It was quite late for lunch by the time our hungry group of 4 – ‘anything-will-do’ Teddy, ‘anywhere-will-do’ Sim, ‘want-it-now’ Gio and ‘cranky-for-food’ Me – got off the rolling and puffing steam train from Totnes, and we just wanted to have something quick and local, knowing our options would be limited at this hour. Walking along the road by the Dart river lined with many inviting restaurants, our eyes settled on a bold blue and white sign that said “Tomorrow’s fish are still in the sea”. We exchanged glances, and made one of the quickest group decisions ever… we walked straight in, and what a find this place Rockfish turned out to be!
Inside, the walls and the ceiling are lovingly strewn with colourful placemats filled in by customers, some by imaginative 3 year-olds, some by enthusiastic 80 year olds! There are penciled comments like ‘Cod it get any better?’ and ‘Codelicious!’ jostling for space with multi-coloured sketches of fishes, corals, daisies and even sharks! Such a huge canvas for memories!
Once at our table, we are handed our own set of colour pencils and placemats to draw on, and our eyes tear away from the wall drawings, challenged as we are to leave something as creative and fun behind. Soon, a smiling lady named Joanie starts up a friendly chat with us, advising us on the best preparation of the fish, and which one would best suit our palate. I opt for the Grilled Haddock, there’s a Sole in Breadcrumbs, a Gurnard batter-fried and a Grilled Bass. That done, our group of little adults begins our drawing class, quietly and busily drawing our own imagination of an underwater world.
The food arrives soon after, served in pretty little baskets with a whole heap of golden and deliciously fried chips on the side. There is plenty of tartare sauce to slather on, and a large slice of lemon to lovingly squeeze over the still-sizzling fish… and then when you dig into it with gusto, the world suddenly seems a better place! The fish is so fresh it could have been caught for you after you placed the order. It is perfectly cooked to retain its natural flavours and texture, and is just on the right side of flaky and crispy! There is obviously a lot of sharing of the large portions placed before us, and each of us gets to taste all the different crunchy, flaky and crumbly variations of some of the best fish I have ever eaten.
We find out that Joanie, our chirpy waitress, is a local girl with years of fun experience behind her. She regales us with interesting anecdotes, points out places to visit nearby, throws in a few tips on other good food places to check out on our next trip and even whispers some local gossip on celebrity chefs and town scandals! She fusses over us, chatting away like we are visiting family members, all the time making sure we are enjoying our food while it’s still piping hot. You feel like you are having a long-drawn picnic lunch at your Nanna’s own beach shack!
When it comes time to pay the bill (a surprisingly reasonable total for such a feast!) we put off the moment of our departure a bit more, and decide on a good strong espresso, to indulge my fussy-eater, fabulous-cook, Italian brother-in-law. All eyes, not just those around the table but even from behind the kitchen counter at the far end, and the service staff all around the restaurant, turn on Giorgio, eagerly and breathlessly waiting for his reaction to the first sip from the tiny, white cup and the inevitable tongue-roll. A slight nod from him, and a simple ‘Nice!’ follows, and everyone in the restaurant comes out of ‘freeze’ mode, noisily exhaling their relief and happiness at the compliment.
Some food experiences are better left untouched… one should not try to better them, or repeat them, in the hope of getting something more, something to match up to. I say you have this very special experience, leave it up on that pedestal! And although this could easily have been one of those pedestal experiences, we just know that we will go back a second time, (maybe even a third?) mostly for the food!
Plate Licker’s Wisdom : So long, Mitch Tonks… And thanks for all the fish!