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Posts Tagged ‘seafood’

We were up and at it on Saturday morning, hitting the road early for a trip to Lyme Regis, home of Hix Oyster and Fish House. The Fish House has been on my ‘restaurants to visit’ list for a while now so I was excited to be on my way. Fresh British fish can be hard to beat and such a special treat, fitting for a belated birthday lunch.

The restaurant is in a prime location in Lyme Regis on the hillside overlooking the small harbour and, on a sunny day like Saturday, with a view for miles down the Jurassic coastline and out across the glistening sea. The modern ‘beach hut’ has floor to ceiling windows on two sides and the layout of the tables means that you can enjoy the magnificent view wherever you’re sitting.

The menu changes daily and, as you’d expect, is predominantly fish based, though on Saturday there were a few dishes for those who’d prefer meat and a couple of vegetarian starters. It was also great to see so many sea vegetables appearing on the menu.

We kicked off the meal with a glass of Prosecco and some rock oysters, one of each variety between us (Carlingford Lough, Brownsea Island, Portland Royals, Devon Yealms). Wonderfully fresh and tasting of the sea.

From the starters, we chose monkfish cheeks with peas, bacon and tarragon, Fowey mussel and Burrow Hill cider broth and soused Torbay gurnard with sea purslane.

The monkfish cheeks were meaty and tasty but the bacon and tarragon were lost in the peas. Such strong flavours, you’d expect them to stand out. The broth was delicious, topped with a few plump mussels, but to me was more a potage than a broth. More a criticism of the menu writing than the dish itself! The flavour of the soused gurnard was perfect, such a shame that the skin had been left on making it impossible to eat and that in parts the fish was still raw. When we raised the issue with the waitress, we were offered an alternative and chose the Fish House salad. This was a take on a Nicoise with mackerel fillets in place of tuna – nice but not spectacular.

For our main courses we chose grilled fillet of Portland Race sea bass with Atlantic prawns and sea spinach, grilled Dorset Blue lobster with wild garlic and chips (it was my birthday!), grilled Bigbury Bay dabs with green sauce and Barrington potatoes, and chargrilled lamb cutlets with deep-fried sweetbreads and wild garlic.

The sea bass was beautiful and a picture on the plate (the photo doesn’t do it justice).  Disappointing though that the Atlantic prawns had been replaced by clams without a word of explanation or a check to see if the subsitution was acceptable. The lobster was finger licking good and the wild garlic sauce a perfect combination, only to be let down by the seriously late arrival of the chips. The dabs and green sauce were tasty but a salsa verde made by hand rather than in a blender would have really elevated the dish. The lamb cutlets turned out to be one thick and slightly underwhelming chop, though the sweetbreads a crispy and interesting addition to the dish.

The kitchen, which we discovered at this point was running without a head chef owing to a serious knife wound, redeemed itself with the desserts; a refreshing blackcurrant sorbet, a palate cleansing lemon sorbet and a tangy, though untraditional (the cake base ran through the cheese mixture), cheesecake.

The food aside, the service is what let the Fish House down the most. When eating out and paying the relatively high price that this kind of restaurant commands, I like to be made to feel welcome and special. Instead I felt we were just another punter and an imposition, our waitress at her most cheerful as we said goodbye. The restaurant wasn’t busy during our visit and with three waitresses on hand a more personal and friendly touch could have been offered.

We’d heard good reviews before our visit and more since so maybe we just caught them on an off day. Perhaps we’ll be able to go again sometime soon and our experience will live up to the stunning setting. 

If you’re in the area on a bright day and wanting to give it a try, my recommendation would be to head outside onto the balcony with a glass of wine and a tray of oysters to soak up the view and take in the sea air. Watching people out there whilst we were eating, I couldn’t help but think that that’s the good life!

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Tuesday night was fish night at Cookery Book Supper Club and with recipes this good why wait until Friday?

A slight breakdown in communication meant that we reviewed not one but two of Mitch Tonks’ fish cookery books this month – Fish: the complete fish and seafood companion and Fresh: great simple seafood. There are worse mistakes to make!

The two books are brimming with delicious fish and seafood recipes which are a joy to cook and eat. The simplicity of the recipes, quite rightly, allow the fish to be the star of the show: we are instructed to either simply grill, fry, bake or poach the fish and serve it with a tasty accompaniment or treat it delicately with herbs and spices.

On the menu at Supper Club from Fresh were:

The creamed leeks and runner beans are a staple in Angie’s kitchen where she pairs it with lamb, chicken as well as fish.

On the menu from Fish were:

  • grilled bream with cumin, lemon and sea salt
  • grilled salmon with watercress, capers and mint 
  • spiced new potato salad

The spiced new potato salad accompanies a plain grilled salmon fillet in the book but it is such a fabulous, easy recipe which is bursting with flavour that I had to share it with our book club members. It will definitely be a regular on our dinner table and will work well with meat as well as fish.

                  

Other highlights from the book are:

  • hake with green sauce and clams
  • bream cooked en papillote with garlic, chilli and rosemary

The recipes for both of these and others are on Mitch Tonks’ website.

Fish and Fresh offer the reader more than just recipes – they are also reference guides, containing information on fishing, sustainability, alternative names, notes on taste, texture, territory and seasonality. Handy tips, tricks and photographs feature alongside the recipes – what to ask the fishmonger, how to make life easy for yourself in the kitchen and what to look out for when buying fish.

These are books we’ll be dipping into regularly – both are more than worthy of pride of place on the cookery book shelves in our homes.

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We travelled to Dartmouth on a bright and crisp autumn day. The reason for our visit, a meal at The Seahorse – a birthday present for my mother-in-law to be. Lunchtime was upon us as we boarded the higher ferry to cross the Dart so we headed into town to the only other place we’d heard about – RockFish!

A warm welcome awaited us along with the promise of very fresh fish (as the strapline goes, so fresh tomorrow’s is still in the sea) and golden chips. We were spoilt for choice with a long list of seasonal fish and seafood, batter and breadcrumb options and the usual side orders of chips, mushy peas and curry sauce.

Our meals were brought to the table in cardboard trays: breadcrumbed red gurnard and good old-fashioned scampi with tartare sauce, calamari with aioli and a crab sandwich on brown, accompanied by piles of chips and bowls of mushy peas. The fish was divine, the chips cooked to perfection and the mushy peas the best I’ve tasted!

We received a nice surprise as we were leaving. Mitch was in the restaurant, on his break from The Seahorse kitchen further down the Embankment. He came over to say hello and ask if everything had been ok for us. He struck me as a cook and business owner who genuinely cares about and takes an interest in his customers and staff and is always looking for ways to make improvements (though we would have been hard pushed to find fault!). 

Parallels have been drawn between RockFish and Rick Stein’s fish and chip restaurant in Padstow but Mitch has got every detail of RockFish right and for me, there was no comparison. If lunch was this good, just how big a grin would we have at dinner?

A walk around town and the sea air stoked our appetites for the evening. We donned our best bib and tucker and headed back into town. As we stepped out of the taxi, the large, heavy wooden doors burst open, we entered the warmth of the intimate dining room of The Seahorse restaurant and were greeted with a beaming smile and a wave from the kitchen. Glasses of prosecco were sent our way with a message from Mitch: ‘congratulations on doing the double!’.

We were astounded by the service we received, great service so often a rarity – the staff were friendly, attentive, extremely knowledgeable and obviously passionate about the restaurant. They talked us through the menu, brought out the fish from the kitchen for us to see before we made our decisions and knew just when to leave us be.

The large window dividing the kitchen from the dining room means that Mitch can keep a constant eye on proceedings. Messages from the kitchen and dining room were constantly being relayed to all the staff, including news of my mother-in-law to be’s birthday.

Mitch’s approach to the food is simple – let the fish shine through. We chose starters of red Mediterranean prawns, grilled and dressed with olive oil, spaghetti with prawns and cardoon in a rich tomato sauce which had a deep shellfish back note, mussels from the nearby Elbury Cove which were packed with flavour and the zuppa di pesce – it came, was eaten and the dish refilled! 

Following the stunning starters, expectations were high for our main courses and were exceeded: sea bream cooked en papillote with roast garlic, chilli and rosemary – strong flavours but delicately applied to the fish; John Dory which had been given an Italian treatment with a tomato, anchovy and olive sauce; skate traditionally served with black butter and capers, and fritto misto (a selection of crisp fried monkfish, John Dory, red mullet, prawns, whitebait, squid and chiperones) which overflowed from the plate!

Towards the end of service Mitch came out from the kitchen to talk with his guests – not in a pretentious way and expecting praise but to actually talk – though, yes he did sign books and menus, say ‘Happy Birthday’ to the birthday girl and have his picture taken with me too!

As a coincidence, Mitch Tonks’ Fish cook book is being reviewed at this month’s Cookery Book Supper Club. I had spent the previous couple of weeks reading, testing recipes and tweeting about the delicious dishes I had created. RockFish, having picked up my tweets, told me that Mitch was really interested in what we were doing so, of course, there was one obvious topic of conversation when he reached our table.

Unfortunately Mitch is unable to make it to book club on Tuesday but I did offer him an open invitation for whenever he is in Bristol!

There’s no doubting that Mitch Tonks is at one with the fish he sources from Brixham fish market and knows how to make your day, evening, or even year!

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