very fine semolina, various pieces of seafood are quickly fried in olive oil.
Passed around on a plate, the samples are greedily consumed. .. and the tip from Rick.. season the seafood pieces rather than the flour mixture, you’ll get a consistent seasoning.
All through the class, Rick entertains us with his experiences, anecdotes and insights.. here are a few snippets:
• Rick’s a “fan of Nigella Lawson”.
• He’s “not a fan of fine cookery, it leaves me cold” he says. This whole boiling in a bag fad started back in the 1970′s, nowadays called sous vide. He doesn’t get it. There’s a “dreariness, sameness in the food”, you seem to “lose the vigour, life from the dish”. It’s like cooking in a laboratory, there’s “no noise, no beat, no bother”. Cooking is “about the theatre of it” and “taking a chance” he passionately comments.
• Rick recounts working on Rick Stein and the Japanese Ambassador. He was in London overseeing some artisan Japanese chefs prepare a banquet he’d devised for the Ambassador.. the chefs were so good, he really just stood by and watched, felt like a “total loser” he jokes.. but he was extremely “chuffed” when the chefs complimented him on the quality of the fresh sea produce he’d brought up from Cornwall… and his takeaway Japanese cooking tip ? Tempura batter has to be freshly made, and the batter should be remade after 10 portions are coated.
• He loves his Spanish food, especially in Seville and San Sebastian, and is enjoying the “rise of tapas food” (I was chatting with a Spanish chef recently and he also remarked on the popularity of tapas, he’d even seen an Indian restaurant offering Indian Tapas on the their menu).
To round off the class, Rick presents a classic French style fish dish: Bourride of Salted Blue Eye, Morwong Fillets and Rock Cod (a recipe from his French Odyssey cookbook).
Served with a little crouton smeared with diced chilli and sundried tomatoes, even the small tasting portions look elegant and have a salty, garlicky kick, complemented by the bite of the crouton.
The demonstration class finished, the “official part” of the Rick Stein event ends.. but not for me just yet.. it’s time for my interview with Rick.
30 Minutes with Rick Stein – An Interview
We amble across to the comfortable lounges in Rick’s Beach House to sit and chat. I’ll admit there’ s a degree of trepidation, nervousness mixed with elation. Me, relatively new to online food writing, interviewing a food legend. How is this going to go ? The nervousness is short lived, as Rick is every bit the affable character you see on screen. Our common passion for great food opens up the conversation.
On his Sydney trip last year (for the “Food Odyssey Live” show), Rick had flagged his interest in producing a local food series, a series about the cultural diversity of Australian cuisine. He was keen to see how immigrant cuisines have evolved, melded, particularly since he first visited our shores in the 1960s. “Is an Australian series still on the cards ?” I ask. Well yes, he’s still keen to make such a series, but the BBC’s preference was to film an Indian food series first. In fact, Rick was shortly flying out with producer David Pritchard and team to start filming the new Indian food series (having been researching and testing various Indian recipes for some time).
Remembering how Mr Pritchard loves his traditional English fare (roast beef, spring greens, baked vegetables, and gravy), I query “How do you think David will fare in India ?” “Won’t be a problem” Rick replies, “David loves his curries”. Of course. The British predilection for Indian curries, Chicken Tikka Masala, the colonial history.. all reasons why a BBC Indian food series should capture the imagination of the British viewer. Chatting, we both recall with a smile, what Indian food used to mean in our respective countries many years ago (ie. some sort of stew, often flavoured with a few spoonfuls of Keens Curry powder.. just like Mum used to make). I’m interested to see how this new series comes off, how David and Rick will bring the complexity of the food as well as Indian history and culture to our screens.
Incidentally, for a hilarious, witty, rambling read, I highly recommend Producer David’s book Shooting the Chef – Behind TV’s Camera’s and in Hot Water with Keith Floyd and Rick Stein. I mention the book to Rick. “Yes, David’s been developing a movie manuscript based on the book” he says. It looks at the discovery of the “TV chef” and particularly explores the Producer’s relationship with Keith. We amusingly ponder who would be contenders to play that colourful firebrand, Mr Keith Floyd.
The relationship between Producer vs TV Chef.. Yes, that reminds me of the aptly named BBC documentary “Cabin Fever”. For those who haven’t viewed it (and you should), it’s a one-off, behind-the-scenes documentary of Rick’s barge journey from Bordeaux to Marseille during the making of his French Odyssey series. As well as Rick describing his favourite dishes along the route, it includes candid footage showing the pressures of getting a television production scripted and filmed (on a confined slow moving barge). Not surprisingly, there are creative disagreements, temper flare ups and some rustic language. “My publicist wasn’t very keen on the documentary” Rick recalls, presumably as it wouldn’t present the normal affable, cheerful, poetic gentleman that graces our TV screens. But Rick was unconcerned, it’s the reality of getting a TV show made and the audience lapped it up.
Whilst I’m an ardent watcher of Rick’s TV shows, I particularly enjoy his early series “Taste of the Sea” and “Fruits of the Sea”. I think it’s the old school cooking, the rawness of the show, seeing Rick in the restaurant kitchen.. it’s great viewing. My frustration is trying to catch these earlier cooking series on cable TV re-runs. “Will you bring those series out on DVD ?” I ask. “Maybe.. there’s been a lot of interest.. Yes, something to think about” Rick muses.
There’s a beautiful painting of Chalky, Rick’s constant furry companion (now sadly passed), in the garden room at the entrance to the Bannisters restaurant.
I query Rick about the painting. “Yes, it was painted by a friend” he remarks. “He’s painted a few of them”. He points out another on the wall in the Beach House, a rather regal looking head shot of Chalky adorns the wall. “One of the dinner guests last night suggested we sell prints of the paintings of Chalky” Rick comments. “We might do just that”.
Certainly, Chalky’s popularity endures. “David always knew when to bring Chalky into a scene or if he’d been off screen too long”. Rick recalls a viewer favourite scene where imaginative, “let’s break the rules to make good TV” David, persuades Rick to smuggle Chalky into a dog-free Scottish hotel in his hand luggage. It made for entertaining TV, even though Rick secretly suspected that hotel security were on to him.
Little Chalky even has several beers named after him. Going back a few years ago, Sharps Brewery Head Brewer, Stuart Howe, collaborated with Rick to produce several unique English beers: Chalky’s Bark and Chalky’s Bite. The first beer, Chalky’s Bark, was a nod to Rick’s enjoyment of ginger beers. Ginger was the special ingredient and they used a hop with a lemony aroma to complement the fresh ginger and produce a fruity ale. The other beer, the light golden coloured Chalky’s Bite is a delicate beer, infused with wild Cornish fennel. “Can I taste Chalky’s beers in Australia ?” Sadly no, Toby informs me, the Australian distribution arrangement has fallen away, so now you’re only able to sample Chalky’s beers back in the UK.
Which leads me to my next question for Rick. I’ve started planning for a European family trip next year and want to incorporate a side trip to that famous English coastal town. Some Padstow tips ?
• Getting there: Yes, you can hire a car and drive down from London, but the train trip is a leisurely scenic journey (both about 5 hours). You can also fly from Gatwick to Newquay Cornwell Airport (approx 60 minute flight).
• When to go and what to do: Summer, although August is peak of the season coinciding with local school holidays (it’s very busy). A few months earlier is the annual May Day (or ‘Obby Oss’ Day) celebration, the biggest day on the Padstow calendar with masses of people crammed in the town wildly celebrating a pagan fertility festival and welcoming Summer. Early December, there’s the Padstow Christmas Festival including Christmas markets, Fireworks and Chef Demonstrations (with some top name British chefs joining Rick on stage). Rick’s famous Seafood School is open through the year and there’s some wonderful walking tours around the town and region.
• Accommodation and Dining: Rick’s Group offers multiple Padstow and region accommodation options (good to book well in advance). Food options are also varied from the Rick’s signature Seafood Restaurant, to St Petroc’s Bistro, Steins Fish and Chips, the Cafe, and the more recently acquired Cornish Arms serving a simple British pub menu.
Now Rick has a bit of a reputation for being accident prone, given to the occasional bout of clumsiness (one of his endearing and entertaining qualities). Would it be good form to bring it up in our interview ? Not knowing any better, I mention the subject and follow up with the question “Does David set you up for some of those situations ? “Well yes I think he does” Rick replies. I can definitely see the inventive Producer pushing for that extra element.. but is he the sole contributor ?
We both laugh a great deal as I recount a recent chef mishap I’d been involved in. I’d taken my young son to attend a demonstration cooking class with a Spanish chef, grabbing a front row seat for a prime view. All was going well until the chef, having just handmade some fresh Morcilla (Spanish blood sausage) with pigs blood, mince and fat, yanks off his rubber gloves.. and slaps chunks of mince and pigs blood across the front row, my son and I the main benefactors. The stunned look of the chef, the complete silence of the room.. it was priceless. Yes, it happens to the best of them.
At dinner the previous evening Rick mentioned that he’s been penning his memoirs, jesting that the publishers had “offered him a great deal of money and I’d better take advantage of it while I’m still popular”. Chatting about it further, Rick confirms that he’s just about finished the drafting, will be submitting his manuscript shortly. His Australian experiences will feature prominently. He’s travelled here on repeated occasions from his hitchhiking days as a teenager through to ultimately opening his Mollymook restaurant in October 2009 (those youthful days included hitchhiking trips to Hervey Bay trying to “pick up chicks” and a stint on a track maintenance gang working alongside some very dodgy characters on the train line between Alice Springs and Adelaide). Add those hijinks to his early days as the proprietor of the Purple Tiger, a disco den in Cornwall, together with a long and colourful culinary career, and the multitude of countries and cuisines that he has seen.. it’s sure to guarantee an entertaining and insightful read.. and when might we see Rick’s Memoirs on the shelves of our local bookstore ? Well these things take a little time.. but hopefully it should be hitting the shelves come September 2013. I’ll be lined up to purchase my copy.
Rick Stein.. thank you for being a wonderful host at Bannisters. Thanks to you and Sas for taking the time to chat..
.. and especially to all the staff at Bannisters.. thanks for two glorious days of fun, indulgence and celebration !!!
Bannisters – A Special Place to Stay
The Accommodation and Surrounds
We enjoy Bannisters, having stayed there multiple times. This boutique South Coast hotel, with its scenic cliff top location above Mollymook Beach, 4.5 star rooms with ocean views and private balconies offers a luxurious and relaxing stay. The photos below show the spectacular Spa Room we stayed in and some of the beautiful surrounds you’ll see on an early morning walk.
Whilst Bannisters offers another dining option and cocktails at their Pool Bar, we return to the signature restaurant, Rick Stein at Bannisters the following night to celebrate our 20th Wedding Anniversary and further indulge in seafood “the Rick Stein way”.
We treat ourselves to a Small ‘Fruit Der Mer’: Seafood in the French Style, all left in the shell and served on ice with mayonnaise and eschallot vinegar.
With one of my favourite dishes, the Escalopes of Salmon with a Sorrell Sauce, dropping off the restaurant menu (temporarily I hope Julian), it’s a perfect time to try some other dishes. Tonight it’s the Bannisters Fish Pie: Salmon, blue trevalla, snapper, scallops, mushrooms and prawns in a creamy fish veloute sauce with truffle oil, gratinated with bread crumbs and parmesan.
I’d been craving a good fish pie and this one is excellent.. delicate pieces of seafood, creamy truffle infused sauce, crunchy breadcrumbs. I may have found a new favourite seafood dish.
Sharon orders the Indonesian Seafood Curry with Kingfish, Squid and King Prawns. Served with an accompanying Green Bean and Fresh Coconut Salad, and Pilau Rice, these tasty Balinese dishes (from Rick’s Far Eastern Odyssey) have been a mainstay on the Bannisters restaurant menu for some time.
.. and to finish off, it’s an oozy Hot Chocolate Fondant. Not much more needs to be said.
Oh, but I did forget to mention.. breakfast at the restaurant, sitting on the balcony, the morning sun rising, looking over the ocean.. doesn’t get much better than that.. and accompanied by some traditional British kippers, a squeeze of lemon.. that’s a fresh way to start the day following an evening of food and wine indulgence.