5 South Embankment Dartmouth TQ69BH 01803 835147

It's manna from Devon: From the magically fresh fish to the sublime décor, this corking quayside restaurant might be the best in Britain

At long last, we’ve made it. After the years of broken promises, and assignations torn cruelly asunder by heartless fate.

Over hill and under hill, cross wood and glen, marsh and moor, through tempests, sirens and wine-dark seas, we’re actually here at The Seahorse in Dartmouth, gazing out over the sun-and-ink-stained hordes, clutching their ice creams like daggers, and their phones like plundered gold.

OK, so the journey to the coast was rather less than epic. A 20-minute drive across Devon’s South Hams, through roads so narrow and green-choked that there’s barely passing room for an ant. 

And it wasn’t as if this was the first time I’d passed through these hallowed doors. 

Mitch Tonks, a man who’s forgotten more about fish than I’ll ever know, is a friend, and I’ve cooked in this tiny kitchen at The Seahorse in Dartmouth a handful of times. 

Well, I say cooked, but what I really mean is got in the way, loitering by the Josper oven, glass in hand, while Mitch, co-proprietor Mat Prowse and their elite team of pan-shakers were doing the real work.

I’d never eaten there as a punter, though. Neither had my wife, who was beginning to believe that The Seahorse was a fabulous figment of my deranged imagination. 

She’s smiling now, as the sun floods into the small room, glinting off the endless bottles of wine and grappa and champagne that cover one wall. 

‘Well, this is a proper restaurant,’ she sighs, stroking the soft, toffee-coloured leather, an exquisitely expensive hide that will soon be wearing, to my eternal mortification, my son’s spilled cola. ‘A room made for lingering after a long lunch.’

And a long lunch this is, albeit in the most civilised, and family-centric, of ways. As I said, Mitch is a friend and so his place must be judged all the more harshly. 

The huge and obvious advantage of having your restaurant on the quay, a few miles from the fleet at Brixham, is that fish has that elusive, magical, fleeting freshness.

Nowhere to run to, baby, nowhere to hide. But from the very first bite of creamy, alabaster-hued baccala mantecato, rich with olive oil and sighing with saline delight, the kitchen barely puts a foot wrong.

A bosky, dark beige anchoïade that looks so drab but tastes of deep-sea grottos and Neptune’s roar. 

Then a crab salad, with a dribble of lemon, and just the right amount of dill, and shavings of fennel and cucumber and celery, as light and lithe as a prima ballerina’s jeté.

The huge and obvious advantage of having your restaurant on the quay, a few miles from the fleet at Brixham, is that fish has that elusive, magical, fleeting freshness. 

We devour chipirones, wearing their crisp batter like La Perla silk, and skate cheeks, battered and deep-fried into sweet, succulent spheres. The children love them. So do we.

Anchovies, tinned especially for The Seahorse in Spain, are draped across fingers of bread slathered with a half-inch of cold, unsalted butter, and garlanded with shards of red onion and pepper. Dear God. 
 
Salt first, then a honk of the cannery at high noon, before a regal, magnificent depth that rolls out across the tongue. Butter, sweet vinegar and olive oil all soothe and cosset, and the brilliance of this dish lies in its utter simplicity. Let the fish do the talking
 
The John Dory is not only allowed to talk but sing, cry and holler ‘Hallelujah’. 

He’s as big and unwieldy as a Nineties laptop, his eyes resigned but still gleaming. Cooked in the Josper with a splash of vinegar, I think it could be one of the finest fishes I’ve ever eaten. Smoke melds with sea and sweetness, and the flesh is both full and fulsome. 

For a few blissful seconds, silence covers the table like a thick linen cloth. We all sit, chewing, truly, blissfully entranced.
Fritto misto is the only slight letdown. The fish are fresh. Of course they are. But the dish might have sat on the pass for a moment too long. 

It lacks the finger-burning crunch of the very best. Certainly not bad, but not as stellar as every other dish. A slip rather than a stumble.
 
The Seahorse takes world-class produce and treats it with the reverence, generosity and skill it deserves. And serves it up with charm, in a room that I adore.
 
Lobster pasta, each strand Italian al dente, is back to form, the dish possessing a murky, dirty glory that I last tasted at Da Adolfo on the Amalfi coast. 

This is Italian seafood cookery that matches the masters. Coming from a Brit. And a former accountant at that.

More astonishing still, neither Mitch nor Mat are in the kitchen today. Nope, head chef Jake Bridgewood and Mitch’s son, Ben, are behind the flames. 

Talk about the young Turks. These boys have talent to burn.

A piece of truffled brie from La Fromagerie for pudding, a glass of Devon grappa (‘Dappa’) and a smile as wide as the Devon coast. I’m always suspicious of superlatives, especially when it comes to food. 

So rather than saying this could be the ‘best restaurant in Britain’, I’m just going to go with ‘my favourite’.

The Seahorse takes world-class produce and treats it with the reverence, generosity and skill it deserves. And serves it up with charm, in a room that I adore. This is more than a great feed. It’s the whole restaurant Muppet Show.

‘Now I know why you banged on and on about this place,’ says Sara as we shuffle out into the summer crowds.

‘That was a very serious lunch.’ I nod. And we wander off, happily sated, in search of fudge.

Taken from Daily Mail online >
 

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