The Italians and Spanish would undoubtedly disagree, but in my experience nowhere matches the United Kingdom for the sheer quality and freshness of our seafood. Our coastline is a positive mecca for lovers of great fish and shellfish: Dorset and Cromer crab, oysters, scallops, and lobster from Devon, not to mention Dover sole and wild sea bass; the list goes on. The summer is the perfect time for indulging your fishy tooth as well, as warm weather demands lighter, fresher fare – I don’t know about you, but heat doesn’t make me crave rich casseroles!
Yet, despite the abundance of seafood, we have traditionally been seen as a nation of carnivores, often viewing fish with more than a little suspicion. But we have a long history of adoring fish and chips – more than 225 million portions of fish and chips are sold in the UK each year, so it’s safe to say that the British have taken the dish to their hearts.
Perhaps this love of battered haddock and chips may even have contributed to a wider appreciation of seafood over the years; many new venues are opening and summer is the perfect time to enjoy fresh seafood and a glass of white wine alfresco.
For those looking for a superlative helping of shellfish, sea-bream or even just good old-fashioned fish and chips, I’ve listed my top 4 seafood restaurants below:
Manor Street, Dittisham, Dartmouth, TQ6 0EX
A quintessential seaside cafe, the Anchorstone’s much-coveted alfresco tables enjoy a prime position overlooking the river Dart; it’s hard to imagine a nicer place for seafood dining in the summer!
So, while you might come for the location you’ll stay for the excellent – and reasonably priced – selection of shellfish, with the crab and lobster being particular highlights. (In fact, their crab sandwiches are very addictive, as I discovered to my cost.)
Simplicity is their secret: fresh fish caught daily is cooked to your liking with a constantly changing specials board that keeps you up-to-date with what’s good. Which is everything, but my personal favourite is their spider crab, so grab it quickly while it’s in season.
J Sheekey Atlantic Bar
33-35 St Martin’s Ct, London WC2N 4AL
020 7420 9865
This is as close as you’ll get to the seaside without actually leaving London. Sister to the iconic J Sheekey next door, the J Sheekey Atlantic Bar is a more informal proposition and is, in my opinion, the best seafood haunt in London. It continues to lure in regulars and newcomers precisely because the formulae remains the same year-in, year-out; exquisitely presented and cooked fish, sustainably sourced and inimitably fresh.
A cosy, horseshoe-shaped bar is attended to by personable and engaging staff who ensure that everyone leaves feeling content and with a smile on their face. Take my advice, ignore the superfluous meat dishes and focus on the divine, fresh fish fillets cooked as you want.
Dover Sole a la meuniere with triple cooked chips hit the spot, as did our desserts of chocolate & cherry fondant and honeycomb ice cream. A well-priced wine list complements this mecca of fine seafood dining – a must visit for anyone who loves great fish.
The Rock & Sole Plaice
45-47 Endell St, London, WC2H 9AJ
020 7836 3785
Situated right in the heart of the West End, the Rock and Sole is a London institution that has remained true to its origins as one of London’s oldest and most respected chippies. The décor has remained pretty much unchanged over the decades, and if you can you should try and grab one of the outdoor tables in summer.
The fish and chips are still some of the best in London – and possibly even the UK despite the (not insignificant) disadvantage of not being located at the seaside.
There have a range of options, but I always plump for the battered haddock, chips and a cool glass of Sauvignon Blanc. Heaven. Service is smiley and amiable, considering the tourist crowds they have to deal with.
The Scarlett Hotel restaurant,
Redragon Road, Mawgan Porth, Cornwall, TR8 4DQ.
There are more than a few contestants for the prize of the UK’s best seafood venue, but the Scarlett’s terrace restaurant is definitely up there with the very best.
Head chef Mike Francis will only use locally sourced ingredients to craft a menu that changes according to the flavours of the month. Fresh, perfectly cooked fish dishes – including sea-bream, Dover sole, and halibut – shellfish on tap, and an extensive wine list are all present and correct.
In the summer months you dine facing the Cornish coast, affording amazing sunset views. It’s as far away from the hustle and bustle of life as can be.
James Lawrence @Jameswinelover