Seafood champion Mitch Tonks's Rockfish Grill and Seafood Market in Bristol is a masterclass in how to take something good and fresh and do as little as possible with it. Kerstin Kühn reports.
Chef Mitch Tonks seems to be taking over from Rick Stein as Britain's number one local seafood aficionado. The FishWorks founder is steadily building up a small new restaurant portfolio in the West Country, with his passion for the region's seafood at its heart.
Last year, shortly before parting company with FishWorks, the group he founded 15 years ago, Tonks launched the Seahorse in Dartmouth, Devon, to huge critical acclaim. The Rockfish Grill and Seafood Market in Bristol followed a year later, introducing a new restaurant concept for which Tonks has already earmarked two more sites.
Rockfish is a bit of a reincarnation of FishWorks. The 52-cover restaurant is not only housed in a former FishWorks site, it also continues the great idea the chain was based on - a shop selling fresh fish attached to a well-priced, simple seafood restaurant that champions seasonality and the use of sustainably sourced fish.
All seafood at Rockfish comes from Tonks's home town of Brixham in Devon and both the shop and restaurant are supplied with the daily catch. Any fish not sold by fishmonger Neil Roach at the end of the day is used up by the restaurant kitchen, meaning the produce dominates the menu rather than the other way round.
At the helm of the four-strong kitchen brigade at Rockfish is head chef Jake Platt, who joined Tonks's stable in September from Bristol gastropub the Albion, where together with Toby Gritten he won the Catey Menu of the Year award in 2006.
The majority of the dishes are prepared in a Josper charcoal oven, which heats up to 400°C and is the best thing that ever happened to seafood, according to Tonks.
"It's a fire in a box. It not only grills the fish but roasts it at the same time, which gives it a fantastic flavour," he enthuses.
Indeed, the biggest seller at Rockfish is the range of grilled whole fish to share, served on or off the bone with nothing more than half a lemon and a bottle of olive oil. Red mullet (£16) comes stuffed with rosemary, while its grey cousin is cooked with fennel tops (£12.50) and the most expensive fish on the menu, turbot (£25), is served with hollandaise sauce.
While stalwarts such as Dover sole (£21) and sea bass (£14) remain the most popular, lesser-known varieties such as grey mullet and red gurnard (£15) are starting to catch on.
"We offer a set lunch menu, priced at £15 for two and £20 for three courses, on which we serve the cheaper types of fish," says Platt.
Elsewhere on the menu, things kick off with a selection of oysters from the British coast (£1.50 each), while other starters range from Dartmouth crab with mayonnaise and salad (£8.90) to chicken livers grilled with sage (£6.90). But it's the scallops (£9) that steal the show, perfectly grilled for little more than a minute and served in the shell with tarragon, white port, breadcrumbs and garlic butter.
Other main courses include staples such as fish and chips (£13.50) and the Rockfish seafood stew (£17), a rich, warming dish that uses lesser-known Devon fish and shellfish.
Desserts, priced at £5 each, are dominated by fruity concoctions such as quince, prunes and custard and apple crumble with clotted cream designed to balance out the seafood.
"You don't want something too heavy to finish off," Platt explains.
Bristol's Rockfish Grill can teach any chef a lesson on how to take something good and fresh and do as little as possible with it.
"It's all about simplicity; there's nowhere to hide," says Tonks. Luckily there's no need to.
Rockfish Grill and Seafood Market, 128 Whiteladies Road, Bristol BS8 2RS
Tel: 0117 973 7384
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