When you look at Rick Stein on the telly, it's hard to believe he owns a restaurant that turned 40 this year.

It's even more difficult to imagine him running a nightclub, which is exactly what The Seafood Restaurant, based in Cornwall's thriving port of Padstow, first started life as. Stein and his then-wife Jill bought the club in 1974, but they had to shut it down after too many fights broke out between burly fishermen.

A year later, it emerged as an eaterie and 'Padstein' - as it's known - was born. Stein has certainly brought the tourists to this pretty part of north Cornwall, but he also now appears to own half of it.

Over the past four decades, the chef has opened a restaurant, bistro, deli, bakery, fish and chip shop, fishery, cookery school, cafe and gift shop in the town (plus a pub in nearby St Merryn), and you can rest your weary head at one of the 40 rooms dotted across his different venues.

It's very much a family business and despite now being divorced, Jill still plays a large role, recently renovating the town's luxurious St Edmunds House for guests to stay at, while also working closely with the buyers at Stein's Gift Shop. Their three sons, Jack, Edward and Charlie, are also involved in the businesses in various different guises.

Myself and my food-obsessed husband James check in to one of the 16 rooms above The Seafood Restaurant and delight in dining somewhere where there's often a waiting list, particularly in the height of summer. It's good to know, however, that the Oyster Bar situated in the middle of the restaurant does not take bookings, and there's also a little terrace upstairs, where you can sit outside and clink cocktails, with no reservation required.

This relaxed ethos is important to Stein. Despite being a renowned foodie haven, The Seafood Restaurant has no dress code whatsoever - you're as welcome to turn up in a tuxedo as you are in shorts and flip-flops - and guests do both. Children over the age of three are also welcome here, and this extends across all the properties. As Stein says: "We've never thought of our restaurants as temples of gastronomy, they're just places where the fish is fresh and exhilarating, and the atmosphere is alive and full of fun."

Eating and sleeping here feels very Mediterranean - you're surrounded by white walls, it's relaxed, and the tiled floors and painted furniture in the room wouldn't look out of place in Greece.

The food, unsurprisingly, is delicious - my personal highlight being a goat cheese and thyme souffle (I'm vegetarian), while James chomps his way through some lovely local razor clams, crab, John Dory fillets and some cracking Cornish potatoes. We even wash it all down with Stein's Spanish red wine - his own blend of tempranillo and syrah, which is quaffable and creamy - and actually a bit of a bargain at £25, compared to a lot of wines in fancy restaurants.

Eating out is all well and good, but being given the chance to get your hands dirty is an experience loved by foodies everywhere. Stein's one-dish evening courses offer superb value for money, starting from £40, and there are tasting evenings for even less.

As we don our Padstow Seafood School aprons, head chef Mark Puckey gathers us round and talks us through the first steps of a seafood paella.

We take to our stations - MasterChef style - and attempt to follow instructions, removing poop from prawns, chopping veg, sweating it down and making the stock, all while guzzling back delicious white wine, which is discretely topped up at every available opportunity.

Puckey is full of top tips, from cutting vegetables like peppers with their skin down so they don't bruise, to removing green middles from garlic cloves to avoid heartburn, and leaving the root on an onion while chopping it to prevent watery eyes.

I might have had a little too much wine, but watching Puckey clean up a squid by turning it inside out and rolling it onto and down a wooden spoon, feels like I'm reliving a sex education lesson from 25 years ago. But as no one else appears to be sniggering, I turn my attention back to the dish.

There's a mixed bag of people here. Sally and John have come from Bristol and have food intolerances, there are some young lovers enjoying a more innovative date night, ageing locals and even older singletons, who love cooking but want to learn more.

Puckey's suggestion to keep your head back when throwing oil into the paella pan with the prawns should not be taken lightly. The fire that rises is pretty intense, and very capable of removing a couple of eyebrows, possibly even a beard.

Half a bottle of wine in and it's difficult to care about which comes first - the oil or the seasoning (if you're interested, you should always season first, or else it creates a barrier) but the hunger pangs are kicking in now, and to the untrained palate, there isn't a huge difference.

The chef makes his way around all of the benches, checking everyone's keeping up and offering advice. He notes James is "a bit of a dab hand" and I reveal I do nothing in the kitchen at home.

"Guys love to cook," he says, brimming with passion. "Women were always forced to do it and now they're slamming down their aprons and revolting."

As the paellas are ready for eating, we grab a seat at the enormous table by the window, which looks out on the harbour and towards Rock (another foodie haven where Michelin-starred chef Nathan Outlaw now owns a restaurant, hotel and pub). More wine is served and we tuck into our meals, being offered any leftovers to take home.

As Rick Stein continues to expand his business and multimillion-pound empire (now not only comprising of Padstow but also Falmouth, Porthleven, Fistral, Winchester and the new restaurant set to open in Poole's Sandbanks this autumn), the only fights likely to break out these days are from hungry diners hoping for a place at one of his sought-after tables.


Fine fare is always on the menu in Cornwall. Gourmands should time a visit with these upcoming festivals...

:: Fifteen Cornwall's Winter Fayre, November 28, 2015 (www.fifteencornwall.co.uk/winter-fayre/)

Taking place in the Extreme Academy car park at Watergate Bay, celebrity chef demos, delicious stalls and children's fun and frolics will be entertaining families from 9.30am until 3.30pm. Perfect timing for stocking up on everything you need for Christmas.

:: Padstow Christmas Festival, December 3-6, 2015 (www.padstowchristmasfestival.co.uk)

Now in its eighth year, 45,000 visitors will head to this festival to see over 100 crafts and producers, demonstrations from an array of big-name chefs, festive workshops, a Santa fun-run and a brilliant firework display.

:: Beer And Mussel Festival, March 18-20, 2016 (www.rickstein.com)

Held at Rick Stein's Cornish Arms pub in St Merryn, the fifth annual festival includes plenty of mussels and beer, as well as cookery demonstrations, crafts for kids, live music and book signings.


:: Claire Spreadbury was a guest of Rick Stein's The Seafood Restaurant in Padstow, where doubles cost from £154 per night, including breakfast. A three-course winter lunch at The Seafood Restaurant starts from £31 (subject to T&Cs, please see website for full details). For more information, visit www.rickstein.com