Living in London for so long, I miss the smell of the sea and the fresh, ozone infused air. From the age of 8 I grew up in Southsea before flying the family nest at 18 to study in Sheffield. I would regularly go fishing along the sea coast from Hayling Ferrry along to the harbour in Old Portsmouth. I would bring home silver bream and pollock, which I would help mother fillet and prepare for dinner, smaller pouting would be used to make fishcakes and the slightly bitter tasting wrasse would be boiled and fed to the cats. Even now fish and seafood are rooted deep in my psyche.
My brother lives in Devon and I take every opportunity to visit and take in the seafood. Happily just such an opportunity arose to flee the smoke and seek out a great place to eat.
The original plan had been to see Brixham fish market in operation, however this is now only available on pre-booked tours.
The second plan had been to eat afterwards in the restaurant next door, Rockfish on Brixham Harbour. Sadly service had been interrupted by delivery and installation of new equipment and they wouldn’t be serving again until the evening. Luckily there was another branch in Dartmouth, only a short drive away and in fact the restaurant where it all began. We wound our way through twisty verdant lanes through the delightful Devonshire countryside through ancient villages, past thatched cottages; finally arriving, via the River Dart ferry, in Dartmouth.
What I adore about the West Country is the almost obscene abundance of food and drink available everywhere. Hardly surprising in three counties where farming and fishing are the largest industries. From farm shops to street markets, to seaside shacks and fabulous gourmet restaurants there are a myriad of tastes and flavours to be discovered. The beauty is it’s also on the coast and it’s here where the ports land and sell the largest volume of fish in the U.K. What better place to go for the most fresh seafood in the country.
Rockfish is a local chain of seafood restaurants by Chef and author Mitch Tonks, something of a celebrity in these parts, championing the use of local seafood and produce in all his locations. Situated on the Dartmouth river front, a few doors away from his flagship upmarket seafood restaurant, The Seahorse, Rockish serves a simple, more affordable menu.
The restaurant formula is simple; a handful of quick and easy starters, followed by whatever fish is available that day. The ingenious paper tablecloth doubles up as the menu, listing all the fish served in the restaurant. The waitress ticks what is available and asks whether you would like it grilled, fried or poached. The menu is seasonal and changes almost daily depending but has been landed that day.
I began with a Devon crab salad followed by battered haddock and chips. There was no doubting the freshness but the generous starter was a little under seasoned, easily fixed with some sea salt, ground black pepper and a squeeze of lemon. The main plate arrived, with not one, but two battered fillets lying on a bed of crisp cooked chips. It may only be a simple dish to some, but it’s so easy to get wrong. So many times I’ve had soggy fish and half cooked chips; Rockfish however, just gets everything so right. Crisp dry batter containing moist, flaky fish, great tripple cooked chips along with polite, frictionless service. The main courses are served with bottomless chips along with as much free still or sparkling mineral water as you wish. Nice touch. There is also a selection of local beers and an excellent wine list chosen by Mitch himself to match his menu.
Always a curious soul, I took a wander to the back to nose around. The Head chef spotted me gazing into the open kitchen and invited me through to look around. Rather than being packed with fancy kitchen gadgets it was set up solely to cater for the simple menu. Vegetable prep station, fish prep area, hob, separate fish and chip fryers and that was about it. The same formula repeated in all Rockfish; service is far more efficient with standardisation.
Tonks has restaurants all over the South West at some beautiful waterside locations including Plymouth, Torquay, Exeter and Brixham with new branches due to open soon.
8 South Embankment