- Neil Clifton
My Favourite Restaurant in The World
There you go, I said it, my favourite restaurant in the world.
Before I start on where it is, why I love it and the name of my favourite restaurant, I will tell you what it isn't, I will in a minute anyway because while I write this I have tears in my eyes thinking about the amazing times I have eaten in this restaurant - if you cant imagine feeling like that about a restaurant, I would imagine it is the feeling you may have about that ex, the one that got away, the one that you just hope you bump into accidentally and it all falls back in to place - I don't have that problem as I don't have an ex, I met my first love in the very first week of Uni and have not looked back since (22 years, don't you know) but you get my drift.
So back to what it isn't, it isn't Petrus, it's not The Wolsley, it isn't Adams or even The Seahorse, it does not even have a Michelin Star. You wouldn't notice it walking down the street, you will certainly not see big advertising campaigns for it and there will never be an offer of a discount, and nor should there ever be.
So why do the memories of my visits here bring a tear to my eye, well, 3 reasons:
1. Its a bloody long way away and so I don't get many chances to visit.
2. Because if I ever owned a restaurant, this is what it would be, informal, small and serving the best dishes the ingredients would ever allow. Served by a group of staff who have you at their centre of attention.
3. Finally, because it reminds me that I am not a restaurateur and never will be, because I couldn't create what the owners have created and executed so well.
For a man the New York Times referred to as "studiously ambitious" (yes, that's me!) that may seem quite negative, but in my 42 years of learning, I know what I am good at (in fact I am even excellent at some things) but I just know that owning and running a restaurant isn't for me and the way the owners of my favourite restaurant make this look so easy, just confirms that.
The first time I ate here was about a week after Tom Parker Bowls reviewed it, He led with
"The Prawn Supremacy: Dish after dish of fantastic fish – and even my team of experts were in awe"
Although at this point I didn't know he had reviewed it , I just knew that a very polite lady called Katie rang every couple of days, on the run up to our booking to ensure we were turning up "because they were getting very busy"
This was the 22nd of December, in Padstow.
So what is it about Prawn on The Lawn I love? Why is it I chose for the location of my 40th Birthday? Because it is everything I love about food and cooking, Keith Floyd summed it up perfectly:
"Cooking is an art and patience a virtue. Careful shopping, fresh ingredients and an unhurried approach are nearly all you need. There is one more thing - love. Love for food and love for those you invite to your table. With a combination of these things you can be an artist"
And at POTL, you feel loved, you really feel they give a damn about you, not because they want a star on the wall or because it is good for the bank balance, because they love the ingredients they use, they love their staff and their staff care, really care about your experience. It is not something you can teach, or even learn - you just have to have it in your soul to love food and love people loving your food, so much.
So, it is owned by Rick and Katie Toogood a young married couple who had a fish mongers in London and used to serve some fizz with some cold shellfish, when an old Italian restaurant closed in Padstow they moved in - they had always sourced their produce from Newlyn, just down the road anyway and so it was the perfect fit.
If you visit the Padstow restaurant, you will not believe how small the kitchen is, I promise you there is more room in a caravan, however, if you measure flavour, quality and variety of dishes per sq ft of kitchen space, there is not a place in the world that beats it for me - in comparison, Gordon Ramsay's Petrus would need a kitchen the size of Wales to come close. That maybe hard on Petrus, but this is my point, when I ate there, it felt like every dish was trying so hard to be a Michelin Starred dish, (flying hens eggs from Italy to make the pasta "a little more yellow" ) was one step.
Don't get me wrong the food was good at Petrus but it wasn't loved, the atmosphere was as so 30 diners were looking at each other wondering how the should be acting, their wine cellar was, however, incredible and I was invited into the kitchen and I have never seen a commercial kitchen so clean mid service.
After that first visit to POTL I went back two days later, on mine own just to make sure I hadn't dreamed the first visit - I wasn't let down, and I never have been since. I ordered more than I could eat, just to make sure that over a variety of dishes getting them perfectly cooked wasn't a fluke - I have, never in my life had hen crab so sweet as I ate that night and the oysters, which ever way I chose them to be served have never been matched.
The difficulty, when you really, really like a restaurant or chef, is going to their other locations, I started at Padstow, their second restaurant but had waxed lyrical so much, my London based friends insisted I joined them to visit the Islington site. It was to be the "Crown Jewel" of a sophisticated day starting at Borough Market and ending at POTL, via several well established breweries and eateries in-between.
I needed not worry about my recommendation, our WhatsApp Group "Good Food, Good Mood" fell under the POTL spell too. If anything, the service was a little prompt - this did, however, allow us to order a second round of "small plates" before we remembered we hadn't ordered any larger plates!
And that is where it ends, I don't promise a review in fact i don't even like them, I don't think they are fair - what I want to explain is my eating adventures, because so often it isn't about the dish, it is about the ingredients and the background.
If you want seafood, cooked your way, prepared by a team that are focused on you then head to POTL; London or Padstow, you will not be disappointed.
So, there we are - my favourite restaurant in The World - did I mention the food is bloody amazing?