I’m currently decorating my living room, which is probably marginally more exciting for you than for me, and is also proving pretty exhausting. As a consequence I’ve seen my weekly pizza count increase and my weekly blogging time decrease in inverse proportion over the last few weeks - not aided by my laptop being commandeered to watch Spurs not being spursy.
But, with a gap appearing between the painting of the woodwork and the new carpet being laid - which also coincided with a break in the domestic footy for the England friendlies – I’m seizing my chance to write about one of my favourite meals of the year so far, Sunday lunch at Rockfish in Brixham Harbour.
Is it even a Sunday on holiday if you don’t start proceedings with a bloody mary? Clearly Rockfish shared my sentiments, offering both a classic and chilli version - the hot version is really pretty poky - on their succinct cocktail menu, but offering them at half price between 12 -2pm Well, it would have been rude not to.
The main thrust of the Rockfish menu is freshly caught day boat fish - caught in one of the largest fishing fleets in in the UK based in the harbour that can be glimpsed from the window – meaning a good proportion of their offering is dictated by time and tide. To help facilitate tricky decision-making, they have helpfully depicted the catch most commonly available on the place mat.
Normally anything that involves me having to engage with another human for any longer than strictly necessary is anathema, but the waitress knowledgeably took us through not just what had been landed that morning, but what cut would be served and how best to have it prepared by the kitchen.
Choices on our visit included Mussels – from nearby Elberry Cove - a haunt of Agatha Christie – delicate fillets of brill, and an old favourite, wing of skate on the bone. I chose the hake, a fat tranche of fish that was offered battered or, as I chose, grilled with lashings of garlicky butter. Why hake isn’t more popular on our shores remains a mystery - although this probably pleases the Spanish, who seem to end up with most of our catch – as it’s a great fish which, when cooked as well as this, has a crisp skin and a firm sweet flesh that stands up well to robust flavours.
While I might have been willing to forego my batter, I couldn’t give up my fried potatoes, and the accompanying chips – decent old school chippy-style - are served in limitless qualities, along with their house tartare sauce. The Ewing, who never misses a trick to spend some extra money, also noticed they had a seaweed version, which looked rather ominous, but had an pleasing seaside note. (YOLO babe, YOLO - TE)
The Ewing had the mackerel, served whole, grilled until the skin blistered and anointed with the same garlic. Being all healthy like, she chose the side house salad, although a sizeable portion of greenery - a mix of baby spinach, cos and romaine lettuce and cucumber with cherry tomatoes & red onion - dressed with a classic vinaigrette, meant the prefix wasn’t really necessary. (oh look there's me, looking suitably nautical - TE)
While the fish and chips were superlative, the side orders were beyond reproach, featuring what has quickly become my new favourite flavour combination – pickled onion rings topped with a mix of homemade curry sauce and mushy peas.
Whoever decided to combine two stone cold chippy classics deserves a New Year’s gong at the very least. And probably one of those blue plaques, too. The pickled onion rings - not quite ‘pickly’ enough for my tastes but still exceptionally good – made the perfect vehicle to transport the deliciously lurid mixture mouthwards.
After devouring pretty much the whole basket of fried alliums single-handedly, I was wavering at the thought of pud, so my wife thoughtfully chose for me, as well as her own pick, of course. She’s nice like that. Not that you found me complaining when they arrived. After all, it would be pretty churlish to take issue with a wobbly slice of chocolate nemesis – based, presumably, on the legendary River Café’s signature dessert – and their home made mr whippy, drenched with a good glug of sticky PX sherry. I particularly enjoyed the latter, alongside an espresso– who wants to eat ice cream any other way.
Possibly the best bit of the whole experience – closely fought completion, vying with the company and the view – was the bill at the end. Coming in at a shade under sixty notes it was great value for two courses of surprisingly deft cooking plus cocktails and cider. Plus limitless sparkling and still water and complimentary sauces.
In fact, we were so impressed with our lunch that, despite my exhaustive list of places to eat for the rest of our trip, we managed to squeeze in another sneaky visit the following Friday, to sample some fish and chips from their takeaway below.
Keeping it simple - we also managed to squeeze in another visit to another chippy later that evening - more hake plus more (DIY) curry sauce and mushy peas - fresh Bay Whiting came as two curly fillets, sitting on a scoop of chips. A firm textured fish, perfect for frying, it makes a fine, plus ethical, cod substitute, especially if the batter is as crisp and golden as here.
We also tried the much maligned sprat – a middle-sized member of the herring family - which were fried whole in a very light coating of flour and served with more tartare to dip. Like whitebait on steroids (and, again, more sustainable, thanks to their bigger size). A must try, if you can handle staring down your dinner.
While there’s not anything in the same league back in my land-locked neck of the woods, Rockfish have recently collaborated with Burts Crisps, another well-loved Devonian company, to produce a fish and chip flavoured potato product. Not quite the same when snaffled at home, and not staring out at the harbour, but they certainly make watching paint dry a little more enjoyable.