The 19th December 2016 is a day I remember with great fondness – it was the beginning of my 2 week Christmas break from work, and the diary entry for the evening contained the ‘Rockfish Exmouth VIP Opening Night Party’.
I had previously eaten at a few restaurant reincarnations within the building at the harbour end of Exmouth, but they weren’t doing it completely right, nor doing seafood any justice, so I was delighted to hear that Rockfish were opening there to do what they do best, in a building that makes full use of the sea view.
Along with Mitch Tonks and business partner and fellow chef Mat Prowse, some of Exeter and Devon’s suppliers, contacts and VIPs were there. Being the only bloggers, amidst a couple of local press, was a great honour and we thoroughly enjoyed our evening which you can read more about here.
With fresh, local and sustainable fish and the best chips at the heart of their ethos, Rockfish provides easy going, family friendly dining in venues as close to the water as possible.
We very much admire Mitch; he is chef, restaurateur and author. His love of seafood knows no bounds as well as his passion for sustainability and inspiring the next generation of chefs and fish eaters alike. His Devon portfolio includes The Seahorse in Dartmouth, five Rockfishes with a sixth on the horizon in our home city of Exeter and then across the border in foodie Bristol, he has the Spiny Lobster. A collection of cookbooks sit comfortably under his belt too.
So on the 1 year anniversary of Rockfish Exmouth, and with the Exeter venue in the pipeline, we thought we would ask the seafood savvy Mitch Tonks a few questions!
1. Gosh, already a year has gone by since the opening of Exmouth Rockfish. We love it there, for the food of course, but also that view! How’s it all going there?
We have loved being in Exmouth, we have had our challenges as every new business has but we are well bedded in now and have some great regular customers. People never fail to comment on the great views of all the water activity and being by the slipway too so much goes on. We’ve just launched our new seasonal mussel menu too using the local mussels so that’s going down a treat!
2. Can you update us on the upcoming Exeter opening, letting us in on what most excites you about it in particular?
I love the location and the fact that it’s going to be a new build so it will have a unique feel, it’s also going to be the first Rockfish with a live charcoal fired grill so we can barbecue the best seafood we can get our hands on.
3. Your new venue, the Cantina, at The Seahorse looks fantastic. I’m sure you have an excellent brigade in place but will a party have you as the chef occasionally?
Yes in fact I’m doing one tonight! I love being in the restaurant and am there often. Jake and his team in the kitchen are amazing and really on form cooking some wonderful food.
4. What’s your favourite kitchen implement or appliance?
I love our charcoal oven at the Seahorse, we’ve got the planchas and the chargrills now at Rockfish too – I remember the first time going to the Boqueria in Barcelona and the stalls all cooking their seafood on the plancha, it is just fantastic and so fast. I’ve got one at home too!
5. What do you do to relax and what would you eat?
I sail to relax but I also like to cook and read so time at home being in the kitchen is great for me. I eat anything but when at home and not in the restaurants or entertaining I love eating eggs – any which way.
6. For you, what makes a really good portion of Fish and Chips?
Fresh fish, thick cut with crisp but thin batter, I like my chips crisp, hot and fluffy in the middle. We’re a bit obsessed with the detail at Rockfish so run a whole morning training session for all of our staff, kitchen and front of house. on buying (whether fish or potatoes), on the perfect batter, on chips (starch levels, moisture, oil, temperature…!) and getting all the details absolutely right How long have you got?
7. Us foodies are acutely aware of the problem of overfishing, what alternatives would you like to see the British public eating?
I would like to see us just eating well and guilt free by just enjoying a little of everything, that’s always been my message, don’t’ jump from one species to another, eat a diversity and eat and buy from trusted sources, it’s a very complicated process that is changing all the time so being able to trust a supplier helps enormously.
8. You’re famed for your prowess with seafood, but what ingredient, other than seafood, would you not be without in your kitchen?
9. We read with excitement about your collaboration with South Devon College, can you give us some more details?
We have a huge skills shortage in our industry and I like to inspire young people locally to join our great industry and offer some training and put something back in.
10. For youngsters who are looking at a career in food, what is the top piece of advice you could offer?
You have to love food, travel, experience things, read cook books and work hard. Do what you love and you’ll love what you do!
Thank you so much to Mitch for answering our questions; having met him a couple of times and seen him cook at Salcombe Crab Festival, he comes across as a really passionate and humble guy. We look forward to seeing what else he has up his sleeve, or on the end of his fishing line.
Find out more about the Exeter plans here on the Rockfish website, in the form of a video.
Find out more about The Seahorse, The Cantina and Joe’s Bar here.