Rye's fish restaurant review, East Sussex - catch of the day?

Lulu Larkin finds the perfect place to start her 2008 healthy eating regime, Webbe's Fish Café in Rye: A fish restaurant where the salmon is just as she likes it - pinky and perky...

PLEASE don't get me wrong. I love a Christmas party as much as the next girl, but there are only so many prosciutto-stuffed olives and organic goat's cheese crostinis you can eat before you begin to challenge the bathroom scales and the number of calories in a BBQ Pringle (ten if you must know).Drastic action was called for. Apparently Dolly Parton maintains her hour-glass figure with a seafood diet. Well, what's good enough for the queen of country is good enough for me so I dragged my husband, Daniel, off the sofa and headed for Webbe's Fish Caf� in Rye. This attractive, brick-fronted building, just a five-minute walk from the station, was originally a mill before housing the Dean's Rag Book Company in 1956.


It eventually fell into disrepair until four years ago when Paul Webbe, his reputation already well-established at the Wild Mushroom in Westfield, transformed it into one of the most successful fish restaurants in Sussex. Walking into Webbe's is a theatrical experience: flames leap up from the griddle of the open-plan kitchen while oysters are deftly shucked behind a tantalising display of spankingly fresh seafood: winkles, whelks, mussels, langoustines, lobsters and oh my goodness, did that crab just twitch its claw at me? Time to sit down and take in the show.


Unfortunately we were seated next to the kitchen and the disabled toilet and I needed to keep shuffling my chair forward until my arms were pinned against the table. I politely asked whether we could move. No, the best seats in the house were reserved for four - or Michael Winner? - none of whom, unsurprisingly, arrived.


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The charming restaurant manager, Dryden Mitchell, snapped me out of these churlish thoughts with a large glass of excellent Chilean Huerta blanc (�3.70), sparkling Hildon water for my husband and, thoughtfully, a jug of iced tap water. Now to the menu and what a splendid selection!


Tempted by the shellfish soup, prawn and linguini salad, squid risotto and mussels in Muscadet and leek liquor, my husband chose the salmon pea and potato cake with poached egg, red chard and crispy pancetta (�5.75). Wow! I'd have been jealous had it not been for my own starter of ballotine of salmon with dill, caviar and crayfish salad (�5.50). The salmon was pinky and perky, just as I like it, and the salad dressing delicate enough not to distract from the exquisite flavour and texture of the fish. For his main course, Daniel ordered the beer-batter-fried cod and chips with home-made tartare sauce with the plumpest capers ever while I had the monkfish linguini in a fluffy, creamy spinach and basil sauce.

Monkfish is often called the poor man's lobster but try it at Webbe's, where it is sweet, succulent and meltingly tender. Daniel declared his cod 'the best' and the batter 'deep and crisp and even' (his words, not mine). He even offered me a scrap and an anaemic-looking chip, but I have my dignity. The dessert menu at Webbe's is a tempting cornucopia of deliciousness but while Dolly whispered 'don't go there' into my ear, Daniel demolished a mountain of iced parfait with pineapple (�5) smothered in rich, dark, chocolate sauce with all the enthusiasm of a praying mantis.


Our train wasn't due for half an hour, so we settled the bill (a very reasonable �55 excluding service) and lingered over an espresso and tea (�1.50 including almond biscotti) promising to be back soon. Maybe for the Rye Scallop Festival in February? Perhaps Dolly could open it? One thing's for sure, she'd love Webbe's Fish Caf�.

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Loch Fyne

Loch Fyne, North Street, Midhurst, West Sussex

01730 716280, www.lochfyne.com

Opened in June, Loch Fyne Midhurst is a magnet for Sussex fish foodies, including Billie Piper and Bryan Ferry. Fancy a traditional Scottish breakfast? LF is open every day of the year from 9am. Perhaps crab cakes for lunch, fillet of salmon served Japanese style or even one oyster at just �1.50? Have a glass of champagne on the terrace overlooking the beautiful Cowdray Park and enjoy a seafood platter with lobster. There are traditional fish 'n' chips every Tuesday (�11) and a shop full of fishy goodies to go. John Prescott bought some kippers here for Pauline - how romantic!


Riddle and Finns Champagne & Oyster Bar

129 Church Road, Hove, East Sussex

01273 721667, www.riddleandfinns.co.uk

Gordon Ramsay hailed R&F in Brighton as the perfect fish restaurant - elegant, stylish with incredibly fresh seafood and impeccable service. Visitors to the newly-opened R&F in Hove will not be disappointed. This chic champagne and oyster bar offers more than its name suggests: crab & rocket linguini, roast monkfish, haddock fillet with poached egg and steamed langoustines feature on the menu alongside oysters with a variety of sauces. R&F offers 16 champagnes (�35-�220), an extensive wine list and imaginative cocktails. It's a wet fishmonger, too, and you can buy ready-made meals in eco-friendly boxes to take home. A great idea.


Due South

139 Kings Road Arches, Brighton, East Sussex

01273 821218, www.duesouth.co.uk

Underneath the arches on Brighton beach, among all the tatty gift shops, blaring amusement arcades and cheap clubs, Due South is a real find. It prides itself on championing local suppliers and showcasing fabulously fresh, seasonal - and often unusual fish - from sustainable sources. Try the wild mushroom on a toasted rowie (a kind of croissant) or local crab and Jerusalem artichoke soup. There are oysters, catches of the day and plenty of dishes, too, to satisfy the carnivore. Finish with an organic fair trade chocolate pudding with a home-made Douglas Fir ice cream. Yum!

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