Austell’s

Brett Camborne-Painter is, quite simply, the man.

With my mother’s seventieth birthday approaching, I was under pressure to come up with something special. We decided to take her to Cornwall for a few days.

I ran across this restaurant, Austell’s, on the TripAdvisor website, where it has many great reviews.  After checking out their website, I called the restaurant to make reservations. I spoke to a gentleman named Brett, who was very helpful. Turned out that he was both the proprietor and the chef. When I mentioned that I was calling from the US, he was most helpful in recommending places to stay and things to do in the area. When I mentioned my Mum’s birthday, he asked “Is there anything I can do to make the day more special for her?” He suggested a birthday cake, but since my Mum is not much of a cake person, I said I would get back to him. My wife suggested a trifle, a suggestion that met with his approval.

We spent Mum’s birthday touring the Lost Gardens of Heligan, where a good time was had by all, then we returned to our hotel and dressed for the evening. The restaurant was not hard to find, though the shopfront looks unprepossessing. Step inside, however, and a delightfully laid-out restaurant awaits.

When we arrived, the restaurant was empty. At first I was worried; an empty restaurant is usually a bad sign, but in this case, we had just beaten the rush. It turned out to be a good thing, as we were speedily ushered to the best table in the house, directly overlooking the food-prep area. Brett introduced himself and spent a little time getting to know us and offering his personal congratulations to Mum. Then we got to watch him at work.

For those of us who are not “foodies”, watching a good chef doing his thing is like watching an artist at work. While other members of the kitchen staff did the “grunt work”, he was at his station cutting, slicing, shaping and arranging food on plates with exceptional artistry. While all this was going on, Brett kept up a steady stream of banter, commentary and general friendly verbal abuse. The result was highly entertaining — I was particularly impressed with the way he “piped” mashed potatoes onto plates using an icing bag. What arrived at our table was almost too beautiful to eat.

So what about the food? Brett sources his ingredients locally wherever possible. I ordered the beef — which was delicious — while my wife ordered the duck. I am not overly fond of duck. Perhaps this is because most duck is greasy, or perhaps it is because I ran over a mother duck some years ago and never looked at them the same way after that. However, I tried some of Milady’s duck and was most impressed — it was wonderful, and menled in the mouth most satisfactorily. Looking back, I should have ordered the duck.

The meal was over too soon; not because it was not filling, but because when food tastes that good it is hard to stop. Then the piece de resistance, out came the trifle, replete with a blazing roman candle. Mum’s face was a picture.

The evening’s festivities went on merrily through the evening as the restaurant filled up. We did not want to leave, but like all good things, it had to end. I could not have wished for better.

The bill came to about £140 for four of us; that is a little higher than normal, but this was a special occasion. Expensive? Yes, but for “Dinner and a Show” worth every penny.

What heightened the experience for me was the joy he evidently bought to what he was doing; like a child playing with paints, he appeared to be in his element. Watching him work, I was reminded of a quotation by James A. Mitchener:

The master in the art of living makes little distinction between his work and his play, his labor and his leisure, his mind and his body, his information and his recreation, his love and his religion. He hardly knows which is which. He simply pursues his vision of excellence at whatever he does, leaving others to decide whether he is working or playing. To him he’s always doing both.

Before setting up his little peanut stand out here in St. Austell’s, this dude studied in France and London under top chefs – and it showed. I don’t know if I will ever go that way again, but if I do, I will surely visiting Austell’s again, and highly and unreservedly recomend the place.

After all, Brett Camborne-Painter is, quite simply, the man.

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