A glass pot layered with jelly, cream and custard

The Mariners, Rock, Cornwall: restaurant review

Does a regular diner reach the same conclusion about a restaurant as a food pro, who may get special treatment if recognised?* Critic Mark Taylor and olive reader Helen Dickson compare notes on chef Paul Ainsworth’s new venture as a publican

About The Mariners, Rock, Cornwall

Paul Ainsworth’s name is nothing new in Cornwall – first for his Michelin-starred restaurant Paul Ainsworth at No 6, then for his second restaurant, Rojano’s in the Square, then a hotel and now a cookery school in Padstow – but 2019 sees his first foray into the pub world. Taking over from Nathan Outlaw, Paul and wife Emma reopened The Mariners in Rock, in partnership with the town’s local Sharp’s Brewery.

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Expect the likes of Manu Bay, Atlantic and Doom Bar on tap, while the menu is a refined take on pub classics, using top local suppliers (Kernow Sausage Company, Flying Fish Seafoods and Padstow Kitchen Garden). There’s a selection of oysters from “500 yards that way”, salads and sandwiches, pies (including warm hand-raised pork pies and Cornish toad in the hole with clotted-cream potatoes) and desserts are all proudly served with custard.

In the dining room, with clear views out over the estuary, you’ll also find Philip Warren bangers, mustard mash and slow-cooked onion and parsley gravy, alongside battered Cornish haddock and triple-cooked chips, and an aged beef burger with Davidstow cheddar and salty skinny fries.

paul-ainsworth.co.uk/the-mariners

A central bar with blue velvet stools
Paul Ainsworth’s name is nothing new in Cornwall but 2019 sees his first foray into the pub world

The pro restaurant reviewer

Journalist and restaurant reviewer Mark Taylor has written for a number of publications in the past 20 years, including olive. @MarkTaylorFood


The punter restaurant reviewer

Helen Dickson lives in Cornwall and loves Italian food. Her best dining experience was chateaubriand steak at Rick Stein’s St Petroc’s Bistro in Padstow.


Our pro’s The Mariners, Rock, Cornwall restaurant review…

With its scallop-shell-shaped lights, oak panels, leather seats and sweeping views of the estuary, The Mariners has a nautical feel befitting a knock-out waterside location. On arrival, a battalion of cheery staff in a preppy uniform of blue shirts and grey chinos appeared with menus and free glasses of local Camel Valley chardonnay brut. *I was recognised.

The choice is broad, encompassing lots of small plates, salads, sandwiches, pies, steaks and burgers, but Paul Ainsworth’s Michelin-star background means pub classics with an additional sheen. A retro ham, egg and pineapple dish turns up as “Cornish cure ham steak, fried St Ewe egg and soy-glazed pineapple cooked over coals”, and shepherd’s pie appears with a lamb shoulder and seaweed ragu with a crisp Porthilly oyster.

Paul pays tribute to a fellow pub-owning chef with a generous starter of ‘fried whitebait Tom Kerridge’ – the crisp fish dusted in spicy paprika and served with an old-school marie rose sauce. It was followed with a South Indian curry of slow-cooked, succulent chicken in a fragrant, medium-spiced Goan sauce that soaked into the buttery braised rice but was copious enough to be mopped up with the crisp and black-blistered naan bread.

To finish, an elegant glass bowl of “The Mariners Trifle” achieved a sweet and fruity balance between the custard and soaked sponge, with fluffy turrets of piped cream speckled with Paul’s crunchy take on hundreds and thousands.

A glass pot layered with jelly, cream and custard
“The Mariners Trifle” achieved a sweet and fruity balance between the custard and soaked sponge

THE BOTTOM LINE

A relaxed waterfront pub serving affordable, jazzed-up pub classics cooked by a team with Michelin-star experience. The Mariners is in safe hands with captain Paul Ainsworth at the helm.

Total bill for two, excluding service: £75.50

Food: 9/10

Service: 9/10

Vibe: 8/10

TOTAL: 26/30


Our punter’s The Mariners, Rock, Cornwall restaurant review…

A plentiful supply of staff welcomed us with friendly smiles and a wealth of knowledge of the menu, wine list and the Paul Ainsworth story so far. Even when questioned as to what a verjus sauce was, the response was succinct and precise – the sign of well-versed staff to accompany sophisticated food in a relaxed and calm environment.

The relaxed atmosphere felt instantly welcoming, and the menu catered well for meat eaters, pescatarians and vegetarians. Large plates and small plates were well priced. The scotch egg small plate set the scene with a lightly cooked runny egg set inside a warm sausagemeat blanket coated in a light crumb.

The ray wing was delicately flavoured with tender meat, a crunchy caper and breadcrumb topping and covered in a rich brown butter sauce which was pleasing to both the eye and the palate.

My husband opted for the light Goan masala curry with chunks of succulent chicken and a sharp onion salad on the side. Portion sizes were ample but not too heavy, allowing a little room for the pudding. The “& custard” dessert choice was filled with sponge puddings, crumbles and trifle.

A white bowl filled with an orange fish curry
A South Indian curry of slow-cooked, succulent chicken in a fragrant, medium-spiced Goan sauce soaked into the buttery braised rice

The spotted dick – rich and sumptuous – was filled with plump, juicy raisins. Old-school in the best way and a fitting end to a delicious and unrushed meal.

A nice touch was when a pair of waiters arrived with dessert and conducted synchronised custard pouring.

THE BOTTOM LINE

This felt like eating at a good friend’s house. The décor was relaxed, the furnishings comfortable and the staff were friendly. The Mariners felt higher end than we expected but with midweek pub prices. We’ll definitely be back.

Total bill for two, excluding service: £108.60

Food: 9/10

Service: 9/10

Vibe: 9/10

TOTAL: 27/30


The Mariners Sustainable Restaurant Association (SRA) rating: 7

As the fifth Paul Ainsworth site in this beautiful part of North Cornwall, The Mariners has the huge benefit of long established and firmly forged partnerships with the bounty of excellent producers and suppliers on the doorstep. That means customers at The Mariners can dine on oysters collected not much more than a stone’s throw from the pub’s front door, by the same people who’ve been supplying the chef’s restaurants since 2005.

The restaurant is hugely proud of its relationships with a host of other growers, farmers and indeed its butcher, Phillip Warren in nearby Launceston. Chefs and managers alike make regular trips what they proudly call the best butcher in the county to see the ageing process of the beef and learn essential skills. The free range duck on the menu comes from nearby Terras Farm, recent winners of a BBC Food and Farming Award.

The list goes on – and includes an essential part of any pub – the beer which has to travel a mile from the ultra-local Sharps Brewery. There’s a sparkling Camel Valley chardonnay for those who prefer to wash down their dinner with wine.

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Behind the scenes, the chefs cook everything on every saving induction hobs or the coal fired Ox grill, and all of the lights are fitted with LED bulbs. Once a week only collections mean recycling food waste is currently a challenge for the team at The Mariners, but they are in negotiations with their waste provider. The link to the local community is strong, with strong ties to the Cornish Air Ambulance.