It must be only natural that sometimes, when it comes to your very own food obsessions, you feel a certain personal connection with a particular chef. Maybe you look forward to their appearance on TV for their banter? Maybe you've had a once-in-a-lifetime meal at their restaurant? Maybe you follow them on Twitter? There's someone for us all.
Some six or so years since being regulars of the now defunct Fishworks (both in the wet fish shop and restaurant) in Turnham Green, London we find ourselves sitting in Mitch Tonk's fabulous fish restaurant in Dartmouth - The Seahorse. Replete with ten's of thousands of pounds worth of wine within easy reach of our seats, fabulously cool chairs, crisp white linen tables as well as one of the most picturesque sea views you are ever likely to see - you'd be forgiven for thinking you were in Nice or San Tropez - but the cool, understated part.
Lauded by critics up and down the land, The Seahorse caught the eye of even the most hermit-like of food lovers last year, after snaffling up the Observer Food Monthly award of Restaurant of the Year 2012 - something which is almost apologetically on display between the bottles of Hermitage and the magnums of Albarino - as well as wrestling the Good Food Guide's Fish Restaurant of the Year from another Marsala Rama favourite, Nathan Outlaw.
The Seahorse for Marsala Rama has always been on the to-do list - and hence catapultated to the absolutely-have-to-do list since bagging the gongs - as it did for many a food fan, if the waiting list was anything to go by. So it was an evening in November that saw us eventually sat down next to not many others to be frank - an elderly couple sat in silence, tempered by a group of guffawing posh salty dogs, waxing lyrical about which boats they have just bought whilst quaffing copious red. It mattered not one bit, let us tell you.
On the menu, seven starters and seven mains that were almost impossible for us to choose from - such was the appeal - but choose we did and plumped for, with great advice from Head of the House, Nathan (or Turkish to Mitch), Cured Red Mullet, Xangurro (baked crab), Arroz Negra and Clams, Braised Pork and Peas. Wine came in the guise of a great Albarino, followed by a great value Rioja.
First up was a little amuse bouche of what should have been anchoivies, but was replaced instead by sardines - pickled in what was almost a garam masala vinigrette, alongside plump sultanas and the most chiffonaded (if such a word exists) dill imaginable - delicious doesn't come close and it was the perfect set up to what was to come.
On to the starters - cured Red Mullet was a work of art (the photo no way does it justice) with a heady fragrant mix of orange infused oil and fennel - light enough to be able to taste the super fresh mullet, but interesting enough to want that little bit more. Meanwhile, on the other side of the table saw a bowl of Xangurro that could have come straight from the shores of San Sebastien - baked crab that was as unctuous and it was crunchy - all washed down with a bottle of crisp Albarino - all we needed now was some sand between our toes.
Red Mullet, Orange and Fennel - clean tasting and as fresh as it comes
Onto the mains and if we thought the starters for ten were any good, we were in for a treat - the wood oven cooked Arroz Negro arrived with an understated style of show, replete in a big earthenware dish piping hot and served for us at the table - black, sticky, inky rice with deliciously soft cuttlefish, served with the most garlicy, addictive aoili we have ever had - a perfect match.
But the star of the show had to be the Carpet Shell Clams, with pork cheeks, peas and fino - is it over the top to say it was one of the best things we have ever had? Almost, but we can still taste the dish as we type and we have no doubt that we will for many years to come. Pull-apart pork cheeks that could be cut with a spoon and eaten through a straw was the perfect foil for the carpetshall clams - plump, juicy, sea-salty goodness. Add in the sweetness of the peas and the sherry sauce of the fino - it was one of those dishes that made you giggle. It was one of those dishes that you didn't want to end. Superb.
Xangurro - Basque baked crab, as good as San Sebastien
5 South Embankment, Dartmouth, Devon TQ6 9BH
Food & Drink...
Value For Money...
MARSALA RAMA RATING
The Seahorse, Dartmouth - Observer Monthly's Restaurant Of The Year
One of the best things that we have ever eaten? Quite possibly
It almost seemed an insult to want anything else after such an amazing dish - but despite this guilt and, it has to be said, full bellies, puddings we must. After much deliberation, such was the quality of the deserts on offer, we plumped for Pannacotta with Pedro Ximenez, along with a cheese board. First up the pannacotta, which can be best described as being Xmas on a plate - creamy, bouncy pannacotta with cinnamon and plump sultanas soaking up the delicious Pedro Ximenez sauce.
Feliz Navidad - Pannacotta with Pedro Ximenez
Finally, the cheese board - some might say the true measure of a good restaurant and we would agree to some extent, but honestly - after such scoff, we wouldn't have minded if they'd rolled out some babybel. As it was, we were treated to a selection of delicious, stinky, gooeyness and blueyness - perfect for our tastes.
But what has to be commented on is the pear mostarda that came with it - we've never had the pleasure before but my god - whether The Seahorse makes this themselves or buys it in - we don't really care. The thiniest slices of pear, almost completely see-through thin - in what is the most heady, intoxicating mustard vinigrette. Not for the feint-hearted but when eaten with the cheese, was just fab.
As ever, bloated with happy faces, we are the last ones in the restaurant - even the chefs have gone home. Which for us means a final foray, that being Mitch's very own homemade limoncello, shared with one of the nicest restaurant managers you would wish to meet - a fitting end to a cracking meal.
Restaurant Review - South-West Restaurant, The Seahorse...
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