Rupert Parker gets a taste of the sea on a weekend in Plymouth
Plymouth calls itself Britain’s Ocean City and has an annual Seafood and Harbour Festival. As the fifth major fishing port in the UK, with almost 6% of the total catch, you’d expect to find fresh fish everywhere. On the grassy headland of Plymouth Hoe, a statue of Francis Drake still looks out over the sea as the trawlers return with their haul. But finding a place where you can eat their catch is trickier than you might think.
You can get a good idea of the diversity on offer by visiting the National Marine Aquarium, across the footbridge from Sutton Harbour. Alongside the sharks, huge rays and brightly coloured fish, the Atlantic reef tank reveals the variety on offer in the seas just nearby. Now many places call themselves fish restaurants but a quick glance at their menus shows that what they’re offering is battered fish and chips, or at best farmed sea bass.
However, just around the corner from the aquarium in cobbled Southside Street, is The Catch, the success story of 2022. It’s a tiny space, part fishmongers, part cookery school and restaurant serving the freshest of fish. I meet Rick Stein-trained head chef and manager, Lee Holland, who’s passionate about everything that comes from the sea.
He shows me how to open oysters which come all the way from Lindisfarne as he reckons, they’re the best in the UK. I can’t possibly disagree, they’re sweet and tender, bursting with flavour. We move onto scallops which come off the restaurant’s own boats, and he gives me a Ceviche lesson. Using a sharp filleting knife, we slice them thinly then add lime zest and juice, chopped fresh chilli and nori seasoning.
Whilst I’m waiting for it to cure, he demonstrates how to make his crab bombs. A coronation mix of white and brown crab meat, mango and coriander is piped into a crisp golf ball-sized poppadum sphere. The result is an explosive mix of flavour in one bite. Finally I get to try his Ceviche and it doesn’t disappoint. Fresh and tangy, it couldn’t be better.
On the edge of the Hoe is the bubble-shaped structure of the Dome, with an art deco-inspired interior. They always say you should eat seafood where you can view and smell the sea, and this is the perfect venue. It’s a comfortable spot and I’m informed that the catch of the day is Plaice, fresh off the boat. I start with local mussels, not quite marinière but in a creamy sauce with a slice of sourdough to dunk. They’re small and succulent, just the ticket to take the edge off my hunger.
The fillets of Plaice sit on a bed of new potatoes, a ratatouille of sweet and sour peppers on the side with a huge forest of watercress. It’s very good but the mild Jalfrezi sauce which is a bit too much for the delicate Plaice. I put the sauce to one side and content myself with a squeeze of lemon.
Matt Dell is the chef at this all-day café restaurant servicing the Box Museum and art gallery near the centre of town. It’s a bright and airy space and Matt tells me he’s passionate about showcasing the best that the Southwest has to offer. Although there’s the ubiquitous fish and chips on the menu, he’s keen for me to try his Plymouth gin cured chalk stream trout with house pickles, lemon, and dill. The dish shows Scandinavian influences and is none the worse for that.
The other sharing plates are all tapas-sized and I enjoy his homemade falafel, with mint and yoghurt, and crunchy chickpeas on the outside. Memorable is a slice of his pork and apple sausage roll served with, what else, brown sauce. Star of the show is his roasted cauliflower tacos, the slightly charred veg sitting on a bed of guacamole, soured cream and pickles. Three sharing plates are very good value at £15.
The buildings of Royal William Victualling Yard include a bakery, cooperage, bakery even a slaughterhouse. They supplied Royal Navy ships from the early 19th century to the 1990s and it’s now been transformed into apartments, galleries, bars, and eateries. The Hub is one of these and inside its period interior, it serves up a variety of rather good burgers.
There are two fish options, Big Fish, a panko-encrusted piece of halibut but I go for the Mack Daddy. It’s a slice of grilled mackerel with horseradish mayo, beetroot chutney, pickled beetroot, and rocket on a sourdough bun. This makes a good combination and of course, I order fries and an excellent Hub salad which includes croutons, charred pepper, capers, and garlic.
The English have always had an uneasy relationship with products from the sea, preferring meat to fish. In the 17th century, the fishing industry was so much in decline that Edward VI passed a law specifying that people had to eat fish on Fridays. In Plymouth, the Seafood and Harbour Festival is increasing awareness of what’s on offer. On a weekend in Plymouth, It’s possible to eat good fresh fish here, you just have to know where to go.
Tell Me More About A Fishy Weekend In Plymouth, Devon
Great Western Railway has a direct service from London to Plymouth
The New Continental Hotel is recently refurbished and is close to the Hoe.
Visit Plymouth has information about the city.
The annual Seafood & Harbour Festival takes place in September.
The Catch has only a few tables so essential to book.
Go to the Ocean View at The Dome for lunch or early dinner to enjoy the view.
Take in the exhibitions before visiting The Box Kitchen and Bar.
Explore the historic Royal William Victualling Yard after eating at The Hub Box.