His FishWorks chain hit the rocks, but Mitch Tonks is back with a small-fry operation that's making a big splash

The Seahorse, 5 South Embankment, Dartmouth, Devon, tel: 01803 835147

"Six knots, no wash." The harbour-front sign may be directed at the river traffic, but it goes for everyone around here. Dartmouth is pure tootling territory. Or should that be pootling – I never can remember which is slower. Let's just say it's a place to mess about in boats, cast a line, sink a pint, tuck into a Devonshire tea, or just take a little nap under the oak trees.

Recently, it has also become something of a retreat for frazzled restaurateurs; most notably John Burton Race, a former Michelin star-chasing, high-octane chef drawn there, he says, because he fell in love with the hedgerows, quiet lanes and deserted sandy beaches.

Now, just two doors away from Burton Race's New Angel, FishWorks founder Mitch Tonks (right in picture) has opened The Seahorse. Tonks' life has been more of a hurtle than a tootle since his first little seafood café in Bath grew into a fully fledged chain of fish shops/bistros with a rapid expansion programme. Too rapid. Shares dropped, new management stepped in, and Tonks put up a "Gone fishing" sign. Hurtling too fast isn't good for anyone.

So he tootled off to Dartmouth and set up The Seahorse with chef Mat Prowse (left in picture) and musician mate Mark Ely instead. It is not at all what I thought it would be. Instead of a happy-go-lucky seaside caff, it feels more like The Ivy by the Sea. The 40-seat interior borders on the sumptuous with its studded mustard leather banquettes, pressed white tablecloths, monogrammed plates and library-shelf wall of wine. Through a large window, Prowse is doing a fine impression of a whirling dervish over his pots and pans and the kitchen's pride and joy, the smart new Spanish Josper charcoal grill/oven.

The menu is a slow tootle around the Med, stretching from clams with ham, Manzanilla sherry and jamon, to a fritto misto of local fish, with local lamb and south Devon beef also getting a look in.

It is very quickly obvious that The Seahorse is all about the produce. Local Dartmouth crab (£11) is racistly grouped in clumps of sea-bright white and creamy brown meat, with a goodly dollop of mayo and a few salad leaves; perfect stuff. The sage-infused char-grilled chicken livers (£7.90) are bloody and marvellous – crisp on the outside with a smoky, scorchy richness. These alone would be enough to justify the purchase of the Josper.

With the three partners and their wives all hands-on, the service has a quirky charm. So does the music: in among the Beth Orton and Damien Rice, Ely slips in a track or two of his own work. So, too, does the wine list, an inviting selection full of little-known but highly regarded Italians. Barbera d'Asti can be an annoying wine, often vacuous and one-dimensional, but my Braida Montebruna 2005 (£38) is all silk and smoky plums.

The world slows to a stop when my earthy, stewy Menorcan lobster caldereta (£29) arrives in its glazed terracotta bowl. I would not normally order lobster but a) this is local, b) this is lobster season and c) are you kidding me? Lobster can cost up to £40, I can't not order it. It's an absolute treat, the big chunks of lobster meat so lightly cooked the flesh remains supple and succulent; the stew rich, oily and unctuous.

Other dishes don't ride the same wave. Char-grilled squid with a rich squish of sweet red-pepper peperonata (£16) is too much of a single thing. Potato chips are softish, and a finale of goat's cheese with rosemary honey and a glass of Sancerre (£10) isn't quite the match it should be.

The Seahorse is extremely likeable, for its sense of place and for showcasing the produce of land and sea with such single-minded style. I'll certainly be tootling back as soon as I can. Tonks himself is, of course, away filming for television and planning a new restaurant in Brixham. Some people just can't tootle to save their lives.

15/20

Scores: 1-9 stay home and cook, 10-11 needs help, 12 ok, 13 pleasant enough, 14 good, 15 very good, 16 capable of greatness, 17 special, can't wait to go back, 18 highly honourable, 19 unique and memorable, 20 as good as it gets

The Seahorse, 5 South Embankment, Dartmouth, Devon, tel: 01803 835147. Lunch, Thurs-Sun (August: Wed-Sun); Dinner, Wed-Sat (August: Tues-Sat ). Around £115 for two, including wine and service

The crunch bunch: Fine fish for less

The Dolphin Inn

12 Rock-a-Nore Road, Hastings, East Sussex, tel: 01424 431 197

As reviewed here recently, this popular Hastings boozer serves up a two-course lunch featuring fish straight off the boats that morning for just £6. Beat that

The Fish Club

189 St John's Hill, London SW11, tel: 020 7978 7115

A sophisticated bistro in which everything from a prawn cocktail to classic fish and chips is available to eat in or take home. Dinner for two with wine is about £45

The Seafood Restaurant

The Scores, Bruce Embankment, St Andrews, Fife, tel: 01334 479 475

This eye-catching restaurant housed in a sleek glass box perched above rockpools is known for consistently good seafood. Lunch is good value: £22 for two courses

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
News
Renee Zellweger as Bridget Jones
i100
Arts and Entertainment
music

News
Russell Brand at an anti-austerity march in June
peopleActor and comedian says 'there's no point doing it if you're not'
Sport
Sergio Aguero prepares for the game
football

Follow the latest events from this Champions League fixture

Arts and Entertainment
Banksy's 'The Girl with the Pierced Eardrum' in Bristol
art'Girl with the Pierced Eardrum' followed hoax reports artist had been arrested and unveiled
News
i100
Voices
Oscar Pistorius is led out of court in Pretoria. Pistorius received a five-year prison sentence for culpable homicide by judge Thokozile Masipais for the killing of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp
voicesThokozile Masipa simply had no choice but to jail the athlete
Arts and Entertainment
Sister Cristina Scuccia sings 'Like a Virgin' in Venice
music

Like Madonna, Sister Cristina Scuccia's video is also set in Venice

Arts and Entertainment
James Blunt's debut album Back to Bedlam shot him to fame in 2004
music

Singer says the track was 'force-fed down people's throats'

Life and Style
The Tinder app has around 10 million users worldwide

techThe original free dating app will remain the same, developers say

News
news

Endangered species spotted in a creek in the Qinling mountains

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    SCRUM Master

    £30 - 50k (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a SCRUM Master to joi...

    Franchise Support Assistant

    £13,520: Recruitment Genius: As this role can be customer facing at times, the...

    Financial Controller

    £50000 - £60000 per annum: Sauce Recruitment: A successful entertainment, even...

    Direct Marketing Executive - Offline - SW London

    £25000 - £30000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: A fantastic opportunity h...

    Day In a Page

    Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

    Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

    Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
    British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

    British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

    Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
    Let's talk about loss

    We need to talk about loss

    Secrecy and silence surround stillbirth
    Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

    Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

    Women may be better suited to space travel than men are
    Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

    'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

    If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
    James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

    The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

    Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
    Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

    Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

    Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
    Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

    Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

    Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
    How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

    How to dress with authority

    Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
    New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

    New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

    'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
    Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

    Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

    The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
    Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

    Tim Minchin interview

    For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
    Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

    Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

    Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
    Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

    Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

    Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album