Country Cousins is something of an institution in Westward Ho!
With its Artex ceiling, swirly carpets and patterned wallpaper, you could be forgiven for thinking you were stepping back in time.
Or as one person on TripAdvisor put it: “The 1980’s want their restaurant back.”
Try telling that to owner, David Cousins, as he leans proudly against the dado rail.
“Old fashioned never goes out of fashion,” he says, defiantly.
“Fashion only goes out of fashion.”
Clearly, an army of gammon and egg loving customers agree with him.
The seaside eaterie, situated just seconds from the beach, is Westward Ho!’s longest running restaurant.
It first opened in 1986, in what used to be a former coastguard’s cottage.
As business grew, David bought up the two adjoining cottages, going from a 33-seater restaurant to one that could seat 150 customers, occupying half the terrace.
Since then, people have been flocking through the doors as regularly as the tide that laps at the end of the street.
“I’ve got customers here who remember coming with their own parents,” says David. “Now they come with their children.”
Some might say that little has changed in the thirty plus years that Country Cousins has been running – apart from the recently added Covid screens and hand sanitiser stations, that is.
“The decor is like something out of an 80’s home DIY programme – Lawrence Llewelyn-Bowen would be proud,” reads one review on TripAdvisor.
“It’s a 1950’s throwback,” smirks another.
Well, you can’t please everyone.
Yet for others, the ‘vintage’ decor simply adds to the appeal.
Despite a few snide remarks, the restaurant has more than a thousand reviews on the online travel platform with an overall rating of 4.5 stars.
The retro vibe is matched by the menu. Think: prawn cocktail, mixed grill, hunter’s chicken, lamb chops, fish pie. And yes, gammon, egg and pineapple, not to mention the hugely popular carvery.
There’s also the iconic sweet trolley. One TripAdvisor post described it as being like “something out of a Victoria Wood sketch”.
But that doesn’t stop it from enjoying legendary status among David’s loyal clientele.
Once upon a time David used to make everything himself – choux rings and gateau – but now he buys some of it in.
Rick Stein this isn’t. But then Westward Ho! with all its seaside charms and trappings is about as far removed from Padstow as its possible to get in Devon.
And that just the way David wants to keep it.
“We’re not a high class restaurant, we’re just a family restaurant,” he states.
“Most of our punters are just people that like traditional food and don’t want whatever you call ‘modern food.’ Food’s food, isn’t it!”
But while he may be a stickler for traditional fare, David says he could still give most celebrity chefs a run for their money.
“You put Rick Stein in here and he wouldn’t cope with it,” he says.
“All he does is cook two or three dishes in front of a television.”
“I’m not saying he’s not a good chef, he’s a very good chef, but he couldn’t cope with 300 meals being thrown at him in a day.”
On a busy Sunday, Country Cousins can serve 400 meals.
It may not be haute cuisine, but David has no plans to follow the foodie crowd.
“People have tried to change me – chefs and that. But if it’s not broken why try and mend it?” he says.
However, he has had to make a few adjustments in recent years to keep up with the rise in allergies and intolerances.
The menu now includes gluten free options and even a vegan burger and a vegan curry – although David claims that particular movement is ‘wearing off a bit now as people have got fed up with it.’
At 70 years old, it’s fair to say David Cousins isn’t one to be swayed by the winds of culinary change.
Having grown up in the businesses – his family owned bakeries, cafés, and fish and chip shops in North Devon – he knows his onions.
“It’s common sense and a willingness to learn,” he says.
Although this is something he believes is sadly lacking among the younger generation.
This summer, for the first time in the restaurant’s history, David was forced to close two days a week, due to staff shortages sweeping the hospitality industry.
“We’ve formed a 24 seven society but no-one wants to work in that society,” he laments.
Having grafted all his life, David has no plans to stop now. He still works 18-hour days, getting up at 5am to make up for the shortage in workers.
And he intends to keep going until his daughters, currently aged 13 and 20, can take over the business.
It may not win any Michelin stars, but if you want a slap up Sunday lunch, or a hearty carvery, then Country Cousins does what it says on the menu.
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