In recent years Devon’s become known as a great foodie destination – and Mitch Tonks has played a key part in this. One of the UK’s top seafood chefs, he has three successful Devon restaurants – The Seahorse in Dartmouth, and RockFish Seafood and Chips in both Dartmouth and Plymouth – as well as RockFish Grill & Seafood Market in Bristol, and he’s also opened the Mitch Tonks Seafood Academy at South Devon College.
Mitch talked to Official Devon about where he eats out when he’s off duty, and why he’s so passionate about Devon and its seafood.
You’re a great ambassador for Devon – what do you love about it?
There’s always something happening here! Every town or village has a festival of some sort, whether it’s of food, cider, music, crab, regatta, or a farmers’ market. We have a real sense of community, and people work and share skills to create celebrations marking what’s good about life where they are. You could spend a summer just following the events – I try to go to as many as I can when I’m not sailing, cooking, walking or paddleboarding!
One event that I’m passionate about is Dartmouth’s Crab Festival in August, when the town celebrates this fantastic seafood. The Embankment turns into a street party for 500 guests to sit and enjoy a plate of South Devon crab, plenty of wine and some good music. Then in October it’s Dartmouth food festival – which I think is the finest in the country! We have excellent chefs and a market of over 100 local producers, and you can taste wine, listen and talk to visiting authors, watch demos, enjoy the many fine restaurants here and generally soak up all that’s good about food and wine.
Where do you like to eat out locally?
I love to combine walking and eating. One of my favourite walks is from Thurlestone, looking over Bantham and Burgh Island, then along the cliff path to South Milton, where there’s a wonderful beach shack, The Beach House, that serves some great seafood. It’s just the kind of place you want to find. I love it there and it’s worth checking out.
I’m also fond of the South Sands Hotel, which sits right on the sandy beach at Salcombe. You can eat superb seafood there whilst watching the weather, whatever it is, from the window. There are more great walks inland too, and pubs like The Anchor Inn at Ugborough which offer really good food and accommodation – and you can even take your dog overnight there.
Closer to my home in Brixham is the walk up to Berry Head, where you can enjoy the views over Lyme Bay and Portland. Up here you can enjoy a fine breakfast at the Fort Cafe with a coffee and a warming brandy on cold mornings, and if you’re feeling fit you can walk the 14 miles along the coast path to Dartmouth from there.
I also love to visit The Ferry Boat Inn at Dittisham, a wonderful village and the best place to crab on the river Dart. The pub is a hive of activity and every few weeks on a Sunday the landlord Ray and his mates have a jam on the beach, grill some burgers, make excellent paella and occasionally have a pig race! It could only happen in Devon. Across the street is one of my favourite places , the Anchorstone Cafe, which serves simple seafood, spankingly fresh with the most wonderful view. It’s just brilliant.
Where are your favourite places in Devon?
The river Dart’s quite a divide in my life. I live on the Brixham side and tend to do my watersports, walking and shopping over here – it’s beautiful and has everything I need and more. But occasionally I’ll venture across the river to the equally beautiful South Hams area. The scenery there is quite different: rolling green hills, villages, staggering coastline that you can see for miles, clean water and wonderful beaches, some of which are found only by local knowledge, and you can find yourself walking on beaches and cliff tops feeling like the only person in the world.
Do you ever get to holiday here?
Yes – each year my wife Pen and I head to Carswell Farm near Mothercombe to stay in their magnificent beach hut. It’s a tiny place ten minutes’ walk through the farm to the sea and down to a private cove, and at high tide you can fall asleep to the sound of the thundering waves. The joy of this place is the complete isolation. There’s a wooden hot tub next to the hut – light a fire and five hours later you’re sat in warm water looking over the ocean ready for a nice dinner inside by the log fire with just the Eddystone lighthouse flashing in the distance to remind you of the outside world. It’s a wonderful place to stay.
Find out more
Read about Plymouth’s celebrity chef restaurants
Find restaurants, pubs, cafes and tearooms across Devon
Find places to stay in Devon
Get Mitch Tonks’ recipe for potted South Devon crab