Restaurant Review - Webbe's, Rock-a-nore
You can take Lulu out of the seaside but you can't take the seaside out of Lulu. Brought up in the shadow of Blackpool Tower, the words 'fish and chips' are stamped through her like a stick of rock...
1 Rock-a-nore Road, Hastings, East Sussex TN34 3DW
tel: 01424 721650
Yes, I’ve had a life-long love affair with seaside resorts. From the moment you step off the train, inhale your first whiff of ozone and hear the screeching skirl of the seagulls, you’re on a rollercoaster ride. Follow the holidaymakers heading down from the station to the beach and hear the collective intake of breath as they suddenly catch sight of the sea. Magic.
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It had been a while since I’d visited Hastings but it’s one of those places that when you’re there, you wonder why you don’t come more often. A charming town full of surprises. So when my friend Ruth invited me for lunch at a fish restaurant she’d discovered, I swallowed the bait.
Webbe’s Rock-a-nore is as close as you can get to being on the beach without getting your feet wet. A splendid, creamy-coated, listed Regency building with arches, a balcony and a pretty pavement terrace, it’s directly opposite the Rye and Hastings fishermen’s black net huts.
But these iconic, slightly sinister buildings are far more than a tourist attraction. The Stade is home to Europe’s largest, beach-launched fishing fleet and is a working fishery. It’s where Paul Webbe, ground-breaking chef, award-winning restaurateur, writer and fishermen’s rights campaigner comes every morning to buy freshly-landed fish for his three restaurants, the two others being Webbe’s Caf� in Rye and Westfield’s The Wild Mushroom, which he runs with his wife, Rebecca.
Rock-a-nore is the first restaurant in England to be awarded Marine Stewardship Council certification, which guarantees that all Paul’s fish comes from sustainable and traceable sources. Give him a lemon sole and he can tell you which boat it came in on and at what time. And the restaurant’s prime seafront location means that his fish don’t have any food miles to travel, just food yards. How eco-friendly is that? But Ruth is hungry and keeps tugging at my sleeve, so let’s go inside.
We were given a friendly welcome by general manager Diana Cooper, who asked whether we’d like to sit up at the bar – a splendid marble-topped affair with views of the kitchen – or at a table. Being the greedy pair we are, we decided to do both.
No sooner had we hoicked ourselves up on to the very comfortable bar stools, than Diana arrived with a basket of deliciously crusty and sproingy home-baked bread accompanied by little dipping dishes of balsamic vinegar and olive oil. And thank you, Diane, two glasses of Reynier, the house Champagne would be perfect.
An innovative feature of Rock-a-nore is the taster menu, rather like tapas, where you can have one dish for �3.50 or five for �15 – amazing value and generous portions, too. Ruth and I shared smoked haddock cakes with lemon mayonnaise, rare beef with red onion marmalade and goats cheese, fried sprats with cayenne, tiger prawns with aioli and cod and aubergine tempura.
Each one was a triumph – I particularly liked the fish cakes – golden fluffy orbs as light as a balloon – while Ruth’s favourite was the succulent and tender fillet of beef. It’s good to see carnivorous choices in a fish restaurant, especially when they are cooked so beautifully.
We clambered down and moved to our table – all are window tables with a superb view of the beach – and ordered a bottle of white Chilean Sauvignon while looking at the main menu.
We didn’t order a starter but we could have chosen oysters, chowder, game terrine or vodka-imbued organic salmon – all around the �5 mark.
Ruth recommended the beer-battered cod with hand-cut chips as being the best in the world but I couldn’t resist the Rye Bay scallops in vermouth sauce, which came with a mountain of creamy mashed potatoes topped with crispy pancetta slices. R’s panache of six fishes were steamed to perfection and sat in a pool of delicate saffron sauce. Very scrummy indeed.
I couldn’t manage a dessert or the local cheese that was on offer but R decided to make an effort and went for the steamed sponge pudding with orange marmalade and vanilla custard. She allowed me a teaspoon-sized taste and it was heavenly. Two espressos completed a splendid meal.
The funicular is just behind Rock-a-nore so why not take a scenic ride to the top and, after a walk through Hastings Country Park, make the slow (1.6m per second) descent back to the beach and have lunch at what is simply one of the finest fish restaurants in the country. Brill in fact.
3 other Fine catches
3 otherFine catches
Bryce’s Seafood Brasserie
17 Marine Parade, Worthing, West Sussex BN11 3PT
tel: 01903 214317
Carol Lindsay-Mearns, niece of Bill Bryce, is the skipper here and will welcome you on board with a tantalising selection of fish dishes made with freshly-sourced and locally-harvested ingredients. Venus clams, creamy bisque, sea-bass and fab fish cakes feature on the menu but there is plenty for meat-eaters and veggies, too.
Bardsleys of Baker Street
22 Baker Street, Brighton, East Sussex BN1 4JN
tel: 01273 681256
Run by four generations of the Bardsley family since 1926, its reputation as the best fish and chip shop in Brighton is no exaggeration. Roy and Neil Brown are happy to batter, grill or poach fish to your liking and the chunky chips are amazing. The Max Miller room is dedicated to the Brighton comedian, and they’ve even got one of his suits.
Grange Road, Uckfield, East Sussex TN22 1QU
tel: 01825 767611
Get your skates on to this sophisticated fish restaurant, which is making huge waves inland. You can whet your appetite with salt and pepper squid then tuck into their Phish pie, before taking in a film at the historic Uckfield Picture House, a few doors away. From 2 April they’ll be showing Dreamworks’ (Shark Tale) latest 3-D animation film How to Train Your Dragon featuring the aptly-named character Hiccup Horrendous Haddock III.
Next month, Lulu goes behind the scenes at Rock-a-nore to brush up her skills and becomes a fisherman’s friend