It’s the most rubbish of reasons that take me back to Torquay.
Twenty years since my last visit as a curtain-coiffured teenager I’m here to say an unexpected cheerio to a very good bloke. And whilst at times like these there’s never a good time to duck out of a family gathering, I know that he took the time to read this blether and I don’t think he’d have begrudged me sloping off on my tod to find something to eat as teatime approached. He’d have probably dropped me off and nipped in for a pint, actually.
Unc, if I’d have known you lived this close to Elephant, that highly-regarded eating spot just round from the marina, I might’ve made the journey down a bit more frequently over the last couple of decades. And if I held such beliefs I might’ve thought it was you who made all the lights go out just as I arrived, taking the piss one final time from The Other Side, but it turns out that a large party had cancelled and the kitchen had decided to call it a night. Allegedly.
I bed in at Rockfish, then, round the corner, and I think you’d approve. The whitewashed interior, brightly lit and decked out in the style of an old boat shack, might be at odds with the sleepy, squally, out-of-season harbour outside, but a bit of artificial light is no bad thing tonight.
I rattle down a pot of bouncy cockles, sharp with vinegar, and request that the anchovy mayo (excellent) and sourdough (posh bread in a chippy, Uncle!) go nowhere. And although I could have steamed mussels, or grilled plaice, or a batch of queenie scallops, I am of course only interested in the fish and chips.
I might be from Yorkshire but I’m not too tight to fork out the extra coin and upgrade from cod to haddock. Got to push the boat out on days like this, eh? And they’re good fish and chips, with a batter that scratches at the drag of a fork, and flesh that flakes into pearled petals. They’ve kept the skin on, which is new to me but detracts nothing. Yep, they’ve nailed these.
Good crunchy chips here, too, and Rockfish’s “unlimited” promise means that there’d be no call for your “we Brits want frites” chant that you bellowed in France when the campsite kitchen closed earlier than was to your liking. You’d be relieved, too, to find that salt here is dispensed from an old-school shaker, and not from a packet of fancy Maldon like I once tried to give you when you came back up north for a few days. “I can’t put this on my chips,” was your disdainful, withering put-down. A fair cop.
Somebody in the development team must’ve been on particularly persuasive form when they made their mushy peas/curry sauce hybrid pitch, because here it is, against all odds, on the menu and available for me to order, which I obligingly do. The result – a ladle of the former dropped into a pot of the latter – tastes like beefy gravy, which is no bad thing in itself, but I doubt that ‘reminiscent of Bisto’ was the intention. Still, I dip chips with vigour, and idle over a bottle of spritzy Picpoul before squaring up.
It shouldn’t take me another twenty years to return to Torquay – especially if Philip Schofield finds it in himself to do another Radio 1 Roadshow round the coast at Paignton – and when I do I’ll also return to Rockfish for some top-notch fish and chips.
(If I do a right-left-right from the restaurant, I’m pretty sure I could find my way back to your old place, Unc. Good times n’all that.)