Mine was one of the 3,000 bookings taken by Paul Ainsworth’s team over the two days when they opened their phone lines. Yes, we were the people keen to get out and get eating! After months of lock-down cooking and a wedding postponed (not once but twice) due to Covid, we were eager to at least have something to look forward to in our two weeks of non-honeymoon and what better than a trip to our favourite haunt Padstow? We were also interested to see what ‘new normal’ dining would be like and of course keen to stay safe having spent so long doing the right thing and staying home. We chose the restaurants based on three factors: ones we love, dog-friendly ones (as we had the hound with us) and a new factor for our ‘new normal’ – ones we trusted. Paul Ainsworth is possibly our favourite chef, I followed his lock-down story on social media and was keen to support his return, so when the booking lines opened we were ‘on it’ and booked to stay at The Padstow Townhouse in a newly dog-friendly suite (we were in good company as Jason Atherton was also staying with his family). We also booked for Café Rojano and The Mariners with a visit to Rick Stein’s St Petroc Bistro sandwiched in between, topped off with pre-dinner drinks at the new Padstow Distillery and Padstow Brewery Tasting Rooms.
Compared to pre-Covid days, the only real difference this time was that all the waiting staff wore masks (some more diligently then others it has to be said), there was hand sanitiser on entry, we were spaced out responsibly away from other diners (in the case of the Distillery with Perspex screens between booths) and at St. Petroc we even had our cutlery delivered in a sealed bag! Technology came into play with QR codes to enter your details on arrival at The Padstow Distillery, as well as replacing printed menus in both of Paul’s restaurants (whereas you were invited to take your menu home as a souvenir at St. Petroc), not to mention contactless payment.
Despite this, all in all it was surprising normal. The big change for us was that spontaneity is definitely a thing of the past. Gone are the days of walk-ins, everything is pre-booked. So now not only do you need to think about booking your meal, you also need to think about booking your pre-dinner drinks. But that’s no bad thing. I was never a fan of the ‘show up and see’ model. Queuing is generally not how I like to spend my evening (who does?). I also don’t mind having to pay a deposit. Tom Kerridge recently pointed out on Instagram that those who book and fail to turn up deserve their own place in hell (I’m paraphrasing here) but when restaurateurs have been so hard hit by Covid and are struggling to breakeven you can understand his vitriol when diners just don’t turn up! So, my advice is book in advance, stick to your plans, stay safe and #EatOutToHelpOut and #EnjoySummerSafely!