As big name restaurateur Mitch Tonks opens the doors of Rockfish in Weymouth, he tells Joanna Davis about taking a gamble on the town and showcases some of the eatery’s dishes


“It’s about finding someone who’s brave enough to do it.”

That’s how chef Mitch Tonks describes his decision to open a seafood restaurant in Weymouth.

Rockfish Weymouth opened last week on Weymouth Esplanade in the ground floor of the former Dorothy Inn pub.

The high end restaurant with its stylish exterior and shabby chic nautical interior aims to play a part in making the resort a destination for foodies.

Mitch Tonks, a former celebrity chef who now prefers to, in his words ‘just cook and sometimes serve on a Saturday’ is the first big name in the industry to choose Weymouth as a restaurant location. He decided upon the town after holidaying in the resort.

Mitch’s group of Rockfish restaurants has established Devon as a foodie destination in the same way that Rick Stein has put Cornwall on the foodie map. And his Weymouth restaurant, which opened on Thursday, is the first to open outside of Devon, with a Poole eatery to follow in November.

Mitch, a former regular on BBC’s Saturday Kitchen, said taking the plunge to open a restaurant in a completely new location like Weymouth required ‘bravery’.

He said: “I think the thing is about finding someone who’s brave enough to do it. When I first saw this site I thought ‘what have I done?’ “I spent a month going backwards and forwards meeting lovely people in Weymouth and really getting a feel for the place. I think it takes someone being brave and doing something like this.

“If Rick Stein had opened a restaurant here we’d all be thinking ‘what does Rick Stein know that I don’t?’”

The interior is lit with cosy, warm lighting decorated with framed photos of fish and nautical scenes on the wall. Mitch describes the look as: ‘We wanted it to look as though we’d discovered a fisherman’s shed.’ How well the restaurant does will indicate how successful future ventures further afield will be, Mitch said.“This is the first restaurant we have done away from base. Weymouth for us is bigger than Weymouth itself. If we can make it work here we can make it work in other places.”

Mitch says he is confident about this area being full of potential diners, including those who are likely to travel from out of town.

“Within a 30 minute drive it’s a good demographic of people. We think they would want to come here and eat. The enjoyment of it is looking out and seeing the sea. I think it gives people the appetite for the food knowing the sea is right there. I also think people are more interested in the food and drinking less. They’re happy to have a glass of wine. Most of our clients are older people, those who are 50 and over,”

Prices on the menu vary with cheaper dishes such as traditional fish and chips starting at £8.95, ranging to more expensive options like whole fish on the bone. The restaurant buys fresh fish from markets in Plymouth and Brixham and even has a boat going out from Weymouth harbour. The fish at their best on the market each morning will be marked on the table cloth for diners, meaning that the menu always reacts to what is landed.

Some 30 members of staff have been employed at Rockfish Weymouth and given the intense level of training required by the restaurant, Mitch said.

“Some of them have never worked in the industry and some of them have worked in it since they were 14,” he said.

“They all have different backgrounds and they’re surprised about the value we put on training and commitment. It’s quite a surprise for them to be working for a company that really cares about them.”

Staff are given training about different types of fish and are asked to memorise facts off cards.

Mitch would love to see more young people get into trying and enjoying different kinds of seafood.

He said: “Lots of young people haven’t got into seafood yet. They’d rather have burgers and pizza.”

TASTE TEST When I heard there was the chance to try items off the Rockfish Weymouth menu, I jumped at the opportunity.

Growing up in a family where fresh fish was religiously eaten on a Saturday, bought from a van at the local market, I would be fascinated by the huge range of fish available with different ‘guest stars’ every week. Some of my favourites would be the oily fish - sprats, minnows and herrings - which I loved to have a go at gutting and preparing myself.

With this in mind I was delighted to try whole plaice and whole skate, which had been landed by the fishing boat Mitch keeps in Weymouth Harbour. The chargrilled skate had a delicious smokiness to it and the plaice was landed at 9.30pm the previous evening.

Mitch brought it out for us to look at before it was cooked and pointed out its freshness with its vivid orange spots and stiffness. The juicy plaice, which just fell off the bone, was the freshest I had ever tasted with a moreish slight peppery flavour.

The restaurant has a good array of starters - the Wild Prawn Carpaccio - wild caught fresh prawns sliced thinly and marinated with fresh lime, served with avocado, chilli, red onion, mint and coriander is one for real seafood lovers. I found the zingy flavours of the dressing perfectly counterbalanced the flavour of the prawns. We also tried the Hand Cut Smoked Salmon which was cut thickly across the fillet for maximum flavour and served with shallots, capers and dill sour cream. It was worlds away from supermarket-bought smoked salmon. For me, this dish took smoked salmon to another level with the intensity of the fish, which is smoked using Mitch’s special recipe.

I also tried the Crisp Fried Salt & Pepper Squid which is sprinkled with a fragrant mix of four different peppers and sea salt served with Singapore style chilli sauce.

I was pleased to see that Rockfish - unlike a similar dish at a chain restaurant - includes the squid tentacles, which I have always believed to be the tastiest part.

My favourite starter though had to be the Roasted Half Shell Scallops. Roasted in the shell with a subtle accompaniment of garlic and breadcrumbs, the fresh flavour of the fish was, quite rightly, the star of the dish.

Always popular in Rockfish is the traditional fish and chips. I tried battered rockfish which was so fresh it melted in the mouth and was accompanied by chips without a hint of grease to them and a light, fluffy inside.

For dessert I tried the Baked Alaska made up of homemade passion fruit ice cream surrounded by Italian meringue. It was so light and smooth without a hint of dryness to it.

It’s safe to say that the amount of work, knowledge and attention to detail that Mitch has put into Rockfish is very much evident in the food.

Rockfish Weymouth, The Esplanade, Weymouth 01305 249040